The Folk as the Force Conditioning Artwork (Wagner)

“All that subsists, depends on the conditions by which it subsists; nothing, either in Nature or Life, stands shut-off and alone. Everything is rooted in one unending and harmonious whole;

when Earth-nature had emanated to the most manifold variety, she attained therewith the state of saturation, of self-contentment, of self-delight, which she manifests amid her present harmony. She works no longer by titanic, total transformations, for her period of revolutions is foreby; she now is all that she can be, and thus that she ever could have been, and ever must become. She no longer has to lavish life-force on [79] barren impotence; throughout her endless-stretching realm she has summoned multiformity, the Manly and the Womanly, the ever self-renewing and engendering, the ever self-completing and assuaging, into life,—and in this eternal harmony of parts, she has become forevermore her stable self.

All great inventions are the People’s deed; whereas the devisings of the intellect are but the exploitations, the derivatives, nay, the splinterings and disfigurements of the great inventions of the Folk. Not ye, invented Speech, but the Folk; ye could but spoil its physical beauty, break its force, mislay its inner understanding, and painfully explore the loss. Not ye, were the inventors of Religion, but the Folk; ye could but mutilate its inner meaning, turn the heaven that lay within it to a hell, and its out-breathing truth to lies.”


-Richard Wagner  “The Art Work of the Future”


In the fourth section of the first chapter of “The Art Work of the Future,” Richard Wagner continues his discourse on the importance of “the Folk” (the whole of people and the necessity that it drives) and its relationship to nature as the life spring of creative invention. That which I’ve quoted from the section seems to sum it up as far as I can understand, and what you may notice is his tendency to communicate the importance of one thing through critique and ridicule of other things. That is to say that he charismatically illustrates the power and necessity of “The Folk” by ultimately attacking notions of individuality. The third section of the quote is but a small subsection of a part in which he characterizes people in their individual state as nothing more than possible corruptors of the great structures that “The Folk” has created. Essentially, he paints a picture of a large pool existing through all people from which the individual draws their creative spirit. Such an illustration is not disagreeable, but it is clear that his over zealous attitude regarding this idea results in an utter disregard for the power of the individual. Essentially, while emphatically expressing the importance of community, connectedness, and natural way, Wagner creates a dichotomy between the individual and the whole; thus, he ultimately contradicts his own idea by criticizing to such an extent as to create a sense of separateness as if “The Folk” were like a greek god. While Wagner’s mistake, in this instance may be overlooked and understood as an error in passion, revealing and recognition of such an error is of importance when learning or taking influence from someone such as Wagner who has a tendency to write in a convoluted manner with his own considerable amounts of ego and critique. With the reading of Wagner one may be reminded that despite great intellectualism and creative fervor our main goal is to deliver ourselves from “egoism.”

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