The example of Wagner is a "case" with which Nietzsche, doctor par excellence of famous diagnostic skills, has been very familiar for quite some time. He has often been consulted regarding this patient, who himself professes to be the right physician for cases of hysteria. Doctor Nietzsche, however, for his part, defends an opposing view: to wit, that this patient is a most nefarious danger to the health of women and young people. Has the doctor "been" consulted? Well, rather, he consulted himself; for behind the case of Wagner, and furthermore that of Socrates (between which cases multiple parallels could be drawn), lies the case of Nietzsche: of the mad admiration he first manifested for Wagner, whom, in the correspondence of his early period, he calls his master and father, and to whom, in the manner of a dutiful son, he never failed to send birthday greetings; and then of the final rejection, marked in The Case of Wagner and Nietzsche Contra Wagner by Wagner's reduction to a typical artist of decadence—a veritable calamity for music, who sickens all that he touches.
Wagner thus becomes the "Cagliostro of modernity": actor, buffoon, neurotic, and hysteric, whose power of seduction reaches prodigious levels. This power alone explains how Wagner—like that other seducer of the grand style, Socrates —was able to charm Nietzsche enough for him to be caught in his snares; for him to fail at first to see the actor in him (or pretend not to see it); and for him to have taken seriously Wagner's panegyric to chastity—his ascetic ideal, of which chastity is one of the three cardinal virtues. Thus subjugated, Nietzsche did not understand at first that, as in the case of every artist, nothing in Wagner was to be taken seriously.
Taken seriously, the panegyric Wagner makes to chastity in his old age is, for Nietzsche the doctor, a grave symptom of disease: seizing upon the ascetic ideal by these means, Wagner becomes, in effect, the very antithesis of the artist he had been up to this point. He becomes the opposite extreme
of the artist—and, at the same time, the opposite extreme of Nietzsche (at least in one of his evaluative schemes).
Yet if Wagner offered such a panegyric only in his old age, nothing but a transformation in the organization of his drives can explain how a man could have become his own opposite, to the point of giving a radically different meaning to his life. The question Nietzsche asks himself about Wagner is the same one he posed in Philosophy in the Tragic Age of the Greeks concerning Parmenides. And in both cases the response is the same. How could Parmenides, a Greek living in the most flourishing age of Greek history, have abandoned his first philosophy in favor of the second, that of Being—a most abstract philosophy in which the perceptible is pure illusion? And how could Wagner, an artist, have come around to praising chastity? For in both, it was the moral imperative of their nature that required their transformation. This imperative demanded, when Parmenides became old, that he take refuge in a cob-webbed castle in order to weave a philosophy devoid of all sense and of all blood, as anemic as its author. It is this same imperative that demanded that Wagner, at the end of his life, address a panegyric to chastity to the avid throng of Bayreuth—to his essentially feminine public. Lying behind the imperative of chastity addressed to all is a moral imperative of nature (the nature of an old man) which found itself, de facto , turned into music.
Unless one thinks that Wagner should not be taken seriously, that he was not diseased himself, but only shrewd enough to exploit a public that needed a morality of chastity.
Whichever hypothesis one accepts, by espousing an ascetic point of view Wagner signed his own death warrant as an artist and musician; for he wanted music for something other than itself—that is, to bring chastity on stage for its praises to be sung.
To Nietzsche, this panegyric by an artist seems so alien that he incessantly asks: Why did this reversal occur in Wagner? And for whom did it occur? To whom is this music addressed? To what type of listeners? To the first question Nietzsche initially responds: Because he became old and betrayed himself—what he had been and might have been. But clearly this response is unsatisfactory: while old age may favor chastity, it does not necessitate a panegyric to it. Wagner might have written a completely different type of music—as he had done earlier, in the strongest, most joyous, and courageous period of his existence, when he accepted life in all its forms, along with man's animality and sensuality. Then he had the courage to see that sensuality was not the opposite of chastity, and that it was possible to praise both. A panegyric to one or the other, where both are viewed as antinomic, is grounded in the ascetic ideal and its most basic opposite, sensualism, with which it forms a system: a philosophy worthy of swine that demands
music worthy only of swine. Consequently, the question becomes: Why at the end of his life does Wagner show such an interest in swine?
There was indeed a time when Wagner was not absorbed in the asceticism/sensualism, chastity/sensuality opposition: namely, when he took interest in The Wedding of Luther . And while he never gave it the form of an opera, one finds an echo of what this nuptial music might have been later in Die Meistersinger (1867). What fascinated Wagner about Luther was precisely his courage to refuse the sensuality/chastity opposition: after having lived it as a monk, he recognized it as a hoax—and demonstrated this revelation by his marriage. Peccas fortiter, ama fortiter . The union of these two "opposites" marked his divorce from the ascetic ideal: salvation is not so much secured by deeds as by grace, which can come to even the greatest of sinners. Man is also an animal, and he had better know it, lest while making himself out to be an angel he find himself metamorphosed into a swine, more swinish than an actual one.
They abstain, but the bitch, sensuality, leers enviously out of everything they do. Even to the heights of their virtue and to the cold regions of the spirit this beast follows them with her lack of peace. And how nicely the bitch, sensuality, knows how to beg for a piece of spirit when denied a piece of meat! And this parable too I offer you: not a few who wanted to drive out their devil have themselves entered into swine. Those for whom chastity is difficult should be counseled against it, lest it become their road to hell—the mud and heat of their souls.
So writes Nietzsche, retaining the lesson of Luther: the lure of angelism and chastity (since the truly chaste also poke fun at chastity, knowing it to be mere vanity) only results in a transformation into swinehood, leading the "ascetic" to roll in the filth. The tendencies to perdition and salvation are not opposed. If Luther was the first to denounce this false opposition, it is because he had the courage to affirm his sensuality, as did Wagner when he planned The Wedding of Luther .
According to Nietzsche, Wagner's "beautiful period" was from 1841 to 1868. In his works of this period he expresses a conception of the complete man, in which the natural side is not eliminated. The third act of Die Meistersinger is a hymn to Luther and to the Reformation. In Tannhauser , the hero declares that love implies sensuality, and there is a satire on chaste love. The break from this perspective came in 1870; and in Parsifal (1882) the panegyric to chastity in opposition to sensuality is triumphant.
Nietzsche's own account again takes up and generalizes the consistent truth of the first Wagnerism: all good marriages, all passions of the heart are beyond the chastity/sensuality opposition. Already in The Gay Science (GS 71, "On Female Chastity"), he showed how pernicious it is for women to have an education which, imposing complete chastity upon them until
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