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Wagner on Bakunin vs Bakunin on Wagner

Written By The Wagnerian on Saturday 6 August 2016 | 7:40:00 pm

Reading a biography of revolutionary anarchist Mikhail Bakunin, our editor  came across a discussion that, in the last few days of his life, he had about Wagner -  who he had meet  many years previously. And of course that lead to going  back to Wagner's thoughts on Bakunin - which are far better known. We thought you might be interested. Call it Wagner on Bakunin vs Bakunin on Wagner:

"First of all, however, with the view of adapting himself to the most Philistine culture, he had to submit his huge beard and bushy hair to the tender mercies of the razor and shears. As no barber was available, Rockel had to undertake the task. A small group of friends watched the operation, which had to be executed with a dull razor, causing no little pain, under which none but the victim himself remained passive. We bade farewell to Bakunin with the firm conviction that we should never see him again alive. But in a week he was back once more, as he had realised immediately what a distorted account he had received as to the state of things in Prague, where all he found ready for him was a mere handful of childish students. These admissions made him the butt of Rockel's good-humoured chaff, and after this he won the reputation among us of being a mere revolutionary, who was content with theoretical conspiracy. Very similar to his expectations from the Prague students were his presumptions with regard to the Russian people."

My Life: Vol 1 - Richard Wagner

"The old anarchist could fight the laws of capital and the state, but the inexorable laws of nature ground away. A few friends visited regularly, including Vogt and Adolf Reichel, a musician Bakunin had known since the Berlin days of the early 1840s. Reichel wrote to Gambuzzi at length about Bakunin’s last days. The two talked philosophy, and Bakunin read Schopenhauer in his hospital bed. He showed some of the old spirit when he remarked to Reichel that “all of our philosophy starts from a false premise. It always begins by taking man as an individual, rather than a being who is part of a community. That’s where most of the philosophical errors that lead to either pie in the sky [literally, happiness in the clouds] or the pessimism of Schopenhauer and Hartman come from.” As he declined, however, they abandoned philosophy for reminiscences. “It’s a pity, Bakunin, you never found time to write your memoirs,” Reichel gently chided one day. “Why would you want me to write them?” he responded. “It is not worth wasting the breath. Today, the people of all nations have lost the instinct of revolution. They are all too content with their situation and the fear of losing what they have makes them harmless and inert. No, if I regained some of my health, I would write an ethic based on the principles of collectivism, without reference to philosophical or religious phrases.” They spoke of music, and Bakunin expressed his preference still for Beethoven, opining that Wagner, whom he remembered from the Dresden barricades, was deficient in both character and musical taste. At the end, he slept more and more; even his famous appetites left him. The man who had once looked as though he could devour the world could now manage only some spoonfuls of kasha, or groats, prepared in the Russian manner by Reichel’s wife, Maria. He refused bouillon, murmuring without opening his eyes, “I have no need; I have finished my task.” At noon 1 July 1876, Bakunin died an ordinary death in stark counterpoint to an extraordinary life"
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A Letter From Thomas Mann To Theodor Adorno - Re Wagner

Written By The Wagnerian on Tuesday 2 August 2016 | 5:14:00 pm

ZURICH, 30–31.10.1952

Dear Dr Adorno,

‘However, if a decadent society develops the seeds of the society that will perhaps one day take its place …’ If there were only a single positive word, my honoured friend, that vouchsafed even the vaguest glimpse of the true society which we are forced to postulate

Not knowing your precise address, I have directed these lines via the publisher who sent me a copy of the ‘Wagner’. I have been reading it for days with the greatest sense of urgency. It is a tremendous book, fascinating for its perspicacious intimacy with an object which, for all of your enforced admiration (unintentionally breaking through now and again), still reveals itself as one of the greatest and spiritually liberating things that has ever presented itself to critical reflection. The most authoritative chapter is surely that on the instrumentation, which is itself so closely connected with ‘phantasmagoria’, with the ‘concealment of the productive process through the appearing product’, as the governing principle of Wagnerian form. These pages have clearly shown me the degree to which I am a Wagnerian – and to which I am not. I have followed Wagner’s example in many respects, I have ‘recalled’ his works in many ways. But the illusionistic character of a work of art that would present itself as reality is entirely alien to me and has never fired my artistic ambitions. My own relationship to the ‘work’ itself was always too honestly ironical for that, and I have always taken pleasure in compromising the act of production in some humoristic fashion or other.

The terror of late bourgeois society and that of the ‘new’ society stand armed to the teeth over against each other and at any moment everything might ‘through some incalculable error just go up in smoke’. All that I can see approaching, spreading and irresistibly advancing upon us, is barbarism.

But that is all by the by. Your book is enormously interesting on every page. I have made innumerable pencil jottings in the text, and some minor queries as well. One of these concerns ‘the singing voice is detached from the life of music and its logic: to sing a motif would conflict with the requirement of natural intonation.’ This does not seem to be entirely true. Quite a few motifs are sung, the most striking example being the ‘Annunciation’ addressed to Sieglinde: ‘For know one thing, and remember it indeed: the noblest hero of the world you bear, O woman, within your sheltering womb.’ Another example would be Alberich’s curse upon the gold, which, like Lohengrin’s injunction ‘Never shalt thou ask’, clearly shows how a motif is often sung first, before the orchestra then takes it up again in various reminiscences. In the ‘Liebestod’ Isolde also sings a good part of the melody (from Act II), although it is true that subsequently the voice merely follows ‘the harmonies of the orchestra’. And there are other cases.Most of all I was impressed by the pages towards the end on Wagner’s work as an expression of incipient decay of the bourgeois world. ‘There is not a single decadent moment in Wagner’s work from which productive insight could not extract the forces of change.’That reveals very great insight, as does the remark about ‘the neurotic’s ability to contemplate his own decadence and to transcend it’. And likewise the question: ‘whether Nietzsche’s criterion of health is of greater benefit than the critical consciousness that Wagner’s grandiose weakness acquires in his commerce with all the unconscious forces responsible for his own decadence … the bourgeois nihilist sees through the nihilism of the age that will follow his own.’ This is superb! And then the remarkably prophetic quotation from ‘Religion and Art’.
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