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December 22, 2016  

Patrick Carnegy: Syberberg's Parsifal and the soul of Germany

Hans Jürgen Syberberg's 1982 film of Parsifal is a psychological exploration of the opera, its roots in Wagner's mind, and its historical afterlife. Abstracted from Amfortas's body, his wound, carried about on a cushion by two female pages, becomes a symbol of Germany's unassuaged shame and guilt, an object of fascination and horror until it can be healed. When Kundry's kiss awakens Parsifal's sexuality, Syberberg sensationally replaces the male hero by a female Parsifal. His idea, in Jungian terms, is that the animus cannot itself complete the therapeutic journey through the psychic labyrinth, for this is given only to the anima, which here also embodies the soul of Germany. Patrick Carnegy offers some reflections on the wondrous complexity and resonance of this brilliant film.

Since he first visited Bayreuth in 1967 as music critic for The Times, Patrick Carnegy's principal research interest has been the stage history of Wagner's works. He was the first person to be appointed Dramaturg (literary and production adviser) at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden. His interests also include Shakespeare and he was Stratford-upon-Avon theatre critic for The Spectator from 1998 - 2013. Dr Carnegy's books include Faust as Musician (1973), a study of Thomas Mann's Doktor Faustus, and Wagner and the Art of the Theatre (2006) which won a Royal Philharmonic Society Music Award, and in the USA a George Freedley Memorial Award for its 'outstanding contribution to the history of the theatre'. His current work is on Wagner's indebtedness to Shakespeare, on which subject he is lecturing at home and abroad as a contribution to the 400th anniversary of the playwright's death.

 

In our conference 'Wagner, Freud and the End of Myth' (2013) we argued that by taking the mythic dimension and bringing it into the human realm, Wagner anticipated Freud in his depiction of unconscious processes of the mind. It could be said that Freud and Wagner were dealing with the same stuff - the “fundamental psychosexual issues that affect us all” as Barry Millington put it, and for that reason a fruitful dialogue can exist between their two bodies of work.

The present conference is entirely devoted to Wagner’s final masterpiece, Parsifal, and explores whether this sublime, troubling and contentious work prefigures psychoanalytic insight or resists psychoanalytic interpretation. As a story of compassion and redemption, which nevertheless describes a world of perversion and mental anguish, what can Parsifal tell us about the secret springs of human desire and the conflicts of human nature? And how did Wagner manage to create it?

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