EGR/MB: "Music? Yeah, I use Wagner!"

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Christopher Locke

Feb 21, 2009, 9:30:07 PM2/21/09
to EGR googleplex
One Ring to rule them all, One Ring to find them.
One Ring to bring them all and in the darkness bind them.

~ tolkien

Confused by my title slug? Ever eager to help, Wikipedia comes to the rescue in its admirably complete entry on a particular brand of shoe polish -- specifically in the subsection titled You don't know shit from Shinola.

Shinola was immortalized in colloquial English by the phrase You don't (or he/she doesn't) know shit from Shinola which first became widely popular during World War II. Aside from being an amusing bit of alliteration, the phrase implies that the person being referred to is stupid or woefully ignorant. Shit and Shinola, while superficially similar in appearance, are entirely distinct in their function; only one is good for polishing shoes, and anyone who fails to distinguish one from the other must be ignorant or of low acuity.
Such ignorant low-acuity types should, for instance, never polish their footwear in the bathroom, lest they be overcome with confusion and wind up in the plight described in this tune by the Rolling Stones...
Come on, come on down Sweet Virginia,
Come on, honey child, I beg of you.
Come on, come on down, you got it in ya.
Got to scrape the shit right off your shoes.

(emphasis added)

Granted, this is perhaps an overlong introduction to the work, such as it is, of Jean SHINODA Bolen, but I thought it would get us more quickly into the spirit, the marrow and substance, the archetypal essence of her oeuvre. For make no mistake, Ms. Shinoda Bolen is, and I quote, "an internationally known Jungian analyst." Which means, as we have come to understand by this self-labeling, that she can make up any sort of fatuous nonsense and, by attributing it to some hypothetical and impossible to substantiate "collective unconscious" make it seem not only reasonable, but indeed, profound.

While she is best known for Goddesses in Everywoman: Powerful Archetypes in Women's Lives, I am more interested here in her longwindedly titled Ring of Power: Symbols and Themes, Love vs. Power in Wagner's Ring Cycle and in Us: A Jungian-Feminist Perspective. Actually, I ran across an older edition of this in a used bookstore last week and was amused to see that it was no less prolixly titled Ring of Power: The Abandoned Child, the Authoritarian Father, and the Disempowered Feminine: A Jungian Understanding of Wagner's Ring Cycle. Clearly, the publisher -- which puts out all manner of similar crap -- decided that love and power trump abandoned children and sexual politics in these latter days. So hard to keep up with what's hip.

That's the Arthur Rackham illustration that graces the cover of my edition. The publisher's synopsis says...

Bolen shows how Wagner's ever-popular Ring Cycle articulates universal experiences and deep-seated longings by offering a mythology of the dysfunctional family and the patriarchal society in which the quest for power distorts personalities and relationships. We respond to the Ring because we recognize ourselves and our relationships in the Cycle's stern father, disempowered mother, abandoned children, and brave truth-tellers. Bolen vividly relates the events of the four operas and spotlights characters in ways that evoke the reader's identifications, memories, and healing emotions.
Brave truth tellers: hold that thought.

What most of us know about Wagner (if I'm any example) comes from the Ride of the Valkyries being blasted from helicopter gunships in Apocalypse Now. Yet even I, in my woeful state of ignorant endarkenment had heard there was something fishy about Wagner. Something about the Jews, wasn't it? Google google. Oh that's right! For the painless short form, you can read the Wikipedia entry about the maestro's racist rantery in Das Judenthum in der Musik.

And OK, I admit it, I know more about Wagner's antisemitism than I'm letting on, but only because I happened onto an insanely cheap copy of Twilight of the Wagners: The Unveiling of a Family's Legacy in a Barnes & Noble cutout bin several years ago, and for about a year it was sitting on the bookshelf in my downstairs bathroom, which is where a lot of my knowledge acquisition activities take place, and yes, I did idly page through it on occasion. While it appears that many Amazon reader/reviewers were put off by the book, the Publishers Weekly review does contain some highly pertinent information that goes beyond issues of writing style and ideological bias.

According to Greek myth, the sins of a father are visited upon his sons for three generations. Born in 1947, Gottfried Wagner is the third generation of operatic genius Richard Wagner's offspring, and it is clear in this prickly memoir that he does continue to carry the burden of his great-grandfather's infamous anti-Semitism. Though Wagner (1813-1883) died six years before Hitler was born, Gottfried demonstrates that the composer's virulent essays, which call for Jews to "redeem" themselves through "destruction," exercised a powerful influence on Hitler. More importantly, Gottfried shows that Wagner's descendants -- especially his daughter-in-law Winifred -- were ardent supporters and close friends of Hitler. Furthermore, Gottfried contends that his father, Wolfgang, now the director of the annual Wagner festival in Bayreuth, continues to obfuscate the family's and the festival's Nazi connections.
And it's not exactly as if the Wagner/Nazi connection is arcane, hidden, difficult to find information. A desultory search of Amazon brings up in a flash...

...the last of which is sitting on a bookshelf across the room from me, along with its three sister volumes (sisterhood is powerful).

Despite all this, Jean Shinoda Bolen seems not only ignorant, not just "of low acuity," but positively deaf, dumb and blind. The only significant (being generous) mention she makes of the Hitler connection in her book on Wagner is this embarrassing bit of exculpatory twaddle.

As I became familiar with The Ring of the Niebelung, the psychiatrist in me became intrigued by my knowledge that Hitler was fascinated by the Ring cycle and identified with it in some way. I knew that he was a major patron, that he had insisted that SS officers attend, and required that schoolchildren be exposed to these operas; all of which had caused me to be biased against Wagner and the Ring. I had assumed that it extolled Nazi goals and reflected Hitler's dreams of triumph and was surprised that to the contrary, Valhalla and Wotan go up in flames in the last act of Twilight of the Gods, reflecting the fate of the Third Reich and Hitler's own end; his charred remains were found in a burnt-out bunker.
That last bit in case you hadn't read the comic book. The book's index includes entries for alchemy, anima, archetypes, codependency, courage, darkness, dragon, empathy, father god, feminine aspect, funeral pyre, grief, Hades, humiliation, integrity, intuition, Odin, magic horses, ravens... well, you get the idea. And of course lots about Joseph Campbell and C.G. Jung.

Not included are any references to Jews, antisemitism, fascism, or Nazis. The one substantive reference to Hitler I have quoted in full above. For someone writing an entire book about Wagner, this passing over in silence is not just a -- whoops! -- "oversight." It is clear and simple intellectual dishonesty.

And this sort of willful blindness is endemic in the Jungian community, perhaps in part because too close an examination of Jung's own ideas along such lines would reveal his theories to be inherently racialist, if not, in places, outright racist. His stated views on "Negroes" and Jews in Civilization in Transition (The Collected Works of C. G. Jung, Volume 10) are hair-raising. Here's a relatively tame example...

Just as every Jew has a Christ complex, so every Negro has a white complex and every [white] American a Negro complex. As a rule the colored man would give anything to change his skin, and the white man hates to admit that he has been touched by the black. 

(CW 10, par. 963)

And why? Because the beauty of the White Aryan woman must not perish from the earth. That's why. Doesn't it sorta have that certain Ring of Power?

got to scrape the shit right off your shoes

Postscript: As I mentioned above, I bought my copy of Ring of Power in a used bookstore here in Boulder, and the previous owner's name was written on the flyleaf. I won't tell you who it was, but I found her easily on Google, in a very lovely PDF for a Colorado arts center. She (or perhaps it was someone else) left a note in the book, on a 3x5 card. Here, verbatim, is what it says:



Right. So say we all. God bless America.

Posted By Doctor X to mystic bourgeoisie at 2/21/2009 07:17:00 PM

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