To conclude my Christmas commentary, some cheery seasonal thoughts on the end of the world.
Gotterdamerung can be a little intimidating. The insanely complex plot, dense musicality and five hour length are not for the faint hearted. And it takes us ultimately no further than where we started – the Rheingold is back with the Rheinmaidens, and the key of E flat. So what is the point of the journey?
The opera’s title – the Twilight of the Gods – is itself a paradox. As much as a paradox as Wagner’s sometime friend Friedrich Nietzsche’s most famous quote: ‘God is dead’. As immortals how can Gods die? Nietzsche, and by extension Wagner’s meaning is not that Gods literally die, but that our reliance on them has died (which for beings defined by faith is probably more or less the same thing). For me one meaning of Gotterdamerung is that, by the power of myths and by the vast destruction of meaning at the end of this particular one, we are able to challenge things which we previously considered inviolable or immortal.
Another potential meaning is an exploration of the idea of creative destruction. Marx, in the Communist Party Manifesto referred to the cycle of commercial crisis, each one greater than the last, each one threatening the capitalist system. Pretty obvious commentary on the last ten years if you’d like to view it that way. But that idea of creative destruction, bizarrely has transmuted into one of the central tenets of neo-liberalism – destruction as a means for the capitalist system to constantly renew itself. Which interpretation of the financial crisis is correct? Like Zhou Enlai’s famous comment about the impact of the French revolution, it is too early to say.
On the one hand it is crass to make an over-literal comparison between the ring cycle and the state of the financial markets. On the other, an overly philosophical interpretation will get me sent straight to ‘Pseuds Corner’ (for non-British readers, a regular column in the satirical magazine Private Eye ridiculing pretentious speech or ideas).
So I will simply say that the ambiguity about the destruction at the end of Gotterdamerung and Wagner’s invitation to reconsider those things that we considered inviolable as a response to the turmoil seem more relevant than ever to today’s market.
The twilight of the Gods, the destruction of our economic system and philosophical ambiguity might not be particularly good themes for a Christmas special of a covered bond blog. Despite that I wish regular readers a very merry Christmas. And the idea of a fresh start after turmoil is a pretty good one to restart with, so I can safely add: Happy New Year.
By Richard Kemmish
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