Seeking Higher Ground for a Break from the Rancor


If, like me, you’re simultaneously drawn in and disgusted by the news media’s determination to stoke discord and ensure the failure of a newly installed president, one solution is to take your thinking to a higher plane for a time.  One escalator for that purpose would be David Goldman’s First Things review of Roger Scruton’s thoughts on composer Richard Wagner’s work, which still connects to modern ideological struggles (obviously), but at a one-step remove:

For Schopenhauer, time progresses without any anticipation of a goal, and so there is no standard by which moments can be ordered. Each exists for its own sake and is equally pointless. The moment can only be given substance by an act of will. This rejection of teleological time was dramatized by Goethe in Faust, whose hero risks his soul on the wager that Mephistopheles cannot seduce him with a moment so compelling that he will say to it, “Remain! You are so beautiful!” Faust is saved because the blandishments of the moment fail to stop him from striving towards his goal. Schopenhauer took the devil’s side in this bet, as did his musical alter ego. This is why Wagner’s music appeals to us so fiercely, or at least to a certain side of us. We all feel the impulse to dissolve ourselves into the moment and ditch the long journey to redemption. That has been the erotic attraction of paganism since Pinchas killed Zimri.

A little farther along, this paragraph is an increment closer to direct application to our times:

… Wagner needs a hero immune to care and dread, that is, unconcerned about the future of the beloved. Sexual love in the Judeo-Christian sense is intertwined with care, for it subordinates the erotic moment to the future of the union and the children it will produce. Eroticism without fear is nihilism, for only a love with no future is fearless. Siegmund and Sieglinde, like Siegfried and Brünnhilde, do not “sacrifice the self for the other”; on the contrary, they consume the self in a paroxysm of self-adoration.