Perhaps the sleepers (see previous post) are redeemed? It’s all about redemption, certainly ‘Parsifal’ is, which I heard on Good Friday in Frankfurt (a good performance all-round, very well-acted and well-sung, although Gurnemanz was rather disappointing). And it’s all about sin and guilt. Has to be, really. Where there is redemption, or the longing for it, there has to be sin and guilt, wrongdoing and conscience. ‘Parsifal’ is one big sin and redemption factory, unctuously religious; unsurprisingly, it has a rather low opinion of eros, which it shifts (apart from Klingsor) into the realm of the feminine.
Is the opera anti-Semitic? In years gone by, when researching Weimar Republic literature that paved the way for National Socialism, I was struck by the inclusion of female characters who embodied all those things a certain kind of 1920s’ Christian conservative male feared the most: eroticism, seductiveness, bolshevism, internationalism, female emancipation, and Jewishness. Kundry could be seen as a kind of prototype to these figures. According to the opera, she laughed at Christ as he hung from the Cross; marked by sin and unable to die, she moves from one existence to the next, seeking absolution, but condemned to seduce, longing for release from her sinfulness, but seemingly unable to resist exacerbating it. She is a female Ahasver, a wandering Jewess, the essentialised product a male Germanic neuroticism, the personification of a conflated fear of female and Jewish emancipation. When she is finally released from her sin through the incorruptible chastity of Parsifal, she dies. Amfortas, her Christian mirror-image, is luckier – he gets to live on after his redemption. While Amfortas can be cured by the homeopathic application of the holy speer which wounded him, homeopathy doesn’t work in Kundry’s case. As Parsifal points out to her: she cannot find redemption through seducing yet another holy knight.
In short: Kundry is a feminine and Jewish threat to the male Germanic-Christian order. Her attempts to soothe the very wounds her seductiveness causes alternate with returns to her ‘true’ self as seductress – this, surely, a comment on the perceived untrustworthiness of the assimilated Jew, who can never really be counted on to remain loyal to the Christian patriarchy. Yet there is more here. When Parsifal returns to redeem Amfortas, he is no longer the ‘reine Tor’ – the ‘pure fool’ – he was at the beginning. It is Kundry’s kiss (disguised as one from Parsifal’s mother) which makes him understand the meaning of Amfortas’s wound, as the whole inextricable complex of eros, pain and longing for redemption becomes agonisingly clear to him. Kundry awakens lust in him, and lust, in turn, triggers resistance to longing, the counter-principle, chastity, renunciation. The spirituality of the Germanic Parsifal remains unkindled until it confronts the worldliness of the Jew. I cannot help but think forward from here – even though I know one cannot simply draw lines like this – to National Socialism. The Nazis constructed an image of the Jew as the seductive, corrupting other which called forth, in the German, its ‘opposite’: moral uprightness, steadfastness, conscience, redemptiveness. The ‘bad’ Jew, in this sense, ‘made’ the ‘good’ German: a devastating symbiotic construction that ended with the destruction of 6 million Jews.