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Monday, August 3, 2009

Wagner the Anti-Semite was Jewish?

In his essay, The Jews and their Music, Richard Wagner described the Jewish people as rootless parasites with no culture of their own. He encouraged the German people not to be ashamed of the intuitive hatred they felt towards this minority group and in fact argued that the German revulsion of the Jew is evidence that the Aryan organism is healthy.

Just as a healthy life form cannot digest something detrimental to its survival, the German nation’s inability to accept the parasitic Jew in society is a sign of national health. Wagner maintained that no matter how much he assimilates and adopts German culture as his own, the Jew would always remain an interloper.

In this, Wagner challenged centuries of Christian dogma which claimed that the Jew could be corrected through conversion to Christianity. Wagner argued that it would not help to convert a Jew because the Jew would still posses a Jewish soul. The soul cannot be changed and therefore the Jew remains incorrigible.
At this point, hatred of the Jew was brought beyond religious dogma and racial anti-Semitism replaced the age old Christian form. Because the soul was now the problem, no matter how well a Jew wrote the German language, composed German music or fought in the German army, he could never be accepted as a true German.
Wagner was a Christian convert:

Nietzsche contra Wagner is a critical essay by Friedrich Nietzsche, written in his last year of lucidity (1888-1889). It was not published until 1895, six years after Nietzsche's mental collapse. In it Nietzsche describes why he parted ways with his one-time idol and friend, Richard Wagner.

Nietzsche attacks Wagner's views in this short work, expressing disappointment and frustration in Wagner's life choices (such as his conversion to Christianity, perceived as a sign of weakness). Nietzsche evaluates Wagner's philosophy on tonality, music and art; he admires Wagner's power to emote and express himself, but largely disdains what Nietzsche calls his religious biases.

The work is significant for a number of reasons. It illustrates Nietzsche's evolution from a younger philosopher.It also gives the lie to those who would that would label Nietzsche as anti-Semitic, as is often alleged, and instead makes clear Nietzche's opposition to such ideas: "[Wagner] had condescended step by step to everything I despise — even to anti-Semitism."

Wagner and crypto Jew Wilhelm Marr both supported the German Revolution of 1848-9: 

Richard Wagner passionately engaged himself in the revolution, supporting the democratic-republican movement. Later in the May Uprising in Dresden from May 3-9, 1849, he supported the provisional government. Together with the leaders of the uprising, Wagner left Dresden on May 9 to avoid the warrant for his arrest by flight to exile in Switzerland. 

Born in 1819, Marr entered politics as a democratic revolutionary who favored the emancipation of all oppressed groups, including Jews. However, when he became embittered about the failure of the 1848-49 German Revolution to democratize Germany, and about his own rapidly declining political fortunes, he turned his venom against the Jews.
A word from H.L. Mencken: 

And having made all these charges Nietzsche by no means tried to evade their implications, however embarrassing. Did his denunciation of German music collide with the massive fact of Wagner? Then he was far from dismayed.  

Wagner, on the one hand, was a mountebank, a sentimentalist in disguise, a secret Christian; and on the other hand, he was not a German at all, but a Jew! (His true name was Geyer, that is, vulture. It was but a step from Geyer to Adler,—that is, eagle, —and where is there a more thoroughly Jewish patronymic? I do not burlesque: somewhere in Nietzsche you will find the actual passage.)
'A Vulture is Almost an Eagle'......

The Jewishness of Richard Wagner

extract from a seminar given at University College, London, on March 13th 2002

Caricature of Wagner by Karl Klic (1873)

......At the start of Jiri Weil's novel, 'Mendelssohn is on the Roof', set at the time of the Nazi occupation of Prague, a German officer is instructed to remove the statue of Mendelssohn from the composers above the façade of the concert hall. As the statues are without plaques, he tells his squad of workmen to pull down the image with the biggest nose. They promptly set about the statue of Richard Wagner...........

Their mistake is understandable. Wagner, who was no more than 5' 6” high, with an outsize head, a prominent nose, and high brow, could well have passed for a Jew. He recognised this himself: Theodor Adorno quotes Wagner's deleted description of the dwarf Mime, whose wheedling themes are the most incontrovertibly 'Jewish' music of 'The Ring':

'Mime the Nibelung alone. He is small and benthis head is abnormally large […] there must be nothing of caricature in all this: his aspect, even when quiet, must be simply eerie: it is only in moments of extreme excitement that he becomes outwardly ludicrous, but never uncouth'

Adorno comments 'Wagner's fear of caricature […] suggests, as does the suppression of this stage-direction, that Wagner recoiled with shock from the similarity between Mime and himself'. 

It was, ironically, Wagner himself who, on the basis of his own paranoia, first believed that he might be Jewish. By a further irony, however, the more one looks at Wagner's life and career, the more plausibly Jewish he may begin to appear. 

At the very outset of his autobiography, 'Mein Leben', Wagner intimates his first encounter with the world of Jewry - for he states that he was ' born May 22nd 1813 in Lepizig, two floors up in a house on the Bruehl', well-known as the Jewish section of town.

Last but not least:

I.J. and Jeanné Wagner Jewish Community Center

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