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Richard Wagner and the Anti-Semitic Imagination (Texts and Contexts) Hardcover – April 28, 1995
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Now academics. Weiner refers to Wagner's prose works as "essayistic productions" eight times! Not satisfied, he also sites their "ideational content". The book is littered with this silliness. (Note the "positivistic" cited above.) Is it any wonder that academia has the reputation of pointy-headed obfuscation? And we also have a "mute point" (p. 322) which I suppose can be charitably blamed on spell-checker or an overworked grad student editor.
Amazon's spell checker has tagged "positivistic" "ideational" and "essayistic". I rest my case. I hope Amazon doesn't reject this review for too many "misspellings".
Weiner's basic misunderstanding of Wagner's ideas suggests limited acquaintance of, or understanding of, the texts he's attacking. And his arguments are of a standard you'd expect to find in alien abduction books, not scholarly texts.
For example, on page 90 he argues that his "Aryan" characters are associated with noble animals, including the "magic, superior dragon". On page 91 he remembers that Alberich*, who Weiner thinks is an antisemitic caricature, is associated with dragons because he once turned himself into one. So only a page later Weiner calls dragons ignoble "inferior" animals, because that suits his argument. Similarly, "ravens" are noble and therefore Aryan, according to Weiner, when they are associated with Wotan; but he forgets that in "Meistersinger" Walther compares Beckmesser to a raven. If Weiner's "rule" about animals is correct, then Walther is labelling Beckmesser as Aryan. But Weiner's "rules" are the intellectual equivalent of paper tissues; you use them once and then throw them away. (*As early as 1907 George Bernard Shaw pointed out, correctly, that Alberich is a Nibelung, one of an exploited people who work hard in mines and factories; he represents the working class. 19th century antisemites didn't think that Jews were exploited manual labourers. The Nibelungs aren't Jews.)
Weiner consistently makes up rules, then discards them after one use. For example, a rule for spotting "Jewish" characters, says Weiner, is that they have poor eyesight. Mime, in "Siegfried", is described by Siegfried as having dripping eyes. I read that as Mime crying to try to win Siegfried's sympathy, but yes, he _might_ have poor eyesight. But Wotan appears in "Siegfried", in disguise, and meets Mime and Alberich (supposedly "Jewish") and Erda (supposedly "Aryan"). Mime takes a while to recognise Wotan, as does Erda; but sharp-eyed Alberich penetrates the disguise immediately. Logically that should make Mime and Erda (an earth goddess and former lover of Wotan) Jewish, and Alberich Aryan; but Weiner won't apply his "rule" when it doesn't suit him.
Moving to "Meistersinger", Weiner's now forgotten the rule completely, because in Act II Eva disguises herself as her maid Magdalena. Walther, a hero, is fooled until she gets close; Beckmesser is likewise fooled. So is Eva's father Pogner. Sharp-eyed David sees through the disguise immediately. So are they all Jews except David? No, because Weiner's rules apply only when he wants them to. He concludes that only Beckmesser is Jewish. (Beckmesser is the Marker, one of the most respected positions in the Mastersingers, not an outsider from a ghetto. He is the Town Clerk of 16th Century Nuremberg, which is not a town that appointed Jewish Town Clerks. And he is the favoured suitor to win the hand of a rich Christian merchant's daughter, before Walther comes along, without race or religion being an issue. Beckmesser, respected citizen and eligible bachelor - if a little old - is not a Jewish caricature or character, on perfectly clear and unambiguous factual grounds.)
But Weiner's not interested in facts. Two more examples. Jewish characters, says Weiner, sing high. So does that make the heroes Walther, Siegfried and half the Valkyries Jewish? No: only Mime, and, oddly, the baritones Beckmesser and Alberich, who aren't higher than Wotan. And he "forgets" to mention Hagen, Klingsor and Kundry, because though he wants to claim them as Jewish, they sing low. Another Weiner "rule"? Jews sing coloratura, while Aryans sing straight. The rule "proves" Beckmesser is Jewish: he sings coloratura. But so does Brunnhilde in "Siegfried", so is she Jewish too? No, Weiner doesn't apply the "rule" then. And so on.
He also claims, falsely, that these incoherent "rules" of Weiner's were understood in Wagner's day. Since they aren't rules at all, they weren't, of course. He brings forward no evidence to support this claim. And yet there are ample records of contemporary reviews of Wagner's operas, which show that, contrary to Weiner's claim, it never occured to Wagner's contemporaries that his operas contain secret antisemitic messages. I suspect Weiner knows that, because he must have looked through when trying to find something he could quote to support his case; and the silence there is eloquent.
In short this is a silly book, intellectually startling, but not in a good way. It's interesting in the way very bad films are interesting, and a must for bad-argument fans, but it's profoundly dishonest and unreliable as a guide to Wagner.
This is not to say that Wagner was not antisemitic; of course he was (Jacob Katz's "Wagner: The Dark Side of Genius" is a far better book that exposes and condemns Wagner's antisemitism). It is only to say that Wagner had the artistic judgement to keep his cranky and bigoted side out of works that he wanted to have some claim to universality. He was a shoddy human being but a supreme artist.