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Finding an Ending: Reflections on Wagner's Ring Paperback – September 22, 2005

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press; First Paperback Edition edition (September 22, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0195183606
  • ISBN-13: 978-0195183603
  • Product Dimensions: 7.9 x 0.6 x 5.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,732,414 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


"Determined like no other composer to 'fathom the depths of philosophy,' Wagner wrote operas exploring the elemental passions and conflicts of the human condition. Kitcher and Schacht, distinguished philosophers in their own right, present a profound analysis of the guiding ideas of the Ring which enables us to grasp as never before the power of Wagner's most ambitious work."--Charles E. Larmore, University of Chicago Law School

"Each chapter contains thought-provoking discussions that will intellectually engage readers, even those who are unmoved, or perhaps repelled, by Wagner's music and ideas."--Library Journal

"A strikingly successful reading of Wagner's music drama as a philosophical meditation on the meaning of human existence and freedom."--Paul Boghossian, New York University

"An analytic gem...[Kitcher and Schacht's] definitions and explanations [are] crystal clear.... This book will surely satisfy Wagner aficionados as much as it will make those who are new to the Ring feel welcome."--Nicholas Vazsonyi, Wagner Notes

About the Author

Philip Kitcher is John Dewey Professor of Philosophy at Columbia University. He is the author of seven previous books, is a past president of the American Philosophical Association (Pacific Division), and is a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He currently holds the Romanell Professorship in Philosophy, awarded annually by Phi Beta Kappa. Richard Schacht is Professor of Philosophy and Jubilee Professor of Liberal Arts and Sciences, at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. His previous books include Hegel and After, Nietzsche, The Future of Alienation, and Making Sense of Nietzsche.

More About the Author

Philip Kitcher (New York, NY) is John Dewey Professor of Philosophy at Columbia University. He is the author of twelve books, including Living with Darwin: Evolution, Design, and the Future of Faith; In Mendel's Mirror: Philosophical Reflections on Biology; Science, Truth, and Democracy; and The Lives to Come: The Genetic Revolution and Human Possibilities. Professor Kitcher was the first recipient of the Prometheus Prize awarded by the American Philosophical Association for "lifetime contribution to expanding the frontiers of research in philosophy and science." He is also the winner of many other awards, most recently the Award for Distinguished Service to the Columbia Core Curriculum, the Lenfest Distinguished Faculty Award from Columbia University, the Lannan Foundation Notable Book Award (given for Living with Darwin), and the Friend of Darwin Award (given by the National Committee on Science Education).

Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

18 of 19 people found the following review helpful By P. Fan on April 12, 2009
Format: Paperback
We are currently (2009)working our way through the Ring Cycle in Los Angeles and I find this an invaluable guide to the deeper philosophic meaning of these operas. It has a useful synopsis of the 4 operas at the end of the book including the hidden action between operas. It gives you a brilliant crash course on 19th century German philosophy with accurate discussions of Feuerbach, Schopenhauer and Nietzsche as viewed through the lens of Wagner. If you have no ax to grind about religion and faith you will enjoy the very detailed reading of the text and music in explicating Wotan's growth in understanding of his role as law-giver to the World, gradual acceptance of his ultimate failure and the failure of all "Gods" to impose any solution to the human dilemma. You'll appreciate the poignancy of his attempt to "find an ending," one that allows him to end his quest with dignity and meaning. The style is clear and elegant and I find the book deeply moving and profound. I also come to understand the young Nietzsche's adoration of Wagner whose Ring cycle is nothing short of a re-enactment of our attempt to find meaning out of life without the easy solace of religions and blind faith.

Parenthetically, it also reveals how shallow our LA Ring is and what a travesty Achim Freyer's staging has made of this magnificent work. But that is the subject of another discussion.
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful By R. Albin TOP 500 REVIEWER on April 22, 2011
Format: Paperback
Written by 2 distinguished philosophers who are also amateur musicians, this book is a very interesting exploration of Wagner's great Ring cycle. Kitcher and Schacht argue that the Ring is an extended exploration of the existensial dilemma of establishing meaning in life. The analysis is based on a close examination of the libretto, Wagner's stage directions, the music itself, and what we know of Wagner's intentions and thought during the prolonged gestation of the Ring cycle. This is a particularly sympathetic analysis of Wotan, whom Kitcher and Schacht present as struggling to establish a meaningful, better, and lawful world. The alternatives to Wotan's efforts are the beautiful but heedless natural world of the Rhinemaidens and the corruption and brutality of characters like Alberich and Hunding. Wotan's efforts, however, are ultimately self-defeating, something that Wotan himself appreciates as a tragic destiny. Wotan's greatest successor is his daughter Brunnhilde, the Valkyrie become human whose ability to combine what Kitcher and Schacht describe as empathic love with eros constitutes a redemptive alternative to Wotan's struggle to establish rational, lawful order. But Brunnhilde also fails and the plot of the Ring seems to point to unavoidable failure to wrest meaningfullness from the universe. Wagner's incredibly powerful music, however, indicates that it is Brunnhilde's efforts to establish meaningfulness that vindicates human existence.

This is a very ambitious undertaking and my brief description doesn't do justice to the careful development of the authors' analysis. I certainly found it convincing. If anything, Kitcher and Schacht may not go far enough. Their analysis emphasizes human construction of meaning.
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31 of 49 people found the following review helpful By W. Gillham on August 17, 2005
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
As a retired philosopher of religion, I find this book appealing--especially its emphasis on the glorious, soaring, wordless theme with which the Ring ends; and also its finding parallels in the Judgment theme in Mozart's Don Giovanni and in Shakespeare's Cordelia in King Lear. Following Nietzsche, however, the authors reject Wagner's last opera, Parsifal, and apparently all religion--Christian, Buddhist, etc. Strange that philosophers that can grasp the meaning in a mytho-poetic work like the Ring reduce religious tradition to simple, literalist fundamentalism!

The Ring, according to the authors, was written under the influence of Feuerbach's secular humanist optimism, complicated by Wagner's own experience of the failure of worldly political utopianism. The ending symbolizes the "death of God," not merely the death of the Idols, as theologians would have it. The atheist pessimism of Schopenhauer came to seem more realistic to Wagner (with his last opera Parsifal??), but not before he finished the Ring with a ringing affirmation of life and love.

In trying to articulate how it is that, in spite of defeat and death, "not everything has been lost," they come surprisingly close, but are finally blocked by the ghost of logical positivism. In Mozart's Don Giovanni, the authors see Nietzsche's Ubermensch; a figure literally beyond good and evil, and not subject to any truth or negative judgment beyond the conflicting prejudices of finite creatures. In the judgment of the authors, the Commendatore, and the transcendent Judgment he symbolizes, is laughable. So also with positive judgment; the final theme of the Ring cannot be "redeemed by Love," but merely "triumph and vindication of Brunnhilde." (In whose eyes? If all judgment and truth are relative? If all who judge are temporary, finite, fallible creatures? If there is no Ideal Observer?)
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2 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Nom de plume on October 12, 2011
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
The writing style in this book is both painfully obtuse and condescending. It reads as though the writers were trying to find a complicated way to write something that is simple while dispensing eruditon ex cathedra along the way. A quarter of a century ago one of the authors tried to attack sociobiology, which is the study of the genetic basis of social behavior, and which has the support of evolutionary theory. Both the attempt on the creative work of Wagner and the creative work of E. O. Wilson were unsuccessful. As a scientist who spends most of his time discovering and very little time criticizing as I do in this review, I think it pretentious for others to make a living writing what amounts to those little comments you see scribbled on bathroom walls. It was once said that we don't erect statues to critics. I think that is a good way to sign off on my own very few moments of critical comments about the prolix pronunciations of those who do not discover, but who take potshots at those who create.
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