The Fatality of Romanticism vs. the Metaphysics of Sexual Love: Wagner’s Love Letter to Schopenhauer and the Break-Up with Nietzsche

Robert Cowan


The issue of whether chastity or sexual union leads to transcendence in Richard Wagner’s final opera Parsifal (1882) was one of the precipitating factors in Friedrich Nietzsche’s break with him. But an unfinished and unsent 1858 letter to the composer’s hero Arthur Schopenhauer, entitled “Original Konzept: Metaphysik der Geschlechtsliebe,” sheds light on how Wagner’s views of immanence and transcendence changed from the late 1850s to the early 1880s. His Grail knight, who is both a holy fool and a pure-blooded warrior, suffers from the contradictory impulse to surpass his material form and yet be an exemplar for a degenerating Europe. Wagner’s fusion of Eschenbach, Schopenhauer, and Gobineau creates a racialized metaphysics that is only theorized, though. Parsifal becomes the leader of the Grail knights, but how he will re-connect with those of us who are “all-too-human” to help us heal our spiritual lives remains to be seen. (RC)

This article requires a subscription to view the full text. If you have a subscription you may use the login form below to view the article. Access to this article can also be purchased.

Purchase access

You may purchase access to this article. This will require you to create an account if you don't already have one.