Cover image for Finding an ending : reflections on Wagner's Ring
Finding an ending : reflections on Wagner's Ring
Kitcher, Philip, 1947-
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
New York : Oxford University Press, [2004]

Physical Description:
xi, 241 pages ; 22 cm
Reading Level:
1370 Lexile.
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
ML410.W15 K57 2004 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

On Order



Few musical works loom as large in Western culture as Richard Wagner's four-part Ring of the Nibelung. In Finding an Ending, two eminent philosophers, Philip Kitcher and Richard Schacht, offer an illuminating look at this greatest of Wagner's achievements, focusing on its far-reaching andsubtle exploration of problems of meanings and endings in this life and world. Kitcher and Schacht plunge the reader into the heart of Wagner's Ring, drawing out the philosophical and human significance of the text and the music. They show how different forms of love, freedom, heroism, authority, and judgment are explored and tested as it unfolds. As they journey across itssweeping musical-dramatic landscape, Kitcher and Schacht lead us to the central concern of the Ring--the problem of endowing life with genuine significance that can be enhanced rather than negated by its ending, if the right sort of ending can be found. The drama originates in Wotan's quest for atransformation of the primordial state of things into a world in which life can be lived more meaningfully. The authors trace the evolution of Wotan's efforts, the intricate problems he confronts, and his failures and defeats. But while the problem Wotan poses for himself proves to be insoluble ashe conceives of it, they suggest that his very efforts and failures set the stage for the transformation of his problem, and for the only sort of resolution of it that may be humanly possible--to which it is not Siegfried but rather Brunnhilde who shows the way. The Ring's ending, with its passing of the gods above and destruction of the world below, might seem to be devastating; but Kitcher and Schacht see a kind of meaning in and through the ending revealed to us that is profoundly affirmative, and that has perhaps never been so powerfully and sobeautifully expressed.

Author Notes

Richard Schacht is Professor of Philosophy and Jubilee Professor of Liberal Arts and Sciences, at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

Reviews 2

Library Journal Review

Both philosophy professors, Kitcher (Columbia Univ.) and Schacht (Univ. of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign) aim to present Wagner's The Ring of the Nibelungs cycle as a philosophically rich and complex work. While neither author has a background in musicology or music theory, it is clear from their arguments, as well as from their annotated bibliography, that the music itself is never far from their minds. They begin with an overview of the philosophical works that shaped Wagner's thinking-a progression that begins with Hegel, moves through Feurebach and Schopenhauer, and culminates in Nietzsche. The excellent first chapter is essentially an overview of these giants' theories, written in clear and understandable language. Instead of moving in strict chronological order through the Ring cycle, the book proceeds character by character, focusing principally on Wotan's challenges and dilemmas and Brunnhilde's transformations. Each chapter contains thought-provoking discussions that will intellectually engage readers, even those who are unmoved, or perhaps repelled, by Wagner's music and ideas. While overlapping considerably with Bryan Magee's The Tristan Chord: Wagner and Philosophy, this book plunges more deeply into the intricacies of character development in the Ring itself, touching more lightly upon the details of philosophical inquiry. Recommended for all collections.-Larry Lipkis, Moravian Coll., Bethlehem, PA (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Choice Review

Much has been written about Wagner, especially in recent years, but the works on his philosophy are either incomplete or somewhat negative. Kitcher (Columbia Univ.) and Schacht (Univ. of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign), both philosophy faculty, examine the link between Wagner's philosophy and music and in so doing broaden understanding of both the musical expression and the philosophical validity of the Ring cycle's many complicated issues. The authors focus on authority and judgment, the justification of human existence, and the power of love. Although the five chapters that provide background are not insignificant, an earlier exegesis of the philosophical principles would have provided a better framework. Not until chapter 6 ("Meaning and the Ring") do the authors detail the crux of their argument and lay out a cohesive philosophical argument for the undergirding of the entire Ring cycle. Subsequent chapters deal with issues that have their genesis in specific characters or situations. An appendix provides a helpful synopsis of the Ring cycle's plot (no easy feat). The bibliography focuses on writings about Wagner himself and his philosophy. An unprecedented philosophical treatise, at least in terms of its completeness, this volume is a must-read for serious students of Wagner. ^BSumming Up: Highly recommended. Graduate and research collections. M. Neil Augustana College (IL)

Table of Contents

Acknowledgmentsp. ix
Prefacep. xi
Introductionp. 1
1 Wagner's Philosophersp. 13
2 Authority and Judgment in Don Giovannip. 25
3 Alberich and Frickap. 34
4 Wotan's Challengep. 43
5 Meaning and the Traditionp. 49
6 Meaning and the Ringp. 55
7 Wotan's Projectp. 64
8 Wotan's Problemp. 77
9 Logep. 86
10 Erdap. 94
11 Wotan's Judgmentsp. 101
12 Project Siegfriedp. 112
13 Wotan's Dilemmasp. 121
14 Wotan's Authorityp. 135
15 Siegmund and Sieglindep. 140
16 Varieties of Lovep. 147
17 Brunnhilde's Progressp. 157
18 Brunnhilde's Transformationp. 164
19 Brunnhilde's Authorityp. 177
20 Siegfried and Other Problemsp. 185
21 Ending and Renewalp. 197
Synopsis of the Ringp. 203
Selected Bibliographyp. 233
Indexp. 237