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German Nationalism
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Abstract: This thesis sketches the developing interest in the role of myths in the construction of a German national identity in the writings of Johann Herder, Johann Fichte, Richard Wagner, and Friedrich Nietzsche. By properly situating these intellectuals in their historical and intellectual context, this thesis examines the way in which the four thinkers refined and mobilized a conception of myth as an essential aspect of the German national identity. Moreover, this thesis explores crucial continuities and recurring themes traversing the work of these four intellectuals, as well as some key differences and breaks. By means of this investigation, this thesis argues that within the nineteenth century German nationalist discourse, myth came to be understood as a decisive instrument of cultural normalization and, ultimately, political unification.
Statement of Responsibility: by Lucas Ballestin
Thesis: Thesis (B.A.) -- New College of Florida, 2013
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Physical Description: Book
Language: English
Creator: Ballestin, Lucas
Publisher: New College of Florida
Place of Publication: Sarasota, Fla.
Creation Date: 2013
Publication Date: 2013


Subjects / Keywords: Myth
German Nationalism
19th Century
Genre: bibliography   ( marcgt )
theses   ( marcgt )
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Electronic Thesis or Dissertation


Abstract: This thesis sketches the developing interest in the role of myths in the construction of a German national identity in the writings of Johann Herder, Johann Fichte, Richard Wagner, and Friedrich Nietzsche. By properly situating these intellectuals in their historical and intellectual context, this thesis examines the way in which the four thinkers refined and mobilized a conception of myth as an essential aspect of the German national identity. Moreover, this thesis explores crucial continuities and recurring themes traversing the work of these four intellectuals, as well as some key differences and breaks. By means of this investigation, this thesis argues that within the nineteenth century German nationalist discourse, myth came to be understood as a decisive instrument of cultural normalization and, ultimately, political unification.
Statement of Responsibility: by Lucas Ballestin
Thesis: Thesis (B.A.) -- New College of Florida, 2013
Bibliography: Includes bibliographical references.
Source of Description: This bibliographic record is available under the Creative Commons CC0 public domain dedication. The New College of Florida Libraries, as creator of this bibliographic record, has waived all rights to it worldwide under copyright law, including all related and neighboring rights, to the extent allowed by law.
Local: Faculty Sponsor: Harvey, David

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1 MYTH AND THE GERMAN BECOMING By LUCAS BALLESTIN A Thesis Submitted to the Division of Social Sciences New College of Florida in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree Bachelor of Arts Under the Sponsorship of Dr. David Allen Harvey Sarasota, Florida May, 2013


ii Acknowledgements This thesis is dedicated to my family, my friends, and my profes sors. Thank you for keeping me grounded, and pushing me forever forward Special thanks to my editors and committee for locating the promising ideas buried within the calamity that is my prose. VESTIGIA NULLA RETRORSUM Table of Contents


iii Introduction 1 Chapter 1: Mythology with Purpose 9 Herder on Philosophy 9 Herder on Philhellenism 12 Herder on History 15 Herder on Art and Myth 18 Fichte on History 22 Fichte on Philosophy 24 Fichte on Education 28 Chapter 2: P olitics, Music, and Myth 33 Wagner's Biog raphy 33 Wa gner's Influences 35 Wagner's Theory of Myth 46 Wagner's Theory Applied 50 Chapt er 3: Myth Moves Nation 53 Nietzsche' s Biography 53 Nietzsche's Influences 56 Myth Itself 64 Nietzschean Myth 65 N iet zsche's Legacy 76 Concluding Remarks 81


iv MYTH AND THE GERMAN BECOMING Lucas Ballestin New College of Florida, 2013 ABSTRACT This thesis sketches the developing interest in the role of myths in the construction of a German national identity in the writings of Johann Herder, Johann Fichte, Richard Wagner, and Friedrich Nietzsche. By properly situating these intellec tuals in their historical and intellectual context, this thesis examines the way in which the four thinkers refined and mobilized a conception of myth as an essential aspect of the German national identity. Moreover, this thesis explores crucial continuiti es and recurring themes traversing the work of these four intellectuals, as well as some key differences and breaks. By means of this investigation, this thesis argues that within the nineteenth century German nationalist discourse, myth came to be underst ood as a decisive instrument of cultural normalization and, ultimately, political unification. Dr. David Allen Harvey Division of Social Sciences


1 Introduction "Germany? But where is it? I do not know how to find the country." Goethe 1 Perhaps the most comprehensive recent philosophical treatment of myth was advanced by Hans Blumenberg in his 1979 Work on Myth 2 In this seminal work, Blumenberg argues that myths service society's "need for significance." 3 Myths service this need by offering up an orient ing narrative that works to simultaneously interpellate the individual to the collective as well as inject meaning and offer interpretive guidance for the individual's particular experiences. Just to what extent myths serve as frameworks for interpreting a n indifferent world varies from theorist to theorist. But, philosophical treatments do tend to characterize myths as a narrative accountable to man's need for significance. 4 The thinkers this thesis studies do not make such crisp assertions regarding the role of myth, but they do concern themselves with the same questions. What are myths? What role do they have to play? Despite the fact that each thinker's answers to these questions do vary, one finds within their texts a common notion that myths may have a crucial role to play with regard to the construction of national identity. Peter Horn offers a concise summary of the dominant contemporary position in discussions of national identity. Horn writes: One approach in contemporary theory on nationalism h as focused on nations as "invented" or "imagined" identities in order to emphasize nations as recently constructed and historically contingent forms of collective 1 Robert Anchor, Germany Confronts Modernization (Lexington, MA: Lexington Books, 1972), 3. 2 Ibid, 7 8. 3 Hans Blumenberg, Work on Myth (Cambridge, MA.: MIT Press, 1985), 95. 4 Bottici, A Philosophy of Political Myth 8.


2 identity that never quite measure up to their claims of common purpose or ancient foundation. 5 Perhaps the most influential monograph dealing with these issues has been Benedict Anderson's Imagined Communities in which Anderson advanced an understanding of nations as imaginary communities whose popularity was constituted through the explosion of the printed word in the modern age. 6 Supplemental studies have attempted to forge a tighter connection between the rise of particular nationalisms and the standardization of national languages in the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. 7 Yet, the mo st salient study of the "invention" of Western European nations is found in Patrick J. Geary's The Myth of Nations In this book, Geary traces the progression of the surge of Western European nationalism in the nineteenth century. Geary further argues that this surge was, in large part, the result of a concerted effort by European intellectuals to foster such nationalist sentiments amongst the public. Interestingly, Geary discovers that European elites had developed a peculiar habit of fostering a sense of collective belonging by appealing to a shared mythical heritage. This was done by resuscitating, re interpreting, and even outright forging medieval legends and histories. 8 The case of Germany stands out as particularly interesting because between the di ssolution of the Holy Roman Empire in 1806 and the foundation of the German Empire in 1871, there effectively was no German state. 9 As Heinrich von Kleist evidenced in his 5 Peter Horn, "The Invention of Germany", 22th May 2010, accessed April 28th 2013, 6 Benedict Anderson, Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism (New York: Verso, 1991), 37. 7 Eric Hobsba wm, Nations and Nationalism Since 1870: Programme, Myth, Reality (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990), 21. 8 Patrick Geary, The Myth of Nations (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2002), 15. 9 Anchor, Germany Confronts Modernization 4.


3 Katechismus der Deutschen (1809), Germans of the early nineteenth century did not th ink of themselves as German, but rather as citizens of the myriad small city states that dotted the central European map at the time. And, as Kleist noted in that same work, there was a yearning by the rising generation to develop a sense of national unity The perceived need for a strong sense of German belonging was not just a matter of inter generational discord, it was also politically crucial. As the French state consolidated its sovereignty in the wake of the French Revolution, the German elite began to perceive the fractured nature of the German states as a significant political and military liability. As nationalism swept the continent, the intellectuals of the Germanies, began to address a rising crisis in German national identity. This historical crisis of German national unity, which needed to be addressed if the German states were to survive in a continent of increasingly nationalistic masses and increasingly formalized bureaucratic states, was received with calls for cultural unity by the German intelligentsia. And, although it is evident that at first there was little interest on the part of the middle classes, and that the princes of many German states perceived calls for unity as threats to their sovereignty, the push for a unified sense of "G ermanness" eventually won out. Following the German resistance to Napoleonic occupation, the Prussian minister of State Friedrich Karl vom Stein, who would become a crucial figure in the movement of national unification, urged German "poets and writers to contribute to the image of a unified German nation once the French were ousted." 10 Vom Stein's appeal demonstrated a keen awareness that before the German (specifically the Prussian) political class could forge political unity, the establishment of a stron g sense of cultural unity was required 10 Ib id, 23.


4 first. His challenge to the wordsmiths and opinion makers of the time was to replace Germany's cultural groundlessness with a shared sense of heritage. Vom Stein had, in fact, commissioned the German intelligentsia to construct a shared orienting narrative. It is not often in history that the construction of a national identity is carried out as explicitly as it is in the case of Germany. Broadly considered, almost all historical processes of identity politics and the construction of national/group identities are carried out implicitly. Nevertheless, we find in this example the illustration of key theoretical principles "governing" the construction of national identity. Thus, the German struggle of the nineteenth centu ry allows for greater theoretical sophistication because we see the process being carried out consciously and explicitly. The nineteenth century was a time of surging nationalist sentiments among German writers. Such an assertion has, by now, been adequa tely digested and accepted in the vast scholarship on the subject. What this thesis investigates is a limited sliver of the German discourses around nation and nationalism, the role of myth within the construction of a collective national identity. In fact some scholars have ventured to argue that nations themselves are, to a large extent, myths. 11 Further still, more recent scholarship has recorded the importance of both myth itself and a scholarly concern with myth as crucial elements of the German nation alist discourses throughout the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. The object of this thesis is to trace the gradual emergence of a specific concern on the part of certain nineteenth century German thinkers with the role that myth has to play in a modern society. My motivation for delving into such a topic has stemmed from the 11 Adrian Hastings, The Construction of Nationhood (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997), 7.


5 ahistorical value of myth within societies. The majority of the literature on myths has been borne out of the social sciences, and, to a more limited degree, the philosophy de partments. When each discipline in turn has come to evaluate the function that myths play within society, the evaluation has, more often than not, been negative. The label of "myth" has been applied to mechanisms of irrational social distortion and obfusca tion that necessitate the antidote of incisive, critical theory. My study of the German counter enlightenment fostered in me an interest in an opposite formulation: the conviction that myths have a positive role in interpellating subjects together that oug ht not be decried, but studied, and perhaps even utilized politically. The Enlightenment, which remained the most important intellectual revolution during the nineteenth century, had sought to vanquish myths by relegating them to the realm of the supersti tious. 12 In the thinkers this thesis explo res, an important re validation is executed by underscoring the usefulness that myths have in the constitution of a sense of nationhood. Faced with a people that lacked a national past, as well collective purpose, G erman thinkers set out to create them. 13 Chapter one reconstructs the ideas of the first major primogenitor of the German national discourse on myth, Johann Herder. Despite being a contemporary of Kant, one may already locate Herder staking out a markedly Counter Enlightenment position Herder reasoned that each people had its own mythology, which revealed its own individual spirit. Herder developed the concept of HumanitŠt to describe the process by which a people could go on to realize its potential, hist orically evolving to become the truth of its essence. Parting from this belief, Herder called for the creation of a "new 12 Bottici, A Philosophy of Political Myth 158 159. 13 Anchor, Germany Confronts Modernization 8.


6 mythology" for the German people. 14 The chapter then turns to Johann Fichte. A generation removed from Herder, Fichte was much more clos ely attached to both Kant and the core ideas of the Enlightenment. Although he does not call attention to something called "myth," Fichte does attempt to resolve the question of German identity by deploying proto anthropological philosophies of language an d of history, positing that not only was the essence of the German identity to be found in its language and its cultural and philosophical tradition, but that that essence was fundamentally superior to that of Germany's neighbors. By formulating his own pe dagogical prescriptions, Fichte lays out the way in which the German people may institutionally foster the superior features of their home grown language and its distinguished philosophical tradition. In this way, Fichte founds a strong n ationalism upon a strikingly mythical interpretation of the German cultural and historical heritages, and lays the groundwork for successive generations of myth theorists. Chapter two concentrates on the works of W. Richard Wagner, with special reference to their connectio n to both the widespread work on myth being carried out by contemporary German scholars and Wagner's own theoretical work on myth and nationhood. Wagner adopted an unabashedly Romantic temperament and synthesized the German scholarly literature on myth, di stilling the critical principles from his vast reading on the subject. The chapter demonstrates how Wagner's original theory of myth influenced his aesthetic work. For Wagner, the theme of a national becoming is cast in the negative, as a move away from th e values and institutions of bourgeois liberalism. Furthermore, this chapter explores how Wagner's synthesis and publication of German 14 George S. Williamson, Longing for Myth in Germa ny (Chicago: Chicago University Press, 2004), 3.


7 myths and folklore influenced the German public on a massive scale. Chapter three deals with Friedrich Nietzsche's early work on myth. Partially under the influence of Wagner and partially due to his involvement in the philological community, Nietzsche's theory of myth is, partly due to the extensive groundwork done his intellectual antecedents, the most refined. Indeed, ea ch thinker's ruminations on myth yield successively more sophisticated insight into the function of myth. Motivated by the puzzle of ancient Greek greatness, and reinforced by German philhellenism, Nietzsche's earliest work concerns itself with diagnosing the source of Greek cultural achievement. Nietzsche's reflections conclude that the Greek's success was due, at least partially, to the greatness of their myths. In order to make this claim, Nietzsche develops an implicit theory of myth and myth's relation to identity. Utilizing his theory of myth as the basis for cultural critique, Nietzsche once more calls for a re birth of German myth. In characteristic form, Nietzsche's theory of myth implies that the essence of a people is found in the becoming. The p ublication of Nietzsche's The Birth of Tragedy came the year following the foundation of the German Empire. With the defeat of Germany's fatal rival France, the political security of the German state was now assured. Yet, with the importance of the mythica l well established within the German nationalist discourse, the theorists and politicians of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries would draw on the lessons of their predecessors. This influence would later become especially accentuated with th e coming of the crisis of liberalism. Much has been written on the usage of the irrational as a tool of political mobilization by the leaders of the popular movements of the twentieth century. In its own


8 small way, this thesis traces out the evolution on German conceptions of myth and nationhood across several generations of intellectuals, from Johann Herder to Friedrich Nietzsche.


9 Chapter One Mythology with Purpose: Herder and Fichte On Herder Johann G. Herder (1744 1803) was an eminent German phi losopher who rubbed shoulders with thinkers like Immanuel Kant and Johann G. Hamann. Somewhat eclipsed in the literature by his more famous contemporaries, Herder remains one of the most important German philosophers of all time. This is true in regards to his original contributions, but his importance is much more pronounced in the influenced he exercised over Schleiermacher, Hegel, and Nietzsche 15 Philosophy The centerpiece of Herder's philosophical efforts is the notion of HumanitŠt Despite its close English cognate "humanity," HumanitŠt was chosen by Herder in order to exemplify a new and distinct concept. For HumanitŠt does not represent some Enlightenment notion of fundamental human reason or dignity existing in every human being. Rather, HumanitŠt is used by Herder to connote the "human being making God visible on earth." 16 As Herder scholar Hans Adler aptly clarifies, Herder's notion of HumanitŠt utilizes a particular sort of tautology that one may call a "transfer tautology." Herder does not rely o n circular logic to define HumanitŠt proper, but rather portrays the singular human being, and its encompassing collective, as occupying a middle stage between the divine and the terrestrial. The human body, in its base materiality, is seen as 15 Forster, Michael, "Johann Gottfried von Herder", The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Fall 2008 Edition) Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL = . 16 Hans Adler, "Herder's Concept of HumanitŠt", in: A Companion to the Works of Johann Gottfried Herder Hans Adler and Wulf Koepke, eds. (Rochester, NY: Camden House, 2009), 99.


10 the word of God on earth. 17 At the same time, God's word is the human being exclusive of all other living beings. Thus, the tautology is this one: Herder spiritualizes matter and materializes the spirit. For the historian and the political philosopher, HumanitŠt has a special significance, for it names the hidden potential within humanity. By using HumanitŠt to designate not the reality of human existence, but the kernel of divinity present in this material existence, Herder opens up a space for teleology This teleol ogy narrates the course of human development as humanity unfurls its full HumanitŠt by fully embracing its own divine dimension and engaging in its earthly performance. Herder's mix of historical progression and Illuminist immanence demonstrates his positi on as a transitional figure between the Enlightenment and Romanticism. One must immediately note, however, that Herder had not envisioned an end to history. It is not the case that at some point in the distant future human beings will fully achieve their HumanitŠt and human development will be at an end. Rather, HumanitŠt furthermore names the "destiny of human beings as such." 18 To clarify, HumanitŠt as potential can never be depleted, but can only be fully embodied. This means that the signifier does no t refer to the gap between human actuality and human potential, but instead the condition of human participation in its own divine potential. Yet rather than remain in the philosophical systematized aether like Kant, Herder felt a strong impulse to bring philosophy back down to earth. This was probably a result of an earthly institutional struggle between the philosophy and theology faculties in German universities. Historically the handmaiden of theology, philosophy was striving to 17 Ibid. 18 Ibid.


11 set itself up as its ow n separate and legitimate academic discipline. And for Herder, that meant two things. First, philosophy itself should be written in such a way so that it could "reach out from the academy to the wider public." Second, the objects of study of philosophers s hould reflect a concern with the earthly. Hence Herder's high praise for the philosophies of history that emerged out of the Scottish Enlightenment. Philosophers lacked interest in particular individuals, and historians remedied that. This conclusion set t he stage for Herder's 1770s forays into the philosophy of history and nationhood. The lessons Herder drew from the Scottish school was the specification of certain stages of historical development, a development model by which different nations could be ca tegorized. Each nation is unique, thought Herder, but every nation is defined in contrast to its neighbors. Island nations would not do so well, then, since they would have difficulty asserting their distinctive spirit unless they ventured beyond the sea. Herder's desire was to "conjure up before our eyes the spirit of a people." 19 And in order to do so, Herder drew inspiration from not just the Scottish Enlightenment, but also various French Enlightenment figures and fellow Germans as well. One key influen ce was that of the great philhellenist Johann Winckelmann. Infused with an admiration of the ancient Greeks, Herder became increasingly interested in art and culture as the barometer of a society. While Herder admired the Greeks just as much many of his co ntemporaries, he was critical of any attempt to merely re create the Greek genius. This is because methodologically, Herder held that "no one exemplar...could then serve for all nations, for all times, for us." 20 Rather, Herder was able to locate the locus of Greek 19 Zammito, Kant, Herder, and the Birth of Anthropology 333 20 Ibid, 335.


12 greatness within the "naturalness and wholeness" of the ancient Greek culture. 21 This is a crucial point, and anticipates the rise of precisely that question of authenticity later in the century. Herder reasoned that the way to emulate the example of the Greeks was not mere replication of the Greek aesthetic. Such superficial posturing, which became popular amongst Romantics, missed the source of the exemplar's greatness: fealty to its particular essence. Philhellenism In order to understand the c onnection Herder made between art and national vitality, it is helpful to turn to Herder's appraisal of the ancient Greeks. It was the spiritual wonders of the ancient Greeks that Herder would seek to inspire in his German fatherland. What Herder admired a bout the ancient Greeks was that the Greeks saw themselves as the products of superior institutions. 22 The love of their fatherland, which the Greeks credited with furnishing them with favorable laws, gods, and goods, produced a nation yearning to earn thei r keep and win glory for their fatherland. "To live for the fatherland", writes Herder "was for them the highest glory; to die for it the sweetest death." 23 Taken together, the efficiency of the Greek institutions and the patriotism of her people granted Gr eece an exuberant culture. 24 Herder's use of the term "fatherland" is intriguing, given that the Greek fatherland was not a single united state, but a collection of city states. This characteristic was common to both the ancient Greeks and the Germans of He rder's time. It may the case, then, that Herder's expressed belief that there 21 Ibid. 22 Johann Gottfried Herder, Selected Political Writings (Indianapolis: Hackett, 2004), 111. 23 Ibid 109. 24 On this point, Herder shares Rousseau's concerns with the evolution of human society. Especially in reference to the attainmen t of civilization vis a vis the loss of freedom. See: F. M. Barnard, Herder's Social and Political Thought: From Enlightenment to Nationalism (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1965), 54.


13 was such as thing as a Greek fatherland evidences a belief that the Germans also belonged to the same fatherland, despite political fragmentation. Because of this, Herder argues that it "is good and glorious for a people to have great long as the people are thereby roused to noble deeds and inspired to worthy convictions..." 25 At the same time, Herder anticipates a likely difficulty arising from such a glorious heri tage: that people will take their privileges for granted and thereby fall into ruin. 26 The highest aim of human love, after one's family and friends, was one's duty to the fatherland. This meant that the labor of man should be directed at crafting a society worthy of such a duty. This is all well taken, but what was it about the Greeks that roused them toward greatness? The strength of their armed forces? The constitution of their democracy? Well, not exactly. What did rouse the people was not the hard powe r of the Greek nations, but rather the power of Greek culture. Herder is not willing to overlook the less palatable aspects of the Greek dominance of the Eastern Mediterranean. He writes: "Athens was often hard on its citizens and colonies, which needed to be concealed with sweet phantoms." 27 At first glance, such a statement opens the way for rich speculation as to what Herder means by "sweet phantoms". Having already learned that Herder thought of that the grandeur of the Greeks was derived from the citize n's admiration for their own heritage, it is perplexing to describe the cultural elements of Greek soft power as "phantoms." If the cultural heritage of the Greeks could be understood, at least partially, as phantasmic, then whence the Greek greatness? A re the achievements of Greek culture mere distractions from more pressing political issues? One point to be clarified right away is that for all talk of phantoms, Herder selectively chooses which aspects of Greek 25 Ibid, 112. 26 Ibid. 27 Ibid.


14 culture should be admired. The political op pressiveness of Sparta, for instance, should be avoided. As should Athens' treatment of her colonies. But from the record of Greek culture, the able historian should be able to select the praiseworthy and separate it from the detestable. Herder desires to appropriate the ancients' hunger for conquest and apply it to the realm of culture. It is no longer possible to conquer and pillage, for the age of iron is over. That same spirit must be applied to the cultural sphere, as each modern European nation sought to develop its own culture. Herder does not adequately resolve the question of cultural "phantoms", leaving it unclear as to what he means by referring to the cultural institutions he expends great energy praising as ghosts. What Herder does make clear i s where Greek culture originated. While the great Greek cultural works were eventually carried on the force of heritage and inspiration, the origin of Greek greatness was the Greek tongue We locate here a specific reference to the Greek's "culture of lang uage." 28 The superiority of the Greeks was derived "by their cultivated language and what was planted among them by means of it...anyone who delighted in [its] literature thereby joined its empire and participated in it." 29 The connection that Herder draws b etween culture and language follows from his belief that the language of a people expresses the spirit of that people. With each literary work, the Humanit Št of that people is further clarified, and with this clarification, advanced. Thus, while the classi cs of Greek poetry and theatre are implied to have served an obfuscatory political interest, it is clear that Herder recognized these works of art as contributions to the refinement of the particular Greek spirit. The issue of locating the source of Greek achievement at least partially in language invites one to delve into Herder's interest in language as it relates to nationhood. Herder regarded language as a fundamental human faculty, one which separated men from animals. In terms of individuals, Herder concluded that language was the "medium 28 Ibid, 115. 29 Ibid, 115 116.


15 through which man becomes conscious of his inner self..." 30 It was through language that man can come to form societies with others, but it was also language that distinguished individuals from one another. But more i mportantly for this study, Herder also held it to be true that language was the medium by which social cohesion was achieved. In fact, language was to be the most important criterion by which a groups collective identity would be established. 31 Other things contribute to the consolidation of a people, among these are: a common heritage, free association, familial ties, and reverence for the forefathers. But even if all these last elements were present, a people could not form as a "homogenous unit" if a comm on language was not shared. Even further, Herder tied a people's language to its habits of thought. "Each nation", Herder writes, "speaks in the manner it thinks and thinks in the manner it speaks..." 32 Just as language will give rise to individual personal ities, it will also give rise to a national consciousness. A people's language then ought be preserved and defended as its "most distinctive and sacred possession." 33 History Herder was one of the first thinkers to contribute to a comprehensive "philosoph y of history." If human history was indeed governed by laws that could be discerned in much t he same way a natural scientist discerned the laws governing the physical universe, historians like Herder started out by examining Homo sapiens physical characte ristics. Herder was very well read in the contemporary anthropological accounts circulating in his day. From this knowledge base, Herder argued for the uniqueness of the Homo sapiens as rooted not in his ability to produce language, but rather in his abili ty to 30 Barnard, Herder 's Social and Political Thought 57. 31 Ibid. 32 Ibid, 56. 33 Ibid, 58.


16 walk upright. Still unable to break completely with a deity, Herder gave God credit for bestowing this very basic distinction upon man. Armed with the ability for Homo sapiens to walk upright, Herder builds up his universal history along a narrative of constant development and self refinement, paying his respects to linguistic versatility and cultured society along the way. Again, HumanitŠt for Herder, was defined as the potential for man to live according to his own cultural values and individual s tandards. As a corollary, humanity involved not only the realization of who one already was (his inner divinity), but the active ability to shape and influence his historical and social context accordingly. In more historic terms, Herder saw history as the constant process of achievement of man's humanity. In history, individual figures and collectives sought to define themselves, in the Greek style, and then go on to fulfill their own individual potential, for better or worse. Within this peculiar self act ualizing conception, each nation would seek to achieve its own glory, corresponding to its own historical, cultural, and ultimately linguistic standards. Hence, despite a glorious admiration for the achievements of the German nation, Herder would never pre scribe imitation as the key to other nations' glory. Germans ought to perfect their German" ness," Frenchmen ought to perfect their French" ness" and so forth. This conception of a latent human potential for self discovery, self refinement and self promoti on framed Herder's analysis of human history. Thanks to the concept, Herder was able to adopt an objective scientific like disposition towards the unfolding fulfillment of all men's humanity while at the same time singing the praises of what was, at least in his estimate, a supremely promising German nation. Traditionally, the collective singulars of Volk and nation had been employed,


17 since at least the second half of the fifteenth century, to underscore the cleavage between the German populace and the imp erial and papal powers. 34 An interest in fighting foreign cultural oppression, especially that of France, might account for Herder's utilization of the term Volk to signify not the German people against any sort of authority, but the German nation as a whol e. At the time of Herder's authorship, there truly was no powerful disenfranchising overarching German state agains t which to pit the people. In fact, Herder thought of the Volk as the "natural division of the human race, endowed with its own language, whic h it must preserve as its most distinctive and sacred possession." 35 Hence, Herder's use of the collective singulars are meant to popularize the need for a "national awakening". 36 In order to spark a true movement towards national awakening, Germany's part icular spirit had to be discerned first. The foundation for any future self reflexive sense of nationhood, then, would be predicated on the existence of a "mythopoetic tradition" which would unite the German people. But before Herder's next move towards a new German mythology can be laid out, it is necessary to discuss the contextual discourse concerning something called the Vorzeit ." This concept was a popular within Herder's intellectual milieu, and it influenced Herder's more concrete calls for action. In German, Vorzeit is nothing more than the "before time." This referred to a time before the present (time that came before), not a space existing outside of time itself (as in, time before time itself). In short, German nationalists of the late eighteent h century became 34 Karl Menges, "Herder on National, Popular, and World Literature", in: A Companion to the Works of Johann Gottfried Herder Hans Adler and Wulf Koepke, eds. (Rochester, NY: Camden House, 2009), 197. 35 Barnard, Herder's Social and Political Thought 58. 36 Ibid.


18 obsessed with re capturing fragments of ancient and medieval German history and poetry, to put it to the service of their own nationalism. Interestingly enough, the ambiguity regarding whether the Vorzeit referred to the ancient pagan Germ anic tribes or to the Germans of the Middle Ages was never addressed. Art and Myth This point is best made by Patrick Geary in his recent book The Myth of Nations In this book, Geary argues that the contemporary nation state is a testament to a few pro minent European intellectuals writing in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. 37 And upon further inquiry, it becomes apparent that these extremely influential intellectuals like Herder constantly drew upon a vast wealth of previous thought stretching ba ck to the ancient Greeks. It is revealed, for instance, that when it came time to theorize a "Germanic" identity, the laudatory writings of the Roman Tacitus became a prized resource to Enlightenment and Romantic intellectuals alike. In conjunction with le arned or scholarly intellectuals, politicians recognized the potential of nationalist theories to mobilize identities for political purposes. The most prominent of these politicians in Germany was Freiherr vom Stein of Prussia. This mobilization of identit ies could not have been successfully carried out without the support and legitimation of legions of social scientists, from anthropologists and historians to linguists, who helped shape and re shape ethno linguistic categories and thereby created national myths which lent credibility to the nationalist movements of nineteenth century Europe. German intellectuals of the eighteenth century became increasingly interested in 37 Patrick Geary, The Myth of Nations (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2002), 19.


19 resurrecting all things Altdeutsch (Old German). 38 This resurgence in scholarly interes t in the German literary heritage was stoked by the publishing of old German texts in the 1750s, which was itself followed by two decades of exploration of the themes present in these texts by German poets. 39 Interestingly, in the search for an authenticall y German art form, German intellectuals conflated medieval German works with those of the ancient pagans and even more strangely, the folklore of Nordic mythology. This offers substantive support to the numerous "invented" or "imagined" communities theses that have become popular in the literature on nationalism. Indeed, the Romantic Germans who studied and popularized myths re invented the myths and legends of ages past as they resurrected them. 40 So why such a sudden obsession with the re discovery of Ger man poetry? Here it is opportune to note the strength of contemporary German philhellenism. Influenced by the prominence of institutional philology in the region's universities, German scholars and artists were bathed in the glory of the ancient Greeks and their cultural achievements. In search after a an equivalent to Homer, the German intellectuals of the time sought to water the seeds of a national renaissance which had been sowed centuries before, in the Vorzeit In some cases, such seeds were forged, a nd in almost all cases, the themes present in the works of the Vorzeit were bent to fit the narrative of eighteenth century German cultural life. Herder happened to be the most influential advocate of a national poetry for 38 George Williamson, Longing for Myth in Germany (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2 004), 75. 39 Ibid. 40 A particularly famous instance of such a fabrication is Scotland's James Macpherson's forgery and publication of a supposedly ancient Gaelic epic mythological poem on the subject of Fingal. Additionally, it is important to point out tha t this was around the time when "folklore studies" were first conducted.


20 Germany. 41 Yet Herder was in no w ay interested in re attaining the achievements of the Middle Ages. Like most other Enlightenment figures, he thought of the Middle Ages as a backwards time of cultural repression and human poverty. But what he did locate in Middle Age poetry was a testamen t to an authentic, organic, and local German culture. Yet that Vorzeit culture was also pre Christian, and full of vitality. This contradictory account of the conditions of the past reflects the unresolved ambiguity of the ill defined Vorzeit concept. Thi s romanticization of the distant past was especially energized by the break out of the Napoleonic Wars. All of a sudden, the search for an authentic German identity became imperative. Not surprisingly, scholars sought to contrast the German poetic traditio n from the French one. For instance, when responding to critics of the coarseness of German poetry, a poet responded that "Paris' human slaughter bench" outstripped any ancient mythology.' 42 After 1800, no new poems were unearthed. Interest in the Vorzeit however, became increasingly intense. But before becoming sidetracked on this more general question, it is crucial to return to the peculiarities of Herder. Why was Herder so invested in mounting a recovery of the Vorzeit as well as a renaissance in Germa n poetry? The connection between poetry on the one hand and myth and nationalism on the other hand can be made through a certain understanding of poetry itself. If one takes poetry to be something like the highest expression of the human spirit, then, it would make sense conceptually that Herder would argue for a rebirth of German poetry. This is insofar as a rebirth of German poetry would lead to the locating and expression of the 41 Williamson, Longing for Myth in Germany 75. 42 Ibid, 76.


21 true German spirit. And to return to an earlier discussion, we can elucidat e Herder's position on poetry by recalling his particular sort of nationalism, as well as his concept of HumanitŠt As has been discussed throughout this chapter, Herder's concept of HumanitŠt refers to the kernel of potential for perfectibility that is possessed by human beings. By extension, and in combination with Herder's unique brand of universal particularism, Herder's nationalism promotes each nation's elucidation and development of its particular spirit, which is intimately connected to its langua ge. In true Romantic spirit, and encouraged by men like Goethe, Herder posits that poetry offers men the highest expression of the human spirit. 43 The conclusion that follows is that poetry is the ultima te tool for the development of Germany's unique Humani tŠt Thus, the recapturing of the German Vorzeit whether genuine or counterfeit, represents a contribution to the political mobilization of the Germans' national identity. When the intellectuals and poets of Herder's environ collected and re interpreted t ales, myths, and poems, they were breathing new life into the German national project. And this is the reason why many German intellectuals of the early nineteenth century, Herder figuring prominently amongst them, resorted to the construction of a new Ger man mythology in order to revitalize the German political project. Herder's political thought advanced a unique perspective on language, nationhood, myth and human nature. But while this is the case, his interest in language, culture, myth and organic nat ional wholeness would become recurring themes in the German discourse 43 Hansjakob Werlen, "The Universal and the Particular", in A New History of German Literature eds.David E. Wellbery and Jud ith Ryan, (Cambridge: Belknap Press, 2004), 414. Karl Menges, "Herder on National, Popular, and World Literature", in: A Companion to the Works of Johann Gottfried Herder Hans Adler and Wulf Koepke, eds. (Rochester, NY: Camden House, 2009), 195.


22 on nationhood for decades to come. In the next section I examine some of these themes, in addition to others, as they figure in the thought of Jo hann Gottlieb Fichte (1762 1814). On Fi chte For those wishing to understand Fichte's peculiar brand of nationalism, there are two crucial starting points. The first is Fichte's chance encounter with Kantian philosophy. The second is Fichte's own commitment to being a man of action rather than a man of mere speculation, as a partial effect of the French Revolution. These are the two 'contextual parameters' that wi ll be discussed in this section History In 1790, following the French Revolution, Fichte wrote to a friend: "I wish not merely to think ; I want to act ...I have only one passion, one need, one complete feeling in myself, that is, to work for humanity. The more I do, the happier I feel." 44 The point, or ultimate goal, is to act upon the world rather than merely speculate about it with t he detachment of an analyst. There is little doubt to be had that this impetus for wanting to change the world presents itself to Fichte at least in part because of his social position. Fichte was born the son of peasants, and even after completing his stu dies in theology struggled to scratch out a living as a private tutor. This kind of an analysis has been conducted, and I have nothing necessarily against it, but I do not feel confident that it 44 Quoted in Eugene Anderson, Nationalism and the Cultural Crisis in Prussia (New York: Octagon Books, 1966) 21. See al so: Hans Kohn, The Paradox of Fichte's Nationalism", Journal of the History of Ideas 10 (1949): 319.


23 conveys the whole of the story. It's useful here to turn to t he opening lines of Fichte's The Vocation of Man (1800), in which Fichte discusses the role of the scholar. This role, argues the developing philosopher, is not to be evaluated in isolation from the scholar's entanglement in his society and can only be pro perly understood in "contraposition" with it. For the scholar i s someone who does not engage with the kind of work done by the rest of society, and the rest of society does not engage in the work of the scholar. Further, each scholarly discipline can be co ntrasted with its neighbors in order to obtain the figure of its contours, so to speak. This point is well taken, the scholar engages in scholarship, but what is one to make of this? Fichte's answer is that th e scholar is not just different, he is superior From his vantage point, the scholar is the only member of society who can claim to understand the overall direction of his society's development. He is also the only one who can claim to affect the course of that development in a new direction. And this was Fichte's chosen profession. More than that, it was Fichte's vocation. This gets one closer to finding in Fichte a certain motivation to become entangled with issues of nationalism, but to understand his conversion from Enlightenment cosmopolitan to Ger man nationalism, one must turn, fittingly, to German cosmopolitanism. In this case, the cosmopolitanism is that of Immanuel Kant, who Fichte came to be influenced by around the time of his publication of The Vocation of Man Fichte wrote: "I now believe w ith all my heart in the freedom of man and perceive that only with this belief are duty, virtue, in fact, any ethics at all possible." 45 Reflecting on the huge changes brought about by his reading of Kant in the aftermath of the French Revolution, Fichte mu sed: "It is incredible what regard for humanity, what strength this 45 Anderson, Nationalism and the Cultural Cr isis in Prussia 25.


24 system gives us." 46 In his writings on the French Revolution, published in 1793, one finds Fichte's appreciation for freedom and social reform strengthened even at a time when many other German intellectuals were turning away from the Revolution after an initial fascination. For the son of humble peasants, and a questioner of the "so called high classes," the principles of the French Revolution were exactly correct. Even unto this point, one sees Fichte holding on to the writings of Rousseau and championing the idea of a social contract as the basis for philosophical discussion of the events of the day. Philosophy But even in light of this, Fichte's writings exude enthusiasm for Kant's p hilosophical revolution. And it was in the image of Kant's breakthroughs that Fichte crafted his own original philosophy, placing the ego at the center of his system and throwing himself at the questions of subjective freedom. Kant's Transcendental Idealis m, it appears, was not just an exciting new philosophy, but the basis for all succeeding philosophical, or scholarly, discussion. Kant had changed the world, and Fichte was going to make sure that everybody knew it. 47 While Herder developed the concept of Humanit Š t the central concept of Fichte's nationalist thought was that of Kultur Here Kultur is used to designate not the state of the arts and scholarship of a region in general. Instead, Fichte's Kultur made specific reference to a nation's degree of a ffinity with Idealist, or more precisely Fichtean, philosophy. 46 Ibid. 47 Kohn, The Paradox of Fichte's Nationalism", 319.


25 By 1808, the time of Fichte's delivery of his Addresses to the German Nation in an occupied Berlin, the reality of the French Revolution had turned sour as autocracy and privilege re entered t he public stage, most prominently in the figure of Napoleon. This latest work, therefore, exhibits a new perspective. In a fascinating routine of philosophical gymnastics, Fichte manages to preserve his passion for transcendental human freedom while at the same time exalting the history and distinctiveness of the German Volk German idealism was the seat of humanity's new freedom, and it was though the German language's special "ontological primacy" (its relation to its primordial homeland) that this fact a bout the world could first be logically articulated and then publicly enunciated. For if German Idealism, from Kant on downwards, held the truth which offered scholars the tools to change the direction of human development, it was because there was some sp ecial feature of the German language and its surrounding culture which made it capable of realizing this truth. Fichte developed a rather sophisticated philosophy of language of his own, and it served an important role in shaping his ideas about national belonging. For Fichte all languages were descended from one mother tongue. As different tribes parted ways and settled in different locations, their language was modified by the those different environments. In order to argue this, Fichte maintained that w ords had fixed meanings, and that those meanings were fixed via "direct connection" to the objects of the tribe's surrounding environment. In order to coin words for more abstract non sensible objects, the speakers must approach the super sensible strictly by means of analogy. 48 Thus, even in the case of non physical objects, the extension of signifiers is ultimately tied to the 48 David James, "Fichte on the Vocation of the Scholar and (Mis)Use of History," The Review of Metaphysics 63 (2010): 551.


26 physical environment within which the speakers are situated. Fichte's linguistic nationalism hinges on these premises. Treating mo re directly with the historical development of language, Fichte employs his own theory to praise the German tongue, and therewith, the German nation. Fichte argues that the Romance languages (with suspected ref erence to French) are derived from Latin. Beca use they are deriv ed from Latin, they utilize words which were coined in reference to a different environment. In contrast to this, the German tongue is an Ursprache (living primal tongue). 49 Because German is the only language which is still spoken in the same environment in which it was born, Fichte proclaims, it is the only tongue in which the truth can be accessed through language. The other languages of Europe, especially French, have broken the developmental chain. The German tongue, which unifies the German people, affords Germans a unique, privileged epistemic access to the truth of the world. 50 For this reason, the German people were destined to become, in Fichte's estimation, the leader's of the world's progress. What we see in the Addresses then, is an interesting mix of cosmopolitanism, intellectual activism, and a primitive philosophy of language. It is in the mixing of these diverse currents of thought that the ingredients of Fichte's peculiar brand of German nationalism may be first located. I n these lectures, Fichte lays out his plan for a new system of education that will correct the negative aspects of the traditional educational syste m, leading to a "moral renewal" of the German nation. 51 If one may draw a parallel here, it is useful to com pare this aspect of Fichte's 49 Andrew Fiala, Linguistic Nationalism and Linguisti c Diversity in German Idealism: Locating Hegel between Fichte and Humboldt Epoche 9 (2004): 164. 50 Ibid. 51 James, "Fichte on the Vocation of the Scholar and (Mis)Use of History," 559.


27 thought to Rousseau's work on Emile The object of Fichte's original educational philosophy is to nurture young people in accordance with the principles of Kantian philosophy. By this I mean that Fichte did for education what K ant had done for ethics, shifting the emphasis from a system of rewards and consequences to one in which pupils would be motivated by their innate curiosity and propensity to seek intellectual stimulation. Fichte writes that the traditional educational sys tem was premised on a reward punishment structure, rewarding them for reproducing lesson content and punishing them for failing to do so. To be clear, when Fichte discusses education, his ultimately keeps a moral education in mind as the culmination of s chooling. So that when he discusses pupils' geometric instruction, for instance, he's merely choosing to represent principles that will not only be applied to mathematical spaces, but more importantly for moral judgments The important aim of education is to "show the pupil what is right and exhort him faithfully to do it." 52 It is easy to detect the influence of Kant's second critique, the Critique of Practical Reason, upon Fichte here. Parting from this point, Fichte's criticism of traditional methods of p unishment and reward begin to make more sense, for the failure of this method arises from the fact that it: a) admits for a difference between the will of the student and the right course of action, and b) because it expects that the will can be influenced by external motives. Fichte argues that this arrangement constitutes a pedagogical failure. In the case of a reward, the reward is superfluous and in the case of a punishment, the punishment can only hope to temporarily retard the student from doing what is his will, to which s/he will soon enough return. 52 Fichte, Addresses to the German Nation 22 23.


28 Education as Organizing Principle This means that in order to produce upright moral citizens, a new educational system must be adopted that will address these fundamental weaknesses of the old education al system. It i s important to keep in mind that public education had first been introduced by Prussia in the eighteenth century, so Fichte's writings were published in a formative stage of the German educational system. Fichte's prescriptions were made wit h the intention of orienting the Prussian state towards a superior moral direction. And this is why Fichte's lectures on education are well worth exploring for the historian interested in the formation of a German national identity. For while Fichte does n ot treat with national mythologies, his treatment of education can be read as closely analogous to other thinkers' treatment of the development of a national mythology. Fichte's response to the need for a way to solidify (perhaps even define) the German na tional character was to develop an educational system which would be compulsory yet adopt innovate pedagogical techniques in order to ra ise Kantian citizens. Again, it i s important to recall that Kantian philosophy represents in Fichte's eyes the epitome o f everything 'German.' So what does the Fichtean alternative educational system look like, and how would it serve to consolidate an appropriate image of German ness? The new system would begin with the assumption that pupils will learn when they pursue wh at they love. Thus, they should be free to pursue whatever their curiosity points them to. Rather than relying on rote memorization of examples and principles, the pupil would be encouraged to learn by investigating their interests. This would lead to grea ter learning for two reasons. First, the pupil would pursue his or her own interests. Second, the pupil would


29 be encouraged to figure out maxims and laws on their own, satisfying what Fichte finds to be a fundamental human drive towards intellectual stimul ation. Through this improvisatory process, the pupil develops his or her ability to project images through their imagination and evaluate the underlying principles as they correct the particulars of individual images. When speaking of images, Fichte speaks most generally of the entities of cognitive apprehension. This includes both geometric images and less spatial entities like future moral orders or similar hypothetical situations. "This education is therefore in its final consequence the cultivation of t he pupil's faculty of cognition...the higher and philosophical schooling in the laws according to which such a permanent quality becomes necessary." This is the "starting point for the cultivation of the race by the new education." Fichte argues that by de veloping the youth's inquisitive and imaginative powers, the new education will enable students to delight in the pleasure of imagining better moral orders by projecting the principled elements of moral law (probably Kantian theory) upon the existing world Thus, by employing an educational model which encourages curiosity, self learning and imaginative projection, Prussian authorities would turn out a generation of citizens innately interested in pursuing their love for creation and projection in the real world. This sort of development, which I have outlined in rather rough terms, would "prevent selfishness from arising and provide the form of a moral will..." with the "intention that the pupil thereby projects the image of a moral order of actually existi ng life." Furthermore, the new educational system would inculcate pupils with the idea that the individual is nothing without the collective. In a time of great national crisis for the Germanies as the Napoleonic forces occupied most of German speaking Ce ntral Europe,


30 Fichte's educational system would teach youth to learn no longer for rewards, but for its own sake. And where the pupil excelled, he should not "expect any reward...not even praise, because the prevailing mentality in the community is that ea ch is only doing his share; that instead he merely takes pleasure in his activities and work on behalf of the whole, and in being successful in them, should he meet with success." 53 Conclusion Despite differences in their ultimate conclusions and in their respective mobilizations of German mythology, Herder and Fichte were undoubtedly conditioned by similar historical contexts. The most obvious commonality between the two thinkers is the understanding that any organic nationalism must draw its strength fro m its own anchoring past. Both men reached their conclusions by drawing on their context in specific, determinate ways. Most importantly, they drew upon tempestuous religious and philosophical currents. The first backdrop, and one which will become increa singly important in the later chapters of this thesis, is that of institutionalized Protestantism in Germany. Halfway between the Middle Ages and the contemporary German philosophy departments in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries the dominance of theology departments over philosophy departments was acutely felt 54 The work of Herder and Fichte reflects the mixed status of their profession. On one hand, both philosophers can be seen distancing themselves from theology. Herder does this by focusin g on materialist national narratives, while Fichte does so by channeling Kantian systematization in his own work. 53 Fichte, Addresses t o the German Nation, 33. 54 Zammito, Kant, Herder, and the Birth of Anthropology 19.


31 Yet, at the same time, both Herder and Fichte make furtive appeals to theology as a legitimating force for their respective projects. Herder d oes so invoking a pseudo illuminism into these historical narratives inserting unpolished diamonds of divinity within humanity. Fichte does so by drawing on the aspirations of religious instruction and co opting this model toward the goal of national stre ngthening. The second backdrop is philosophy itself. Both Herder and Fichte engaged in political philosophy. But their most interesting political interventions take place obliquely. For Herder, nationalism is evidenced as a kind of contingent conclusion o f an original distillation and synthesis of Enlightenment cosmopolitanism with Romanticist particularism that just so happens, leads Herder to fall for the German nationalist cause. For Fichte, a most institutionalized philosopher by training and practice philosophy provides an emphasis on practical moral concerns (borrowed from Kant's system ), which frames his development of the notion of Bildung And although Fichte never explicitly refers to myth, his presentation of the development, through state appa ratuses, of Kantian philosophy (with special reference to the linguistically rooted "essence" of the German people) serves as an orienting narrative that provides meaning to the German people fits perfectly well with the theoretical work of the other think ers covered in this thesis. The most important conclusion to be drawn from the ideas explored in this chapter, however, is found in omission. Nestled in Herder and Fichte's discourses on national identity and ways in which can be built up is their implie d concern with a fundamental lack of German national identity. The political work of the two men is not consists of direct responses to an evident lack threatening the edifice of German identity at all levels of society. Direct discussion of this lack is f rom the beginning foreclosed,


32 and yet this lack itself conditions both the philosophers' complex political commitments and their resorting to the institutionalized bodies of scholarly work within theological and philosophical faculties. No doubt, there is a 'na•ve' concern with systematic historiography in both men's work. But it is undeniable that the underlying motivation with the political mobilization of national identity, and the conscious construction thereof, offers the greatest and most provocative explanatory power. In a time of crisis, with a perceptible threat at the gates and a fractured homegrown response, both Herder and Fichte endeavored to discover the underlying logics of organic unity that would consolidate, and therefore save, the German n ation from immediate military occupation and extended cultural colonialism.


33 Chapter Two Politics, Music, and Myth: The Case of Wagner Wilhelm Richard Wagner (1813 1883) was one of the most prominent German cultural figures of the nineteenth century. A p rolific composer and dir ector, Wagner produced over one h undred operas, music dramas, as well as non operatic music. In addition to his musical work, Wagner wrote prose. In those prose works, Wagner addressed issues of cultural significance and even engage d with important philosophical and scholarly movements of his time, synthesizing philological studies and learning from the philosophers. While Wagner never became a famous philosopher or philologist in his own right, his work in music cemented his positio n as a popular opinion maker, allowing him to place art at the service of social theory. Biographical Sketch Born in Leipzig in 1813, Richard Wagner was the son of a clerk, but was raised by a playwright his father died when Richard was a young child. A lifelong traveler, Wagner made his residence in several different cities throughout his life. At times this was by choice, other times it was a matter of political necessity. For in addition to his creative impulses, Wagner was keenly interested in the po litics of his time. In great part as a result of his leftist leanings, Wagner was forced on several occasions to exile himself away from Germany. During these periods of exile, Wagner was able to both reflect on the issues concerning his fatherland, and co me under the influence of foreign styles and opinions.


34 While living in exile in Paris from 1839 to 1842, Wagner composed his opera Rienzi Rienzi was Wagner's third opera, but it marked a meaningful turn toward the style, which would eventually be associ ated with him. With Rienzi which tells the story of the famous fourteenth century Roman tribune, Wagner launches himself into the experiment of grand opera. This style combined elaborate props and costumes with characters and stories borrowed from the pag es of history. Although he would later come to turn away from the style, Wagner's engagement with the grand opera style is revealing, and the combination of dramatic art, pure or absolute music, and historical themes would come to place Wagner at the crux of the intellectual German obsession with historical myths and national identity. Writing in the wake of Beethoven, Wagner understood the composition of additional "pure" music as an obstacle, given that Beethoven had apparently brought the art of pure m usic to its "logical conclusion." 55 This meant that any further composition of merely instrumental music would result in inferior compositions, as compared with the great master of German romanticism. The solution to this deadlock was to expand the domain o f the musical art, respectfully leaving behind pure music and moving in the direction of "Gesamtkunstwerke", or total synthesis of all the art forms As he matured, Wagner's works became concentrated on the ancient pagan myths of the Germanic peoples, whi ch made Wagner wildly successful. More importantly for this study, Wagner's exposition of the Germanic mythical heritage in a way became the most popular account of these myths, thanks to Wagner's large audience. 56 So while Wagner's interpretation of the my ths which figure in his works is based upon 55 George Williamson, Longing for Myth in Germany (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2004), 201. 56 Ibid, 209.


35 contemporary scholarship, the inclusion of certain characters, plot lines, and leitmotifs exemplifies a broader interest on the part of German intellectuals to define a national German heritage which would assist in turn, the definition of a modern national identity. Intellectual influences Wagner's interest in myth was partially fostered by his interest in the work of Ludwig Feuerbach. The Romantic Wagner was first captured by Feuerbach's bombastic attacks upo n Christianity, as well as the philosopher's materialism. A student of Hegel, Feuerbach identified God as the personification of man. Just as the essence of man was material activity, the essence of God was immaterial activity. 57 Thus, the concept of God it self was nothing but the alienated mirror image of man. Plunging further into philosophy of religion, Feuerbach made an important distinction between polytheism and monotheism. Feuerbach argued that ancient Greek polytheism had placed the emphasis upon nat ure and the elements of life outside of human control. Along with this, Greek polytheism had valued the collective and nature. By contrast, Feuerbach maintained that monotheism, beginning with Judaism and later refined in Christianity, was a philosophy of egotism. In the case of Judaism, the emphasis was shifted from nature to the nation above all its enemies. In the case of Christianity, the emphasis was shifted from the nation to the individual. In Feuerbach's view, this fundamental change in perspective represented a downgrade. For our purposes, it suffices to say that the young Wagner longed for a regained sense of humanist universalism, against the pressures of selfishness and individualism. Feuerbach referred to the monotheistic religions as essentiall y 57 Ibid, 193.


36 "oriental", in reference to their "monotheistic despotism", which differed from Western "healthy" pantheism. 58 Additionally, Feuerbach's turn away from the theological and toward the anthropological lent strength to Wagner's Romantic tendencies. Feuerbach insisted on a healthy level of sensuality, against the rationalized systems of the Enlightenment. Furthermore, Wagner referred to Feuerbach as the "proponent of the ruthlessly radical liberation of the individual from the bondage of conceptions associated with the belief in traditional authority." 59 In this sense, Feuerbach did not just help to shape Wagner's artistic temperament, but also his political point of view. Another important influence for Wagner was the historian Franz Josef Mone. Mone's work ad vanced a theory addressing the relationship between myth and history. In his scheme, myth served as a "timeless substrate" which animated the movements of history. Specifically, German history could be understood to be animated by the Nibelungenlied Accor ding to Mone, all myths could eventually be traced back to an "oriental sun cult" centering around the death and rebirth of a sun hero. 60 From this original point, Nordic mythology had developed the hero Siegfried. In this theory, myth must be understood as an archetypal narrative which purports to be abstracted from events in the distant past, but is in fact outside of time. Myths are the stories which constitute the character of nations, since nations are begotten by them. This understanding of the relatio nship between cultural myths and national history would be adopted by Wagner, and will eventually make its appearance in the thought of Friedrich Nietzsche. Wagner came to see history as the as derivative from a timeless archetype 58 Ibid, 194. 59 Ibid, 193. 60 Ibid, 188.


37 which transcended the his torical substance. Taken together, Wagner's readings of Feuerbach and Mone provided the foundations for his own theory of myth as the animating force of history generally, and the source of cultural values for any given nation. During his self imposed ex ile in Paris between 1839 and 1842, Wagner came under the influence of Giacomo Meyerbeer. Meyerbeer was a German Jew who came to fame in Paris and came to be recognized as one of the most important stage composers of the nineteenth century. Meyerbeer's sty le involved elaborate costumes and historical subjects. When Wagner arrived in Paris and became impressed by Meyerbeer's work within the Grand Opera style, the course of his career was forever altered, even though he would later come to reject Meyerbeer an d dismiss the Grand Opera style as "Baroque Catholicism". 61 Even in his rejection of the Grand Opera style and his turn to "German romantic opera", Wagner adopted elements of the former as he expanded into the latter. With his distantiation from Meyerbeer Wagner grew closer to the works of Carl Maria von Weber. In his works Weber drew on German mythical material, such as folktales or historical events, for the creation of the operas. 62 Within a few years, Wagner had left behind the last traces of concrete historical inspiration and dedicated himself to creating works based on the nebulous body of German myth. This is the period in which The Flying Dutchman (1841), Tannh Š user (1842), and Lohengrin (1847) were composed. In his exploration of medieval German m yth, Wagner was not just adopting a new artistic sensibility, he was also highlighting the perceived centrality that these myths had for the project of a German nationalism. Wagner's aesthetics became a weapon in a political 61 I bid, 182. 62 Ibid.


38 arsenal, a means by which to re form and re define the limits of the German national identity. An interesting aspect of Wagner's turn away from the Grand Opera s tyle was his remarking that Germany's musical legacy was not found in the opera, but in pure, instrumental, music. While the F rench had allowed themselves to fall for the exuberant stagecraft of the opera, the Germans had remained attached to the pure musical tradition. Pure music, Wagner argued, was based on the "homely" German souls and rooted in the fatherland. 63 In order to make sense of such a sentiment, it is helpful to turn to the works of another influential philosopher, Arthur Schopenhauer. For Schopenhauer, music stood above and beyond all other art forms. Unlike the other arts, which were instances of representations, music was a pure, unadulterated expression of the human will. This will is a will to live which can be understood as the driving desire of human action, is in essence the driving force of human activity. 64 Due to this fact, the effect that music could evoke from its audience was much deeper and more powerful than the feelings evoked by other art forms. In a certain sense the other art forms, such as architecture or sculpture, represented the will present in nature as interpreted by mankind. Man's reason medi ates the drives which pulsed through him. By contrast, music was the unadulterated expression of "pure feeling". 65 According to Schopenhauer, a given musical piece does not signify any particular sentiment or event, but rather it is ambiguous and indetermin ate. It is in this very indeterminacy, however, that the power of music is found. 63 Ibid. 64 Julius Portnoy, Philosopher and Music, (New York: Humanities Press, 1954), 169. 65 Ibid.


39 Words, on the other hand, are much more definite, and the combination of music with words devalues music by doing violence against its arresting appeal to the sentiment via i ndeterminacy. What does require an explanation is how Wagner came to be influenced by Schopenhauer when Wagner's oeuvre consists entirely of putting words to music and moving in the direction of a Gesamtkunstwerk Unfortunately, it seems that recognizing this inconsistency is not the fault of the scholar, for there truly was an inconsistency in Wagner's thought on this point. For although he accepted Schopenhauer's arguments, he praised the Italian opera style's ability to combine words with music at the same time. Indeed, Wagner took a significantly romantic tack when he adopted the project of marrying music and poetry. 66 By achieving this marriage, Wagner sought to present the audience with a work which would engage the whole spectrum of human emotional e xperience, again a gesture in the direction of the Gesamtkunstwerk Schopenhauer's influence on Wagner was not limited to the realm of aesthetic activity. In fact, Wagner's acquaintance with the works of Schopenhauer forced him to re think his position on religion. After reading Schopenhauer's Parerga und Paralipomena (1851), Wagner's already existing anti Semitism was further strengthened. In this work, Schopenhauer reproached the European jews for existing as a foreign nation, while still inhabiting Euro pean states. This is, of course, not an original formulation of ant i semitic prejudice, but the reason offered by Schopenhauer is somewhat innovative. For the Judaism did not refer in this case to the race of a nation of people, but rather to a philosophy. The philosophy of heavenly creation ex nihilo the origination myth that 66 Ibid, 175.


4 0 Wagner maintained had founded the Jewish religion, misunderstood the truth of the world, in which things are re fashioned from the elements of what came before. Thus, Schopenhauer's anti semitism was presented as a philosophical disagreement. Whether this was sincere or merely a cover up is hard to say. What is clear is that Wagner was especially stuck by Schopenhauer's contention that Jews should not be granted full political rights. The year before Schopenhauer's publication of Parerga und Paralipomena, Wagner had penned Judentum in der Musik a treatise which attacked the influence of Jews not just upon music, but more generally amongst the capitalist classes. Interestingly, it is here that Wagner turns on Meyerbeer apropos Meyerbeer's ( born Jacob Liebmann Beer ) Judaism. Jewish composers, Wagner argues, do not share in European myths, and therefore lack the longing which encourages a high level of compositional productivity. In a m ore familiar criticism, Wagner associated the Jews with the dominance of the capitalist class, as well with the corrupting effect that this influence had upon the making of art. Earlier in this section, it was remarked that Wagner identified the Grand Ope ra style with 'Frenchness', while he associated pure music with the German nation. The phenomenon of capitalism only served to solidify Wagner's curious identification of musical styles with national characteristics. In a capitalist system art was valued i n measure with its popularity, its loyalty to convention and its appeal to the whims of the audience. This, in Wagner's view, degraded both the art and the artist. The capitalist manipulated popular tastes through financing, leading to an interest in art t hat was popular and therefore profitable, not in art that was truly "human". Such an appeal to the


41 audience was understood by Wagner as foreign to the German Pietist tradition stemming from the Reformation. Thus, capitalism, and Jews as a personification o f that system, were perceived by Wagner as an obstacle to the production of honest and innovative art forms. Richard Wagner fancied himself a revolutionary. During the tumult that infected the Germanies in 1848, Wagner joined the Vaterslandverein (the mos t influential republican faction) and called for the abolition of capitalism and the creation of a "republican monarchy." 67 When news of the revolution in Vienna reached him, Wagner composed a poem to welcome the revolution. Later, when revolution broke out in Dresden, where he resided, at least two revolutionary meetings were held in Wagner's own garden. Wagner may have even been responsible for the purchase of hand grenades. Furthermore, Wagner took up a position upon a church spire to help monitor troop m ovements during the street fighting. 68 During the crisis in Dresden, Wagner became an associate of the Russian anarchist Mikhail Bakunin. When Bakunin was arrested, Wagner narrowly escaped, thereby avoiding either capital punishment or lifetime imprisonment In his political writings, Wagner expressed a distrust of both the free market and representative democracy. Instead of the pulse of whim and self interest, Wagner advocated for a society in which relationships were built on a "higher principle of 'lov e.'" 69 The foundation of this communal love would be 'need'. Need, in Wagner's retro romantic sense, signified both the need resulting from self denial and a more sensual sort of cultural longing. This notion of love and longing was inscribed into Wagner's 67 Williamson, Longing for Myth in Germany 190. 68 Anthony Arblaste, Viva la Libertˆ!: Politics in Opera (New York: Verso, 1992 ), 149 69 Williamson, Longing for Myth in Germany 191.


42 understanding of medieval European life. Influenced by his own readings of the Nibelungenlied Wagner spoke of the early medieval economy as an economy based on a "heroic human system of deeds and rewards." 70 It is quite unclear what Wagner meant by thi s ex actly, but it i s clear that he saw it in opposition to the system of "material private property." Clearly, this is a highly idealized conceptualization of the Middle Ages, and does not reflect any historical reality. Still, Wagner thought that the imagery of such an ideal love had been encapsulated in the Holy Grail of Christian folklore but had been lost since the Middle Ages. The hoard of the Niebelungenlied represented for Wagner the longing of the common people, who waited for a buried treasure that wou ld bring about better times. As I will discuss in detail in the next section of this chapter, Wagner saw myth as a story that gives direction to the meaning of individual struggle. In this sense, the myth of the Nibelungenlied gave Wagner the template with which to understand the political struggles erupting in the middle of the nineteenth century. To properly understand Wagner's political radicalism, it is helpful to place him within the contemporary political struggles of the time. Roughly, I wish to con sider Wagner's relationship to conservatism, liberalism, and radicalism. As has been previously discussed in this chapter, Wagner was opposed to the conservatism espoused by the establishment of his early years. In this sense, Wagner was a liberal. He oppo sed hereditary property, resented the nobility's privileges, and did not look favorably upon a return to the world of Metternich. Despite this, Wagner did not look favorably upon the institutions of liberalism either. He lamented the effects that the free market had had on the valuation of art, and resented the positions of monied interests. Given these positions, 70 Ibid, 189.


43 it is easy to categorize Wagner as a political radical. But one must also take into account his increasing nationalism, as well as his virulent a nti Semitism. Thus, it is ultimately impossible to place Wagner into an orthodox political category. Instead, Wagner must be understood as a complex character whose ideas express serious unresolved ambiguities and even contradictions. Turning to religion, one finds Wagner sticking much closer to his influences. Wagner adopted Mone's theory of the Middle Eastern religions as the re iterations of ancient Sun God worship. He also adopted Feuerbach's narrative of an alienated Christian God. As Williamson argue s, Wagner's development of the concept of need, longing and universal love found resonance in the writings of Feuerbach. Feuerbach writes: "God springs out of a feeling of want; what man is in need of, whether this be a definite and therefore conscious o r an unconscious need, -that is God." 71 According to Feuerbach, the goal of all religions was longing. Christianity was no exception, as Jesus Christ represented a longing for a connection between humanity and divinity, masculinity and femininity. Although Christianity was inferior to Greek polytheism, explained Feuerbach, Jesus did combine material and ethereal qualities. So while his divine qualities remained locked in the realm of the imaginary, his emphasis on solidarity, suffering, and love entailed ma terial commitments. With Luther's revolutionary protest, Protestant Christianity placed an even greater emphasis upon material love. With this move, Christianity came closer to recognizing the material truth of the human conditions. Additionally, Wagner he ld that Lutheranism abandoned the most egregious life denying 71 Williamson, Longing for Myth in Germany 193.


44 doctrines of the Catholic Church, which made it easier for Romantic sentiments to accept Protestantism. Protestantism received a fair amount of criticism, however. On one hand, radical critics h ighlighted parallels between Protestantism's emphasis on subjective experience and heightened materialism, and capitalism's laissez faire economic individualism. On the other hand, Catholic critics jabbed at Protestantism from a steadfast conservative poin t of view. Like many of his contemporaries, Wagner first attempted to mediate between Feuerbach's critique of religion, both polytheistic and monotheistic, and a retained sense of tradition, especially apropos Catholicism's potent aesthetic imagery. But b y the late 1840s, Wagner had given up on this reconciliation by supplanting religion with a Romantic notion of myth and longing, notions which would remain essential to his thought as he moved into his more mature period. Perhaps Wagner transferred his rel igious sentiments onto the new object of the Volk Exhibiting the themes of redemption through love, escape from material chains, madness, and poetry, Romanticism was a naturally appealing movement for Wagner. The problem, as one may deduce from Wagner's political commitments, is that Wagner's love affair with the Romantic movement was decidedly out of step with the sentiments of his contemporaries. By the 1830s, Romanticism as a serious philosophical and aesthetic movement was falling out of fashion. In h is early works of the 1830s, Wagner displays a quintessentially Romantic trait: utilizing medieval subject matter to advance anachronistic ideas. 72 A conflict arises, however, for Wagner portrays the artist as in conflict with society, whereas the Romantics looked upon the artist (especially the poet), 72 Stewart Spencer, The Cambridge Companion to Wagner ed. Thomas S. Grey, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008), 68.


45 as the highest and most noble expression of his world and the instrument for its ultimate transformation. It would be wrong, though, to see Wagner as out of step with the more elder Romantics. One can easily a rgue that the disparity in the portrayal of the relationship between the artist and his society between Wagner and the older Romantics (say, the poet Novalis) results not so much from a disjoint in their views, but rather from their similarity. Both Wagner and Novalis viewed the artist as an individual who was "able to reveal to the world what lies beyond it..." 73 But by the time Wagner was writing, the artist was increasingly at the mercy of his audience (as in Paris) or of finance. Wagner was acutely aware of these political changes, and they were therefore reflected in the plots of his works. Disjoints do exist, for instance, with the theme of death. Where Novalis saw death as the supreme sensory experience, Wagner saw death as the end to all the sufferi ngs of life. 74 A crucial point of agreement is on the importance of myth to the heritage of a nation. As the anthologist Ludwig Bechstein expressed, "legends are a sacred and common possession of the people." 75 Just as the Romantics had a generation previous Wagner became steeped in the scholarly literature on German myth and folklore. Convinced that he was obtaining accurate representations of medieval legends, Wagner recognized these myths as powerful tools for the cementation of a German national identity The next section deals with the way in which Wagner employed myth not just to strengthen German's sense of national belonging, but to create it. 73 Ibid. 74 Ibid, 69. 75 Ibid, 70.


46 Wagner's Theory of Myth The overarching argument to be made in this thesis is that nineteenth century Germa n intellectuals found a political use for the cultural myths of the German speaking peoples of Central Europe. Collapsing the distinction between the merely aesthetic and the political, the intellectuals covered in this thesis sought to mobilize the German public by appealing to the sense of national belonging and personal identity that legends, myths, and folk tales created. In order for this to be the case, however, one must make explicit the connection between any give n national myth, as a collectively constructed historical narrative, and national identity, as a more personal one. 76 Drawing on contemporary scholarship devoted to just this question, Richard Wagner synthesized his own theory of myth. It is only after fully developing this theory of myth th at Wagner's artistic and political manifestos fall properly into place. Wagner recognizes the obvious fact that every particular myth varies from the next. Distinguished by their settings, plots, characters, and their underlying moral lesson, mythical nar ratives vary both within cultures and between different cultures. But what Wagner also contends is that beneath these superficial differences all myths share a universal substrate. According to Wagner scholar Roger Scrunton, Wagner understood myth as: not a fable or a religious doctrine but a vehicle for human knowledge. The myth acquaints us with ourselves and our condition, using symbols and characters that give objective form to our inner compulsions 77 Myths served as a hidden repository for 76 Surely a personal sense of national belonging is not a private one, and is predicated on a shared sense of belonging, but for the purposes of this section, I will posit that such a general distinction can be made. 77 Roger Scrunton, Death Devoted Heart: Sex and the Sacred in Wagner's Tristan and Isolde (New York:


47 the truth a bout ourselves. Indeed, Wagner declared that myth revealed "human nature in its naked essence." 78 Thus, myths served as mirrors reflecting the truth of cultural heritage. What Wagner meant in this regard is not that myths are somehow prophetic, containing the inner truths of individuals yet unborn. Rather, myths contained the most abstracted, archetypal accounts of human experience. Just as Christianity could be interpreted as the re hashing of a primordial Oriental sun worshipping cult, claimed Wagner, any given myth could be interpreted as the telling of a particular manifestation of a universal theme. To get a better grasp of just what this means, it is useful to turn to Wagner's reading of the Niebelungenlied This medieval German legend tells the story of Siegfried, a dragon slayer who is murdered, and of his wife's subsequent revenge. In reading the quintessential German myth, Wagner equated the travails of Siegfried to those of the historical figure Frederick Barbarossa. Furthermore, both Barbarossa an d Siegfried, along with Charlemagne and others, were seen by Wagner as incarnations of a primordial solar deity. 79 Wagner referred to this as a "mythic identity." 80 By this, one is to understand that Siegfried serves as the mythical heroic archetype that Bar barossa would later incarnate. Just as Barbarossa instantiated the heroic archetype of Siegfried, other myths convey different themes. Amongst these, argues Wagner, are revenge, sacrifice, renunciation, selfless love, and heroism. Myths are "true for all t ime, and [their] content, densely compressed, inexhaustible for all ages." 81 In the densely packed depths Oxford University Press, 2004), 5. 78 Williamson, Longing for Myth in Germany 196. 79 Ibid, 191. 80 Stewart Spencer, The Cambridge Companion to Wagner ed. Thomas S. Grey, 72. 81 Ibi d. By "true", Wagner meant 'valid'.


48 of myth, cultures may locate the narratives which serve as interpretative frameworks for their historical experiences. As Wagner remarks on several occ asions, myth produces historical narratives, not the other way around. The crucial linkage between the personal and the historical is provided by myths, insofar as myths provide the members of any given cultural groups with a traditional set of plots, char acters, and themes, which they may then use to interpret their individual and collective experiences. 82 By interpreting biographical events in light of shared cultural myths, individuals within a culture are able to give meaning to their experiences. In 18 65 Wagner penned a topical essay, "What Is German? to address examine the issue of defining the German identity directly. In that short essay, Wagner discusses the uniqueness of the German tongue, philhellenism, Protestantism, and finally the role of the German artist in defining the German essence. In so doing, Wagner draws together many of the crucial subjects that have been addressed in this thesis, which demonstrates that Wagner's interest in the question of German identity motivated him to read active ly and widely. The German spirit, according to Wagner, maintained that "the Beautiful and Noble came not into the world for the sake of profit, nay, not for the sake of even fame and recognition." 83 The interest in profit, argues Wagner, belongs to the Euro pean Jew. Indeed, part of what sets the German apart is the Volk 's staunch resistance to foreign dominance, whether that be imposed by Jews or Gentiles. Characterized by "the capacity of diving deep within, and thence observing lucidly and thoughtfully the world...", the 82 It is interesting to note that Nietzsche would later formalize this relationship, which exists implicitly in Wagner's thought, as I shall demonstrate in the third chapter. 83 Richard Wagner, Art and Politics (Lincoln Nebraska: University of Nebraska Press, 1995), 163.


49 German people were reluctant to trim their genius "to worldly profit." 84 The disadvantage to this quality, Wagner figured, was that the German nation had a propensity to "being lured into fantastic satisfaction with itself", leading them to "imagine it is something special and does not need to first endeavor to become it ." 85 This, then, provides the German artists with the task of prickling the German public to work to actively define themselves. By the essay's conclusion, written some years l ater, however, Wagner confesses that he "cannot plumb [the] meaning" of the essay's leading question. Thus, despite expressing evident intuition as to what the German spirit consists of, Wagner's project to concretely define the bounds of that spirit is ul timately frustrated. Although Wagner's theorizing on myth may appear to imply that all myths are somehow related, it important to emphasize that Wagner thought that different cultures were crafted out of different myths. One key distinction between the Je ws and the Germans, for instance, was that they carried cultural myths whose underlying themes were fundamentally incompatible, as has been discussed above apropos Giancomo Meyerbeer. Again, Wagner's position was not that the Jews did not possess their own cultural myths Rather, Wagner held that Judaism's myths were fundamentally incompatible, in a variety of ways, with the cultural myths of the Germans and, presumably, other European nations. Scrunton continues: Myths are set in the hazy past, in a vani shed world of chthonic forces and magniloquent deeds. But this obligatory pastness' is a heuristic device... It lifts the story out of the stream of human life and endows it with a meaning 84 Ibid, 160. 85 Ibid, 167. Emphasis mine.


50 that is timeless. 86 Again, it is important to note that myths are not to be understood as historical narratives, but as allegorical interpretive frameworks. Inspired by Droysen and Hegel, Wagner also stressed the political dimension of cultural myths. In the words of Wagner scholar Stewart Spencer, Wagner spoke of "mythi cized history and secularized myth." 87 Thus, cultures form with myths serving as the guides to interpretation and action. Wagner argued that myths were originally created by the ancient peoples ( Volk ) in order to make sense of their natural environment and experiences. In a Feuerbach inspired move, Wagner sustained that the ancient peoples had then created supernatural beings in their own image, gods, who were responsible for the enigma of the phenomenal world. 88 In these gods, the ancient peoples raised them selves to "objects of representation", eternal guiding images raised beyond the limits of history and circumstance, and the stuff of myth itself. With this theory of myth, Wagner's aesthetic renderings of Romantic German mythology being to take on a deci dedly political tone. M yth is cast as a vehicle of collective identity, a tool for the political mobilization of formerly fractured sensations of belonging. For if individuals formed their identity at least partially with reference to the cultural myths th at they were taught, manipulating the popular perception of a nation's mythological heritage could become a powerful political tool. Wagner's Theory of Myth Applied Wagner's operatic works were the product of great artistic improvisation. In his 86 Roger Scrunton, Death Devoted Heart 5. 87 Stewart Spencer, The Cambridge Companion to Wagner ed. Thomas S. Grey, 73. 88 Williamson, Longing for Myth in Germany 196.


51 operas, Wagner brought together the great traditions of Romantic poetry and German instrumental music. On one hand, one finds the poetic tradition that was praised by the Romantics as the highest expression of the human spirit. On the other, one finds the musical tradition which had been mastered by the Germans. Inspired by their rootedness in folk mythology, the Germans were uniquely positioned to excel in the realm of musical expression. Reflecting upon the genius of Beethoven, Wagner compared the great composer to Christopher Columbus. In seeking to expand the horizons of instrumental music, Beethoven had "burst the bounds of formal music", opening up the space for a new sort of Kunstwerk 89 In the succeeding union of poetry and formal instrumental music, Wagner located the joining of formal "female feeling" and poetic "male understanding". 90 The female musical element would receive the "fertilizing seed" of male poetic longing. The germinating offspring was absolute music, a step in the direction of the Gesamtkuns twerk In this Gesamtkunstwerk the poetic aspects would draw out the best expressive qualities of music. In turn, music would lend a formalizing potency to poetry's subjectivist egoism. By drawing on the recurring mythological themes uncovered by decades of philological research and presenting those themes in his operas, Wagner became the foremost popularizer of the idea of a German national mythology amongst the German public. 91 Yet rather than utilizing existing myth to cement a shared sense of national belonging, Wagner sought to revive the old Romantic project of creating a new brand of 89 Ibid, 201. 90 Ibid. 91 Ibid, 209.


52 political myth. Writing during a time of considerable religious and social turmoil, Wagner faulted Christianity (and its myths) for contributing to the egotistical persp ective that prevailed in modern Germany. Although the exact purpose of this new myth shifted as Wagner's thought matured, the political role of mythology and art remain a constant conviction on Wagner's part. Moving from an early Feuerbach inspired, neo R omantic, "sensualism" to a more eclectic mix of salvaged Christian and pagan values, Wagner's mythical projects evidence a disillusionment with the state of public opinion and social conditions in nineteenth century Europe. Accordingly, Wagner theorized my th both as a powerful source of cultural identity and, ultimately, as a powerful tool for re shaping Germany's national culture. In the face of this, it is impossible to deny that Wagner drew extensively from a vast number of sources across disciplinary b oundaries. But perhaps more importantly for this study, Wagner himself became hugely influential across time and disciplines. In this influence, one might distinguish between Wagner's influence upon composers, playwrights, and filmmakers, and his influence beyond the strictly aesthetic realm. 92 The final chapter of this thesis explores the thought of a man who was intensely influenced by Wagner, especially in regards to the relationship between culture and myth. That man, of course, is Friedrich Nietzsche. 92 Annegret Fauser, The Cambridge Companion to Wagner ed. Thomas S. Grey, 221.


53 Chapter Three Myth Moves Nation: The Case of Nietzsche Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche (1844 1900) is one of the most consistently, uncompromisingly iconoclastic intellectual figures of the modern period. Alone amongst his contemporaries this German p hilosopher managed to maintain a critical posture towards every subject which he came to deal with. Due in part to both the combativeness of his voluminous critiques and the strength of his personality, Nietzsche scholars and biographers have felt an irres istible temptation to search for the origins of Nietzsche's spark in his life experiences. While this approach is common and valid, it is helpful to maintain a critical separation between Nietzsche's ideas and his life. As the important philosopher and bio grapher Walter Kaufmann remarked in his seminal biography, although "the thought of a philosopher may be partly occasioned by early experiences...the conception of strict causality is not applicable..." 93 In spite of this, a close reading of Nietzsche's lif e demonstrates that the man's life and his thought are difficult to separate from one another. The first two sections of the present chapter will develop the processes and personalities which occasioned Nietzsche's thinking, and elucidate the crucial link between the imminent threats of Nietzsche's time and the originality of his vision. Nietzsche's Biography In successive order, this section will examine Nietzsche's family background and 93 Walter Kaufmann, Nietzsche: Philosopher, Psychologist, Antichrist (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1974), 21.


54 early life, his experiences as a pupil at the Schulpforta gymnasium and on how some significant personal difficulties figured in his work. It is important to clarify that this study will concentrate on the period up to and including the publication of Nietzsche's first monograph, The Birth of Tragedy (1872) but will not delve much into his later development. 94 Nietzsche's early life was marked by personal tragedy. At a tender age the young Friedrich lost both his father, whom he loved dearly and spoke of highly, and his younger brother Joseph shortly after that. These lo sses certainly impressed a certain melancholy character upon Nietzsche, who would then come to be raised in a household dominated by women. From the time he could read, Nietzsche began to prepare himself to occupy his profession of choice: that of a preach er, after his minister father. It was in the church that Nietzsche came to be especially touched by the magic of choral music, whose jubilant tone and attractive structure enticed the young Nietzsche to commit to a lifelong interest in the power of music. 95 Owing to his budding talent, the young Nietzsche was sent off to the Schulpforta on a full scholarship. The Pforta School was an elite public boarding school that fostered some of the most prominent minds in Germany, and had educated Klopstock, Novalis, Fichte, Ranke, as well as the brothers Schlegel. While at the school, Nietzsche excelled in the subjects of religion, literature, and classics, while struggling with mathematics and drawing. 96 Interestingly enough, the young Nietzsche appears to have had th e highest 94 This proce dural choice to limit the focus of this chapter is due to my interest in Nietzsche's theoretical writings on myth, which remain limited to his early thought. 95 Sander L. Gilman, ed., Conversations with Nietzsche: A Life in the Words of His Contemporaries (New York: Oxford University Press, 1987), 5. 96 Kaufmann, Nietzsche 22.


55 respect and admiration for the talent of his teachers and fellow students, even overlooking their faults. 97 While at Pforta, Nietzsche became enamored with the poetry of H š lderin, who was at the time not yet included in the canon of great German v erse. It is clear that from a young age, Nietzsche's curiosity was drawn by the classics, religion, and aesthetics. These are interests that would only become strengthened as the philosopher grew. Another important note, perhaps a side remark, is that whi le at Pforta Nietzsche also exhibited symptoms of chronic illness, in the form of migraines. 98 Nietzsche would later come to be plagued by chronic illness and discomfort. The school's medical records comment that a possibility existed that Nietzsche's recur ring pains may have been similar to those that were responsible for his father's demise. Following the completion of a thesis on Theognis in 1864, Nietzsche matriculated at the University of Bonn. Despite initially joining a fraternity, Nietzsche became frustrated by the rampant beer drinking as well as the ubiquitous patriotism. These, after all, were the years that saw the Prussian state go to war with both Denmark (1864) and Austria (1866) to consolidate its position as the leading German power and br inger of German unification. After attempting to reform the group and inject some measure of cultured hellenic influence, Nietzsche resigned his spot in the fraternity. After dropping his studies in theology in favor of pursuing a career in philology, Niet zsche transferred from Bonn to Leipzig in 1865. Certain aspects of Nietzsche's biography had visible impact upon the development (and constant re formulation) of his philosophy. The first of these is Nietzsche's lifelong 97 Gilman, Conversations with Nietzsche 8. 98 Kaufmann, Nietzsche 23.


56 health problems. Already accustome d to severe migraines and bouts of unexplained illness, Nietzsche's health was further damaged by his service in the Franco Prussian War. Following his participation in this conflict, Nietzsche was constantly tormented by insomnia, migraines, and a severe nervous condition that would persist throughout his life. 99 After searching for a climate befitting his delicate physical condition, Nietzsche resolved to live in the Swiss Alps, accepting a teaching position at Basel. For the rest of his life, Nietzsche's activity and travels would be hampered by his susceptibility to nerves and related physical symptoms. Nietzsche's struggle with ill health did influence his thought. Throughout his writings one may observe special emphasis placed not just upon avoiding the unhealthy, but also upon learning how to appreciate and learn from the unhealthy. The artistic, creative temperament is fueled by something "which the artist lacks." 100 In this way Nietzsche affirms that when it comes to aesthetic pursuits, illnesses are "g reat stimulants..." 101 "It does not seem possible..." Nietzsche asserted, "to be an artist and not to be sick." 102 In a crucial move, Nietzsche identifies art (especially in its tragic variety), as the remedy created to heal and comfort the sick. Another aspe ct of Nietzsche's biography, which is evidenced in his thought, is Nietzsche's concern with his own familial heritage. The philosopher proudly maintained that his family could be traced back to Polish nobility, although no evidence of this has been advance d. In fact, outside of his father's ministry and his grandfather's authorship, Nietzsche's ancestors were mostly butchers. 103 Regardless of the historical truth of 99 Gilman, Conversations with Nietzsche 100. 100 Kaufmann, Nietzsche 130. 101 Ibid. 102 Ibid. 103 Ibid, 22.


57 Nietzsche's ancestry, the philosopher's concern with heritage is an important in his cultural milieu, as well as in his work on culture and nationhood. Interestingly enough, Nietzsche's instance on his Polish ancestry flies in the face of his contemporaries' obsession with the purity and purpose of the German people and culture. As shall be discuss ed later, Nietzsche appears to have been remarkably unenthused by his peers' patriotism, even identifying it as a major problem in German society. Nietzsche's intellectual influences Friedrich Nietzsche's life was lived in the midst not just of personal tribulations, but also of larger socio cultural conflict. Born during a period of widespread social upheaval throughout much of Europe, Nietzsche came of age in a society undergoing a decisive, yet unclear, change of order (1848, Kulturkampf unification) 104 In the conflict that pervaded his life, Nietzsche found not jus reasons to lament, but also reasons to celebrate the opportunity that such conflict afforded. Unlike the writers of the Enlightenment like Rousseau, who professes a belief in an idyllic sta te for man preceding civilization, Nietzsche believed that culture is born out of conflict. It is an interesting historical curiosity that the decades during which Germany was most consistently challenged between the Napoleonic Wars and the Franco Prussi an War, German intellectuals garnered an interest in the ancient Greek civilization. As has been discussed elsewhere in this study, nineteenth century German philhellenism has 104 Inter estingly Nietzsche was seventeen when Bismarck came to power in Germany, and went insane a year before Bismarck's dismissal. See: Peter Bergmann, Nietzsche: The Last Antipolitical German (Bloomington: indiana University Press, 1987), 30.


58 come to be recognized as a veritable obsession. 105 And although this intellectual trend had been somewhat dampened since once the Romantic movement had fallen out of fashion, scholarly interest in the wonders of ancient Greece remained, albeit as a more disciplined, institutionalized, and increasingly state sanctioned tradition. 106 This i nstitutionalization came to pass in the shape of permanent museums and the expansion of philological departments. M oreover, even within these departments dedicated to comparative study of ancient languages, literatures, and mythologies, the pull of graecoc entrism was especially accentuated. Grounding himself in the study of the exemplary ancient Greek culture, Nietzsche developed an understanding of cultural production based on the examination of cultural conflict. 107 This innovative approach to the compara tive study of cultures would push Nietzsche to develop an unorthodox understanding of Hellenic culture. As an aside, Nietzsche's senior mentor Jakob Burckhardt would eventually come to endorse Nietzsche's reading of Greek culture. 108 In his explosive scholar ly debut, Nietzsche dared to argue that the achievements of the ancient Greeks had resulted from the struggle of the Apollonian and Dionysiac impulses that permeated that ancient culture. A more thorough discussion of the arguments expressed in The Birth o f Tragedy (1872) is contained in the fourth section of this chapter. In considering Nietzsche's love affair with the ancient Greeks from a biographical perspective, one must take into account the crooked path that led the young academic to 105 Suzanne L. Mar chand, Down From Olympus: Archeology and Philhellenism in Germany, 1750 1970 (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1996) 3 7. 106 Marchand, Down From Olympus 38 44. 107 Kaufmann, Nietzsche 129. 108 Ibid, 28.


59 the study of th e ancients. For the young Nietzsche consistently expressed an aversion for academic specialization. 109 It was not until 1865, a mere seven years before the publication of his first work, that Nietzsche finally submitted to the pressure to specialize in one s ubject. Until that year, Nietzsche continued to tell his mother that he could choose any of a large number of specializations. This aversion to specialization was the product of Nietzsche's wider appreciation for all questions of culture and intellect. Mor eover, Nietzsche continued to display a special interest in the arts, especially musical composition. This appreciation in broad questions of culture is significant in at least two respects. Firstly, because it foretells of Nietzsche's broad scope and ambi tious questioning. These quintessential Nietzschean attributes would remain consistent throughout his work, but would also be pronounced in The Birth of Tragedy Secondly, Nietzsche's distaste for scholarly specialization and narrowness of thought foretell s the combative stance he would maintain against the academic establishment within which he lived. Developmental vicissitudes aside, Nietzsche eventually concentrated his abilities on the study of the ancient Greeks. Once he had decided to embark upon tha t course of study, he was gripped by renewed passion and admiration for the subject of his study. "I love the Greeks more and more", he would declare. 110 It proves difficult to safely speculate as to why so many German intellectuals, and in this case Nietzs che, took with such fondness to the admiration of the ancient Greeks. But one can hypothesize that the harsh political similarities (fractured small nation states, ever present foreign threat, etc.) combined with the cultural triumphs of the ancient 109 M. S. Silk and J. P. Stern, Nietzsche on Tr agedy (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1981), 22. 110 Silk and Stern, Nietzsche on Tragedy 23.


60 Greeks made for parallels worth developing either through repetition or emulation. Whatever the true reason may be, it is clear from an examination of Nietzsche's intellectual development that an early interest in the achievements of the ancient Greeks would eve ntually grow into a committed devotion. A separate, though no less crucial, object of the young Nietzsche's devotion was the German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer. Schopenhauer's philosophy has been briefly sketched in the previous chapter, so some brief comments on Nietzsche's particular relation to and interpretation of the pessimistic philosopher will suffice. Writing in 1866, Nietzsche tells his friend: "three things are my relaxations, but infrequent ones: my Schopenhauer, Schumann's music, and solit ary walks." 111 It was in his days as a student in Leipzig that Nietzsche stumbled upon a used copy of Schopenhauer's magnum opus, Die Welt als Wille und Vorstellung (1818), in a second hand bookshop. Immediately captured by Schopenhauer's philosophy, Nietzsc he would not put the book down until he had finished it. 112 Within its pages, Nietzsche was captivated by Schopenhauer's account of the insatiable Will to life, the motor that propels all life in its perpetual becoming. In combination with Schopenhauer's con cept of the Will to life, Nietzsche was impressed by Schopenhauer's understanding of music as the ultimate expression of that will. Nietzsche was furthermore captured by the Schopenhauerian intuition that the substance of the world was "based not in reason or logic, but in dark, vital instinct..." 113 Additionally, Schopenhauer's affinity for ancient Eastern philosophy also influenced Nietzsche, although Nietzsche's discipleship and 111 Ibid, 17. 112 Kaufmann, Nietzsche 24. 113 R Ÿ diger Safranski, Nietzsche: A Philosophical Biography (New York: W. W. Norton & Co., 2003), 45.


61 eventual turn away from Schopenhauer are less evident in his first work. But N ietzsche's most famous influence, the recipient of The Birth of Tragedy 's dedication, was the great composer Richard Wagner. The relationship between the budding scholar and the well established artist was as impacting as it was turbulent. Initially, Nie tzsche's admiration for Wagner emerged from Nietzsche's appreciation for the artist's music. What Wagner provided for Nietzsche, however, was not merely aesthetic enjoyment, but the bridge between the love of art and the love of the ancients. Through Wagne r's flamboyant pieces, Nietzsche was able to overcome the personal rift between the strictly scholarly and purely aesthetic spheres of his activity. 114 On a different level, Nietzsche displayed admiration for the innovative quality of Wagner's work. 115 Nietzsc he's conversion to Wagner began in full force in 1868. But unlike his conversion to Schopenhauer, Nietzsche's turn to Wagner took place over the space of several months of increasing enthusiasm. 116 Historians and biographers have speculated that beyond since re admiration of the music, this conversion represented for Nietzsche an opportunity to escape the confines of his scholarly profession. 117 While this does makes sense, one can argue that Nietzsche's adulation of Wagner were conditioned by the theoretical in terests Nietzsche would reveal in his first book. Specifically, Wagner's work displayed both an interest in the irrational power of myth to unify and mobilize a culture, and a dedication to the creation of a modern German myth. The two men's shared faith i n myth as a powerful political tool for national empowerment 114 George S. Williamson, Longing for Myth in Germany (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2004), 238. 115 Silk and Stern, Nietzsche on Tragedy 25. 116 Ibid, 27. 117 Ibid, 29.


62 provides a crucial link to the philosopher's adoration of the Wagnerian political aesthetic enterprise. This link will be further developed in the following section of this chapter. Following a series of personal disagreements and indiscretions, the relationship between the two men, which was already strained, became even more so. Compounded by Wagner's fateful move to Bayreuth and Nietzsche's increasing intellectual independence, the initial apo stleship quickly faded. 118 These conflicts, both principled and personal, are evidenced in the correspondence between the men. 119 Despite the decisive break that severed their association, Nietzsche's work on myth cannot be properly understood without taking W agner's work and influence into account. Yet for all the escape that Nietzsche's indulgence in Wagner's operas afforded him, Nietzsche's routine was in part shaped by his relations with his fellow scholars. In particular, Nietzsche developed close relatio nships with his mentor Jacob Burckhardt, as well as his fellow student and eventually colleague Erwin Rohde. Jacob Burckhardt was, and remains, a monumental figure in the history of the historical discipline. Choosing to focus on the history of art and cu lture rather than strictly upon political and military factors, Burckhardt has come to be recognized as one of the founders of the field of cultural history. Having started out studying Protestant theology like many developing academics, Burckhardt would e ventually produce innovative cultural studies of the Italian Renaissance, the first of which was published in 1860. A scholar of great stature, Burckhardt was also a devoted educator who gave 118 Williamson, Longing for Myth in Germany 259. 119 Friedrich Nietzsche, The Nietzsche Wag ner Correspondence (New York: Forgotten Books, 2012), 152.


63 regular lectures as professor at Basel. 120 Nietzsche attended some of these lectures, from which he drew great enthusiasm. 121 Burckhardt's influence can be measured not only in the two scholar's similar interpretations of Greek culture, but also by Burckhardt's normalization and popularization of cultural history, which Ni etzsche employed directly in his own work. Standing on par with Nietzsche was Erwin Rohde. Rohde had studied with Nietzsche at Leipzig, and the two had shared a great interest in ancient Greek culture. Becoming inseparable in the eyes of their professors at university, Nietzsche and Rohde fostered in one another a peculiar interest in the Dionysiac element of Greece. 122 Along with this interest, the two shared in a youthful enthusiasm for Wagner. Interestingly enough, it may have been just such a close affin ity that would ultimately end the friendship. As Nietzsche's publications grew, the married Rohde appears to have become increasingly bitter and critical of his old friend's productivity and combativeness. By the time of Human, All Too Human 's publication in 1879, Rohde denounced Nietzsche's abandoning of Wagner and more romantic impulses. 123 Whatever the reason for their ultimate distancing might have been, the youthful pair's exchanges provided the fertile ground for Nietzsche's connecting of Wagner's subli me music with the unsettling Dionysiac forces of the ancient Greeks. Having discussed Nietzsche's biographical details and peered into the most decisive influences on his early thought, it is now appropriate to turn to the crux of his chapter: Nietzsche's meditations on myth and nationhood as developed in The Birth of 120 Jacob Burckhardt, Reflections on History (London, George Allen & Unwin, ltd., 1943), 11. 121 Kaufmann, Nietzsche 27. 122 Ibid, 25. 123 Ibid.


64 Tragedy Myth itself In common parlance, the operations of myth or mythology are banished to the realm of the irrational past of human societies. And when something is designated as mytholo gical, that is taken to be a derogatory statement undermining the credibility of that thing. But much additional insight is gained once the concept is examined on the basis of its historical usage. In the article "Myth and Ideology," Ben Halpern sets about doing just that. In that article, Halpern distinguishes between the concepts of myth and ideology. His ultimate conclusion is that when thinkers take up the concept of myth, they do so to designate an irrational, originary story that serves as the source of "social consensus." 124 Already, that verdict appears to coincide with Nietzsche's. Ideology, on the other hand, was typically used to designate those ideas which were used to rationalize, extend and organize the interest of a particular faction within the social body, all while extending the space of the social itself. So in a very plain sense, ideology follows in the footsteps of myth, continuing its work past myth's originary jurisdiction. What can be taken away from the accounts given by Nietzsche, Halp ern and the way the concept is deployed in common speech is that the power of myth is derived from its explanatory power. Myths were the means by which primitive societies explained the whims of the world, thereby crafting their indifferent surroundings in to meaningful ones, with narrative. Against the backdrop of the meaningless and erratic conditions of bare nature, myth provided early societies with the power to craft social bodies through 124 Ben Halpern, "Myth" and "Ideology" in Modern Usage History and Theory 1, no. 2 (1961) p. 144.


65 narrative fictions. So while ideologies are those constellation s of ideas which seek to provide an advantage to one social faction over another within the social group, myths are those constellations of ideas which provide for a common set of ideas from which both individual and group identities may draw nutrition. Ha ving clarified this, Nietzsche's elaboration of the relationship between a culture's achievements and its myths gains renewed importance for students of not just philosophy, but anthropology, history, and cultural studies as well. Nietzschean Myth When c ompared with other philosophical concepts that are elaborated throughout Nietzsche's works, myth is not a very prominent one. It does not receive a lot of attention throughout his books and essays. It is not something that either Nietzsche or scholars of N ietzsche expend very many words discussing. But that does not mean that the concept of myth is not important. This is particularly true of Nietzsche's first book. So what is the significance of myth in The Birth of Tragedy ? The focus of one's attention is drawn to a rather slim section of the text. Just two sections: twenty two and twenty three, are densely packed with relevant material. It may prove helpful, at this point, to turn to the words of the American director Woody Allen. In a recent documentary, Allen asserted that human beings are all faced with the same truth (our own inescapable mortality) and our varied lives are formed in accordance by the manner in which individuals choose to distort that truth. 125 One would 125 Robert Weide, Woody Allen: a Documentary Documentary Film, directed/performed by Robert Weide


66 swear that Mr. Allen was, in that instance, a Nietzschean. For Nietzsche expresses remarkably similar sentiments. "The greedy Will," Nietzsche writes, "always finds some way of detaining its creatures in life and force them to carry on living." The "Will" does this by means of elaborate "d elusions," one of which is the "Socratic pleasure of understanding," which has been discussed above. Nietzsche enumerates three styles of distortion by which the human Will seeks to suture the "eternal wound of existence:" Socratic artistic and tragic 126 What we refer to as culture is, in the end, nothing more than a mix of these different styles of distortion which function as something like coping mechanisms for individuals whose sensitive natures makes the burden of existence especially daunting. Accord ingly, cultures can be understood to be Alexandrian Hellenic or Buddhistic One must immediately recognize that these definitions did not describe cultures as absolutely homogenous, since they contain within them strands that "[have] to fight [their] way up alongside it, as something permitted but not intended." 127 Alexandrian man and the Fall The modern world, of which Western Europe is an integral part, is animated by an Alexandrian culture. Alexandrian cultures, allegedly named after the birthplace of the philological profession, were fueled by the human "lust" for knowledge. 128 Enlisting mankind's powers in the service of science, these societies had Socrates as their "archetype and progenitor." 129 This society holds as its ideal the man of learning, prizi ng (2011; New York: PBS, 2011.), Film. 126 Friedrich Nietzsche, The Birth of Tragedy (New York, Cambridge University Press, 2010), 85. 127 Nietzsche, The Birth of Tragedy 86. 128 George Williamson, Longing for Myth in Germany (London: University of Chicago Press, 2004), 244. 129 Nietzsche, The Birth of Tragedy 86.


67 theoretical aptitude and accumulated knowledge. There is an innate optimism at work within these societies, a deeply held attitude that man can unlock the mysteries of existence through his capacity to understand phenomena. This neatly translated into a privileged status for the activities of the mind, evoking the principles of individuation and theoretical constructs. It is no mystery that Nietzsche's diagnosis included the concern that the Apollonian impulse had lost its primordial balance and had come to dominate, and perhaps banish, the Dionysiac impulses from modern societies. Illustrative of this cultural paradigm was the myth that presided ov er modern man: the myth of the F all. As a point of clarification, Nietzsche demonstrates a habit of referrin g to the myth of the fall as the "Augustinian," or alternatively, "Semitic" myth. 130 The myth of the Fall is none other than the popular biblical story of first man's expulsion from the Garden of Eden. This myth conflated sin and sexuality, identifying human ity's earthly existence as a problem that needed to be either overcome (as an optimist) or merely lamented (as a pessimist). 131 It is curious that the story of the Fall held such a strong association with the impulses of the body, since the prize that tempte d Eve was the fruit from the forbidden "Tree of Knowledge." The fact that the sin was committed originally by a woman, however, serves to indicate that the true culprit behind mankind's shameful betrayal was the wild, uncontrollable urges of man's physical composition. 132 What this myth 130 George Williamson, Longing for Myth in Germany (Lond on: University of Chicago Press, 2004), 241. These labels make reference to St. Augustine, early Christian thinker and the Semitic ethnic designation, which was applied to the populations native to the Middle East. While it is evident that this deploys pop ular contemporary ethnic delineations between Aryan and Semitic peoples, it is important to note that one should make an effort to approach these labels with as little possible recent historical connotations as is possible. 131 Ibid. 132 One could continue t o push this association by arguing that man's brute physical drives appear to only become problematic once the betrayal and expulsion has already taken place and not before. But to belabor this specific issue is beside the crucial point at stake and would serve as an unredeemable


68 transmitted, both in its Augustinian and its Semitic variations, was that the human condition was something that needed to be overcome. The realm of the physical was full of pain, temptation and suffering. Salvation was to be attained by escaping the physical realm either through direct physiological death or through a taming of the animalistic drives populating the body. The result of the flight towards control and the mind resulted in the embracing of the Socratic ideal, ani mated by the Agustinian Semitic myth of the Fall. Just as Adam remained hungry even after he had given names to all of the beasts, modern man remained hungry even after having procured the fruits of science and sterile scholarship. The modern Alexandrian m an who was the product of the Socratic culture remains "eternally hungry, a critic without desire or energy...who is basically a librarian and proof reader, sacrificing his sight miserably to book dust and errors." 133 The aim of the Socratic constitution was clear: to destroy the world of myths and replace them with skeletal scientific facts. "Now," pronounced Nietzsche, "mythless man stands there, surrounded by every past there has ever been, eternally hungry, scraping and digging in a search for roots, even if he has to dig for them in the most distant antiquities." 134 By the time of Nietzsche's composition of the Birth of Tragedy the Alexandrian culture had taken root in Germany but had failed to sprout any means of salvation for the "eternal wound of existe nce." Not only was it the aim of the Socratic man to dismantle the myths of old which helped give meaning to the struggles of everyday life and define cultural collectives, but the facts which were produced by Socratic man to supplant the myths of distraction. Additionally, it is unclear whether Nietzsche intended for there to be an association between the figure of Even and the Dionysiac. 133 Nietzsche, The Birth of Tragedy 88. 134 Ibid, 108.


69 old were a woefully inadequate substitute. Thus, the modern scientist was forced to turn to the cultural artifacts of the ancients with a hungry avarice, seeking to satisfy their neglected need for meaning with the myths of the ancients. Modern man wondered rootle ss in search for a sustainable foundation. The crucial insight of Nietzsche is that the hidden reasons for the decadence of his own day were to be found in his contemporaries' embrace of the Socratic ideal, which had left them so "rootless" and "eternally hungry." Nietzsche's insight was that the ancient myth and its Socratic ideal that had been appropriated by modern man in the aftermath of a resurgence in the Renaissance was paradoxically an ideal whose imperative command was the demolition of myth. In o ther words, the myth of modern man was the myth of mythlessness. Ancient man and Prometheus Up and against the Semitic myth of the Fall, Nietzsche lays out the narrative of the Aryan myth of Prometheus. This myth narrates the way that Prometheus, a Titan who was the champion of mankind before the g ods first sculpted mankind out of clay and successively stol e the element of fire from the g ods, to deliver it along with the gifts of civilization upon his mortal subordinates. This was taken as an affront by t he god Jupiter. As a punishment for his stunt, Prometheus was secured to a boulder which he could not but struggle on. While immobilized on the rock, Prometheus was forced to endure the process of an vulture flying in, perching upon his abdomen, and devour ing his liver. Only to make matters much worse, the liver would grow in overnight so that the punishment


70 was exacted daily for all eternity. 135 At first glance, the two myths appear to share similar plots. Both discuss an act of betrayal that enrages the di vine and results in a fall from grace. And while one may get the impression that Nietzsche is ready to launch into a sterile philological dissection of the Prometheus myth, the reality is actually quite fresh. The myth of Prometheus is not yet another inca rnation of the story of the Fall, but actually its opposite. The story of Prometheus is not a narrative of a hero's fall from grace, but of his rise to greatness through enduring insufferable punishment. The story of the Fall, says Nietzsche, is one of la mentation. The story of Prometheus, on the other hand, is one of resilience in the face of eternal suffering. The former carries the lesson that existence in the worldly sphere is to be lamented and overcome, while the latter carries the lesson that the pa ins of existence must be endured and even embraced. It's appropriate to point out how seeds of many of the themes of the more mature Nietzsche, such as yea saying and the Will to Power can already be observed in this early work of the philosopher's. The fa ct that the protagonist of the Greek myth was a lone male avoided any connection between his acts and sexuality, since it was committed in isolation of any source of sexual attraction, and thus Prometheus' act of self definition avoided any moralizing pres criptions on sexuality. 136 Prometheus' act was a pure, authentic act of self creation. 137 Nietzsche's categorization as one myth as "Aryan" and the other as "Semitic" points to his familiarity with the scholarly literature on comparative myth at the time of 135 Thomas Bullfinch, Bullfinch's Mythology (New York: Barnes & Nobles Books, 2006), 26. 136 It is interesting that there exists an association between female agency and sexuality which appears to be absent when male agency is discussed. 137 Williamson, Longing for Myth in Germany (London University of Chicago Press, 2004), 242.


71 t he Birth of Tragedy 's authoring. This philological sub discipline traced differing mythological systems back to their historical and social origins, as a tool by which to study those ancient societies. Nietzsche was aware of the most recent developments in that sub field, and yet characterized the overall trajectory of that line of research as "somewhat boring." 138 The point, argued Nietzsche, was not to learn about the physical trivialities of the myth origins, such as the natural phenomena they were constru cted to explain or the linguistic or material nature of the myths themselves. Rather, the point was to understand their full ethical and aesthetic meaning. 139 In a certain sense the study of myth should be used to learn about the values of the societies, whi ch constructed and lived through those myths, not to study the myths themselves. Herein one locates the motivation behind Nietzsche's controversial re interpretation of significant aspects of ancient Greek culture: the extraction of timeless conceptual aes thetic and ethical values. As George S. Williamson discussed in his writings on the subject, the myth of Prometheus was tied into humanity's respect and reverence for fire combined with the difficulty with which fire is created, resulted in a certain degr ee of guilt as to the ease with which humans possessed and used it. In Nietzsche's reading, this presented the ancient Greeks, as well as humans generally, with a moral dilemma. This dilemma was the following: how is one to deal with the guilt which result s in the application of such an useful tool, an application which in the face of fire's power appears almost as profane? At this point Nietzsche drew inspiration from his greatest philosophical influence, Arthur Schopenhauer. The Greeks, surmised Nietzsche resolved the dilemma by adopting a "pessimistic worldview." At first sight, it appears as contradictory to refer to the positive 138 Ibid. 139 Ibid.


72 attitude of the Greeks as pessimistic while accusing the Judeo Christian myth of leading to an unbalance or a denial of life. This may sound like an odd label to apply to the exuberant Greeks, but what Nietzsche meant was that for the Greeks, self definition and individuation inevitably led to suffering. This Greek insight was similar to the Nietzschean discussion of the "eterna l wound of existence." When the Greeks thought back to the myth of Prometheus, the did not see the Titan's torments as a punishment to be endured and escaped, but instead as a "source of dignity." 140 It was understood that suffering would result from self creation, or as Nietzsche understood it, simply from living in the world as such. But what the myth of Prometheus taught, in conjunction with Greek pessimism, was that the suffering corollary to existence was certainly worth it. In Prometheus' defiance in the face of eternal suffering, his subsequent punishment was "justified." 141 From this pessimistic perspective, the suffering resulted not from some Original Sin, but from the rather ordinary task of self definition. The (re )Birth of German Myth Friedric h Nietzsche's contribution to the German national movement was one that emerged from his radical insights into what made the Greek culture so venerable. What those who believed in a German national project needed to do, Nietzsche argued, was to rid German culture of foreign myths, and adopt myths which were more likely to lead to stronger, healthier individuals and thereby result in a stronger culture. Without a strong common culture, any German state apparatus was doomed to failure. 140 Ibid. 141 Ibid.


73 To recall the sentimen ts expressed above, the myths that would lead to a healthier national constitution are those myths encourage a balanced view of life by embracing a balance between the two fundamental human drives. Just as the myth of Prometheus transmitted an interestingl y pessimistic attitude which encouraged individuals to live life fully in spite of its many sacrifices, the ultimate foundation of a new German state would have to be a new set of myths, proper to the German nation, which would encourage such a balanced wo rld view and produce healthy and creative individuals. It is important to point out that the "balance" achieved between the Apollonian and the Dionysiac is an interesting one. For the balance between these two aspects of human nature was not struck throug h checks and balances. We are not to understand that the Dionysiac somehow constrains the Apollonian or vice versa. Rather, the two drives bring out the best in one another. In other words, Nietzsche's critical insight in regards to Ancient Greek tragedy w as that its early glory expressed such a balance between the Apollonian dialogue and the Dionysiac music and chorus. Without the Dionysiac aspect of things, the Apollonian drive becomes negative and in the end leads to endless rumination and self undoing. And yet the same could be said of the Dionysiac. Without the structure provided by the Apollonian, a culture which embraces de individuation singularly would end in orgiastic self dismemberment. A simple return to the myths of the Greeks would prove both inauthentic and pragmatically impossible, so a new beginning was required. What was needed was a rebirth of myth For the Nietzsche of the Birth of Tragedy this rebirth of German myth existed in the works of Richard Wagner. For the later Nietzsche, that w ould no longer be the case. But one cannot afford to miss the important insight that is found in Nietzsche's


74 early reverence for the works of Wagner. What Nietzsche detected in Wagner was a deep respect for myths, contained within a dramatic style across a wide range of works. Thus, in Wagner one could find the heir to "new German music." This connection between a national myth and music can be understood in the context of Nietzsche's religious context. Written in the midst of the Kulturkampf the Birth o f Tragedy reflected a certain ambivalence towards the role of Protestantism within the German cultural space. 142 As George S. Williamson aptly points out, Nietzsche's Romantic like composure in regards to the connection between myth and culture was at least in part derived from a long history of German Catholicism. Nietzsche himself found the comparison most appropriate when one observed the connection between the Catholic liturgy and the Greek chorus during their respective symbolic ceremonies. The joint sin ging of the Catholic liturgies of the Middle Ages would send congregants convulsing and singing in a way, which was particularly reminiscent of the Dionysiac spirit. In this sense, Nietzsche diagnosed within the ceremonies of the Middle Age Catholics eleme nts of Ancient tragedies. 143 At the same time, Nietzsche harbors a potent dislike for the Catholic tradition, locating within it traces of the decadent "Roman" hunger for knowledge and facts. Additionally, Nietzsche found an undeniable association between C atholic tradition and French culture, which displayed the greatest signs of unencumbered Apollonian tyranny. And while the decadent French Romance culture had been dealt a important blow during the Franco Prussian War, the internal battle for the authentic myths of Germany was still being waged. Any traces of insipid Roman cultural elements needed to be uncovered and 142 Williamson, Longing for Myth in Germany (London: University of Chicago Press, 2004), 248. 143 Ibid, 248.


75 thereafter extirpated. What was required was a cultural struggle, that could not be won "without [the German] household gods, without [the Ger man] mythical homeland, without a 'restoration' of all things German!" 144 German music, which was born out of German Protestantism, would be the basis of the new German mythology through its recapturing of the Dionysian tonal symbolism that had once been fo und in Greek tragedy. Of course, Nietzsche was certainly not the first German thinker to characterize German music as particularly "Protestant," this had been a prevalent motif in the writings of many great German writers. 145 But what Nietzsche did pioneer w as the connection between the German Protestant cultural tradition and and ancient Greek "Dionysianism." The German Protestant musical tradition had revived this ancient spirit and stood ready to "overturn" the "optimistic foundations" of Roman Apollonian culture. 146 Music, for Nietzsche, was, after all, the "creative element from which the tragic myth arose" in the first place. 147 And, borrowing from his master Schopenhauer, Nietzsche thought music to be the "immediate language of the will," and that by sublim ating itself into the realm of the image, music could veritably "give birth to myth." 148 Nietzsche then put revealed an interesting interpretation. Science had followed a similar historical trajectory as music had, and had successfully (though presumably o pposite) founded a tradition of "Socratic Alexandrian" myth dissection. And although 144 Ibid. 145 Ibid, 249. In particular, figures like Goethe and Schill er were celebrated not only for their literary genius, but also for having grown up in Protestant households. In the musical realm, even Catholics like Mozart and Beethoven were understood to have convictions and spirits that were distinctly Protestant des pite having had Catholic upbringings. 146 Ibid. 147 E. M. Butler, The Tyranny of Greece Over Germany (Boston: Beacon Press, 1935), 311. 148 Williamson, Longing for Myth in Germany 249.


76 this tradition had yielded much in the way of innovation and facts, it had with Kant's antinomies finally reached the outer reaches of its purview. These limits were chara cterized as "boundary points" at which "logic coils up...and finally bites itself in the tail." 149 It was at this stage that the Alexandrian or Faustian men of facts were faced with the reality of the failure of their optimistic starting assumption. In due c ourse, thought Nietzsche, the value of the tragic insight would become evident and a pessimistic worldview would be adopted wherein the failure of the Apollonian fueled Socratic tradition could only be survived with the assistanceof "art as a protect ion an d remedy." 150 The conclusion found here being that though the marriage of Protestant Dionysiac music and German Idealist philosophy, modern man would reverse the stages of Greek culture and (led by Germany) would 'regress' from the Socratic Roman culture b ack to a tragic Hellenic one. In this movement, the young Nietzsche found the antidote to the problems resulting from the dominance of the Alexandrian myth. Nietzsche's Legacy It is fairly clear that The Birth of Tragedy was crafted by its author as bot h an indictment of his contemporary society at large and of the scholarly profession in particular. It is surprising, then, to learn that what immediately followed the publication of Nietzsche's opening polemical salvo was, in fact, a foreboding silence. T his initial dismissive quiet, that definitively signaled that the presumptuous young scholar was not worth a reply was broken only by the publication of a text, Zukuftsphilologie! (1872) by 149 Ibid. 150 Ibid.


77 another young scholar, Ulrich von Williamowitz M š llendorf. In his critical appraisal, Williamowitz detracted from both Nietzsche's knowledge of the classics and his wildly original interpretation of the merits of Greek tragedy. The more vicious accusations revolved around Nietzsche having literally misi nterpreted ancient Greek texts, and thereby producing skewed scholarship on what these myths meant. Moreover, accusations were made that Nietzsche simply lacked adequate understanding of the historical context of the ancient Greek myths, compounding the assertion that Nietz sche had simply bitten off more than he could chew. Perhaps more interestingly, Williamowitz aimed his criticism at what he perceived to be Nietzsche's resuscitation of the work of Georg Friedrich Creuzer. 151 This criticism is more interesting because to id entify Nietzsche as bearing the mark of Creuzer's influence was to identify Nietzsche with a broader tradition of Romantic philology. Indeed, there is little doubt that Nietzsche's style, and even perhaps his very temperament, do resonate with the style an d temperament of the Romantics. Yet Nietzsche brought his weight to bear upon the Romantics just as easily as he attacked any other movement, so Williamowitz's complaint would appear sterile. Should one take Williamowitz's complaint not just as an attack u pon Nietzsche, but as a symptom of a broader mistrust for neo Romantic sentiment amongst the German intelligentsia, however, new insights may be gained into the concerns of contemporary academics. In advancing his brand of Romantic philology, Creuzer had contended that the Dionysiac spirit that had been such an elemental part of ancient Greek culture had in fact made its way to ancient Greece from Asia Minor. Creuzer argued that the Dionysiac had 151 Ibid, 245.


78 been a universal cultural element in the ancient world, comm on to many cultures before having made its way West. 152 Throughout his great Symbolik und Mythologie (1812), Creuzer also argues that many of the rituals of the ancient Greeks could be read as inversions of later modern bourgeois values. 153 In specific referen ce to the Dionysiac, Creuzer maintained that the rituals of Attic drama had been meant to commemorate the dismemberment of Dionysus Zagreus. 154 It was with respect to this Creuzerian influence upon Nietzsche's reading of the Dionysiac that Williamowitz mos t seriously dissented. Williamowitz ridiculed Creuzer's assertion that the Dionysiac celebrations of the ancient Greeks were anything but native, while simultaneously arguing that both Creuzer and Nietzsche were overestimating the importance of those celeb rations to the ancient Greeks. Whoever took philology seriously "must find it 'disgraceful and laughable'" Williamowitz commented, "that today people speak in the Saint Croix Creuzer manner about the 'wonderful myths in the mysteries.'" 155 To be clear, what Williamowitz was objecting to in his rejection of Nietzsche was not so much the investigation of the role of the Dionysiac in ancient Greek tragedy and culture, but rather the simultaneous mystification of that particular element of Greek culture. Just as the Romantics of earlier generations, Nietzsche's emphasis on mystery and the mythical saw him associated with "crypto Catholic mystery mongers", enemies of both the clarifications of Protestantism and of the scientific scholarly establishment. 156 Given the political climate both within and without the German 152 Ibid, 239. 153 Ibid, 240. 154 Ibid, 242. 155 Ibid, 245. 156 Ibid.


79 academy during the 1870s, such an association could prove fatal to a young scholar's reputation. And indeed, despite the defense mounted by several of his friends, Nietzsche's scholarly career had been d ealt a deadly blow. Nietzsche youthful criticisms reflected the antipostivist, antiliberal, and antibourgeois impulses that characterized not just the Romanticism of the past, but foreshadowed the crisis in culture that would ferment in Europe around the turn of the century and culminate with the First World War. For while it is true that Nietzsche was amongst the most anti patriotic, anti political of the German writers of his generation, the ideas he expressed were only possible from his German lived exp erience. To paraphrase Thomas Mann, Nietzsche's narrative of self discipline, self conquest and intellectual sacrifice could make little sense outside of the Protestant German burger atmosphere that produced Nietzsche. 157 Thus, Nietzsche's criticism of his c ontemporary German culture acutely articulated the conditions of a national becoming. In due course, Nietzsche's influence would spread until it became a fundamental part of the German cultural fabric. Not limited to the intelligentsia, Nietzsche's work w ould come to be read mostly among the educated middle classes within a few years of the philosophers untimely collapse. 158 Curiously, the philosopher whose first contribution concerned itself with the importance of myths for political unity would himself bec ome part of the German cultural canon, and thereby fertilize the growth of the German national consciousness. Amongst the writers of his time, nobody had more eloquently, more emphatically, 157 Steven E. Ascheim, The Nietzsche Legacy in German 1890 1990 (Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1992), 21. 158 Ibid, 19.


80 underscored the fructifying power of myth. Looking back some fift y years later, the German historian Oswald Spengler would remark: His work is not a part of our past to be enjoyed; it is a task that makes serva nts of us all. As a task it is independent of his books and their subject matter, and this a problem of German destiny. In an age that does not tolerate otherworldly ideals...when the only thing of recognizable value is the kind of ruthless action that Nietzsche baptized in the name of Cesare Borgia in such an age, unless we learn to act as real history wa nts us to act, we will cease to exist as a people. We cannot live without a form that does not merely console in difficult situations, but helps one het out of them. This kind of hard wisdom made its first appearance in German thought w ith Nietzsche... To the people most famished for history in all the world, he showed history as it really is. His is to live history in the same way. 159 Nietzsche quickly came to be understood not just as a German philosopher, but as a philosopher of the German, a philosopher of German becoming. This crucial philosopher of German growth began his dramatic career as a man "who still believed in the secret depths of the German popular spirit." 160 This German spirit, a sort of inspiring Dionysiac Gemeinschaft would make its debut along with Nietzsche, in 1872, underpinned by the consolidating power of myth. 159 Ibid, 20 21. 160 Ibid, 41.


81 Concluding Remarks Since the period of the Enlightenment, discussions of myth have often sought not just to explicate their function, but also to extinguish their power. See n as the dangerous remnants of an irrational, primal past, myths have been considered a liability in an age of reason. This thesis traces the contours of a developing interest in the contribution that myth makes to the German national identity, as it is ex pressed in the writings of four influential German thinkers. These thinkers lived at a time during which German nationalistic fervor was fomented by foreign intervention and domestic reaction to that intervention. Writing in a time that demanded increased social cohesion but lacked it, these thinkers dedicated themselves to exploring the role that myth had to play in the creation of a social body. As the nineteenth century wore on, German intellectuals were beset by the question of Germany's national iden tity. This national identity, which had seen itself besieged during the French Enlightenment and the Napoleonic invasions of the German states, needed re theorizing. Such theorizing became a theme within the work of German intellectuals hailing from varied disciplines from proto anthropology and philology to poetry and philosophy. Situated in a fragmented polity with heterogenous cultural legacies, German intellectuals endeavored to invent a German nation from these fragments. In their writings, one finds n ot just a passing interest, but a conviction that a citizen's sense of belonging is inextricably tied not only to the language that they speak and the place that they inhabit, but is also derived from the myths and legends that they share with others. This thesis argues that 19 th century German intellectuals increasingly perceived myth as a crucial requisite element for a strong sense of nationhood.


82 By weaving together crucial themes that appear repeatedly in the works of Herder, Fichte, Wagner, and Nietzs che, this thesis traces the development of a new understanding of myth. In summary, the thinkers under consideration came to understand myth as: a) the truest expression of the spirit of a people, and b) a social bonding agent. Having developed this new un derstanding of myth, 19 th century writers began to call for a new mythology, which would form the basis of a greater sense of nationhood. Although an interest in myth is a common denominator for the writers who were selected for this thesis, each thinker b rought forth his own mix of elements to the discussion of a national mythology. Drawing on religion, philosophy, language, and history, these four thinkers formulated original conceptions of humanity, culture, music, and the arts. All four of them ground t heir research in the past. As has been demonstrated, this past was just as often nebulous and inventive as it was historically accurate. The motivation for pursuing this project was to elucidate an important yet underrepresented aspect of the construction of a narrative of German nationhood. Yet, this thesis also raises other issues of consequence. One of these is the historiographical problem of defining the relationship between myth and history. The utility of this particular study is that it defines pri nciples of national identity construction that can be applied in other regions and times. At the same time, the very re consideration of myth and history not as opposites provides fertile ground for further research. Additionally, the German fascination wi th myth, and its role in history and nationhood, undermines the stereotypical account of the nineteenth century German academician focused strictly on historical objectivity. If nothing else, this thesis helps lend new voice to the cohort of artists and ac ademics who sought to articulate a vision of national consciousness based


83 not on sterile reason and objective historical accounts, but on the less rational aspects of consciousness as well. Finally, should one clarify the way in which the lessons contained in this thesis may be abstracted and applied elsewhere, the potential for innovative historical investigation becomes considerable.


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