Wagner and the Fate of the Earth: A Contemporary Reading of The Ring

Wagner and the Fate of the Earth

A Contemporary Reading of The Ring

by Hunter G. Hannum






The incomparable thing about myth is that it is true for all time, and its content . . . [is] inexhaustible throughout the ages. The only task of the poet is to expound it.

Richard Wagner, Opera and Drama (1851) 


Much of our trouble during these past two centuries has been caused by our limited, our microphase, modes of thought. We centered ourselves on the individual, on personal aggrandizement, on a competitive way of life. . . . A sense of the planet Earth never entered our minds. We paid little attention to the more comprehensive visions of reality. This was for the poets, the romanticists . . . .

Thomas Berry, The Dream of the Earth (1988) 


In a lecture sponsored by the E. F. Schumacher Society on October 19, 1991 (the ninety-fifth anniversary of the birth of Lewis Mumford), Thomas Berry—like Mumford a cultural historian with a catholic breadth of vision—called his audience's attention to the order of magnitude of the changes presently taking place on our planet.1 These changes are not simply the sort of historical transitions we learned about in school—from the classical to the medieval world, for instance, or from the medieval to the Renaissance one; they do not even resemble the shifts that took place between the Neolithic and historical worlds. They are changes unique in the history of the planet, for heretofore all developments on Earth took place almost entirely without human intervention, whereas henceforth human beings will have a decisive influence on almost everything that happens on this planet.

We now find ourselves, Berry continued, in the terminal phase of the Cenozoic period, an era in geologic time beginning some seventy million years ago that saw the (relatively!) rapid evolution of mammals as well as grasses, shrubs, and flowering plants. Our present phase is a terminal one because our scientific-technological orientation has come to dominate the entire planet during the past hundred years or so, wreaking almost irreparable damage on the biosphere. This is, of course, a well-known situation, familiar even to some politicians nowadays. What Berry emphasizes is the urgent need for a new vision to guide us into the ecological or what he prefers to call the "Ecozoic" age, a period in which humankind must learn once again to live in harmony with the Earth. Central to this vision must be a “new story." Berry anticipates new developments in the arts to express this story, especially in the art of the drama, because its essence is conflict—a distinguishing characteristic of our age of transition. In recent times, however, conflict in drama has been situated, Berry points out, exclusively within the human sphere (i.e., individual pitted against individual or against society), whereas now the stage of conflict is much broader, encompassing extra-human dimensions: the fate of the whole Earth is at stake.

Here a question arises: Does any past dramatic work portray our present terminal phase in its larger dimensions? Has any drama dealt with the destructive elements of our age, as represented by what Berry calls "the industrial-commercial plundering process," while at the same time including a vision of healing and wholeness? I suggest that Richard Wagner's tetralogy Der Ring des Nibelungen is such a drama, one of the largest works—at least in terms of length—in the history of Western music. The Ring, of course, draws upon mythic sources (specifically, upon Teutonic mythology), and because myth traditionally treats a totality—subhuman as well as superhuman worlds—The Ring fulfills one of Berry's criteria for "new" drama: its conflicts are not located merely in the sphere of human individuals.

Being a mythic work has other consequences. Since its creation and first performance in the second half of the nineteenth century, The Ring has given rise to a multitude of interpretations, the scale ranging from Marxist to Jungian. This reaction was predictable, for myth—from early on in the Western tradition—has been subjected to explanation or "rationalization"; it has, in other words, been read as allegory (the most famous example: the Old Testament was interpreted as a figurative anticipation of the New according to St. Augustine's formula, "In the Old Testament the New Testament is concealed; in the New Testament the Old Testament is revealed").

It is as a "modern" allegory that I want to treat The Ring here, keeping in mind Thomas Berry's description of our age and his call for a new story.

This allegorical approach was taken as early as the end of the nineteenth century. In 1898, for example, George Bernard Shaw published his brilliant and influential study The Perfect Wagnerite: A Commentary on the Niblung's Ring, on the very first page of which he tells us: "The Ring, with all its gods and giants and dwarfs, its water-maidens and Valkyries, its wishing-cap, magic ring, enchanted sword, and miraculous treasure, is a drama of today, and not of a remote and fabulous antiquity. It could not have been written before the second half of the nineteenth century, because it deals with events which were only then consummating themselves."2

My reading will attempt to bring Shaw's up to date. In so doing, it also necessarily represents a correction of his interpretation in certain basic respects, for, after all, nearly one hundred years have passed since the "today" he refers to in his commentary, fateful years in the planet's history—in Berry's view "the terminal phase of the Cenozoic." Basically, I hope to show that Shaw's "today" is actually our day, which of course is in keeping with Wagner's assertion, quoted above, about the perennial validity of myth.

I shall try to get along with as little plot summary as possible (can anyone who has heard it ever forget Anna Russell's hilarious parody of The Ring's plot?) and restrict myself to salient points. In the first place—this phrase, as we shall see, is especially appropriate here—in Das Rheingold, the opera (or music drama, as Wagner preferred to call it) that functions as prelude to the three that follow, we find ourselves in the primeval element of water, in the depths of the Rhine River, where three water nymphs are keeping watch over a pristine hoard of gold. Alberich appears, a lustful dwarf who is at first attracted to the nymphs but, spurned by them, soon turns his attention to the glistening gold. The Rhinemaidens tell him that whoever forges it into a ring will attain limitless power but at the cost of having to renounce love. Without hesitation the dwarf seizes the gold and rushes off with it.

A fundamental choice is made here that determines the subsequent action. In an entirely different context, contemporary psychoanalyst Arno Gruen sums up the situation succinctly: "Human development may follow one of two paths: that of love or that of power. The way of power, which is central in most cultures, leads to a self that mirrors the ideology of domination."3 It is this "ideology of domination" that fuels the tragedy of Der Ring des Nibelungen. But domination over what? First of all, over Nature. Here Wagner's drama mirrors the drama of our age as Berry describes it, while at the same time departing radically from classical-traditional precedent and telling a "new story."

The Ring shares, it is true, a basic feature of classical-traditional dramatic narratives: in the beginning a crime or act of rebellion occurs that is followed by a curse. Subsequently the resolution of the narrative involves the expiation of this curse. But Wagner's is a new approach. We shall see the novelty of his Ring more clearly if we compare it with two works of comparable weight from the previous tradition, each of them a "world-poem" (Shaw's word for The Ring) because each of them, like it, deals with a larger stage than the merely human one. The first, Milton's Paradise Lost, also posits a primeval crime; yet "man's first disobedience" is not directed against Nature but, as the Judeo-Christian myth Milton follows instructs us, against the Deity, and this original sin can be atoned for only by the Deity Himself (cf. Paradise Regained). Whereas the second, Goethe's Faust—a great part of which was written in the same century as Wagner's Ring—is in many respects a transitional work, standing at the threshold between the classical-traditional and the scientific-technological ages (to use Berry's periodization again), it too takes its departure from an act of rebellion. In "The Prologue in Heaven" that precedes the drama proper, Mephistopheles, as a kind of surrogate for Faust himself, cynically calls the harmony and perfection of the Divine creation into question. Faust then ends with its eponymous hero, despite a lifetime of inevitable errors, headed for that Heaven we saw at the beginning of the play.

But back to Earth—that is, to the depths of the Rhine and to Wagner's new story. The curse of the Nibelung Alberich is actually a twofold one. As he wrests the gold from its natural setting beneath the waters, he curses love for the sake of attaining power. Another decisive curse is to follow: after his theft of the gold ("The Theft of the Rhinegold" was Wagner's original title for the work, pointing to the centrality of this crime in the composer's conception), Alberich returns to the land of the dwarfs and, using the power afforded by the ring he forges from the gold, forces his fellow creatures to amass immense wealth for him. When we experience Das Rheingold 's third scene, it is difficult not to believe we are witnessing an allegorical presentation of the first modern factories or mines: we hear the almost deafening din of forging, we see the ruddy glow of fires in murky subterranean darkness—in short, we witness the inhuman toil of creatures slaving under inhumane conditions. Shaw recognized immediately that Wagner's "picture of Niblunghome under the reign of Alberic is a poetic vision of unregulated industrial capitalism as it was made known in Germany in the middle of the nineteenth century by Engels' The Condition of the Working Class in England in 1844 " (Shaw, p. xvii). Today, taking into account the fate of Eastern Europe and the lands of the former Soviet Union, we know it is not capitalism alone that is capable of creating the human and environmental inferno of "Niblunghome."

In this netherworld appear Wotan, ruler of the gods, and his helper-companion Loge, god of fire and of cleverness and trickery. Wotan has a problem: he has overextended himself in the area of real estate and can't pay his bills. He has contracted with two giants to build him and his cohorts a sumptuous castle, Valhalla, and has promised as payment Freia, goddess of youth and love. When he and the other gods discover they are unable to do without Freia, they search for ersatz payment. Cunning Loge comes up with the solution of seizing Alberich's wealth, whose source is the Rhinegold and the ring fashioned from it. With the help of Loge's trickery Wotan outwits Alberich, gains control of the hoard and ring, and pays off the giants with them.

It is here that Alberich pronounces his second curse. First he had cursed love in order to gain the gold; now he calls down a curse on anyone who in the future shall possess the ring made from it. This curse takes effect immediately: the giants Fasolt and Fafner accept the Nibelung's treasure (including the ring) as a substitute for the promised Freia and instantly start to quarrel over their payment, whereupon Fafner slays his brother and takes the entire treasure for himself. Just before this incident, which is anticipated to some degree in his Scandinavian sources,4 Wagner inserts a significant invention of his own: when Wotan is reluctant to give up the ring, the means to wealth and power—even to save Freia, who is representative of Nature, love, youth, and, as we shall see, the Feminine—a female figure emerges from the depths of the Earth to warn him to relinquish it, for it augurs, she announces, a bleak day for the gods. Wagner names this character "Erda," the Old High German word for "Earth"; today she is better known by another ancient name, Gaia. Wotan heeds her warning and includes the ring with the Nibelung treasure he surrenders to the giants; nevertheless, he immediately starts making plans to recover it, thus helping to bring about the conflict—and tragedy—to come.

Instead of tracing the intricacies of The Ring's subsequent plot, let's examine some of that plot's underlying elements often overlooked by previous commentators. I have said the work deals with a primal crime against Nature, but this is too imprecise; put more concretely, a pure natural substance is brought up from its resting place in the depths and, misused, becomes the object of a tragic power struggle. (A linguistic point: at the conclusion of Das Rheingold the Rhinemaidens lament the loss of their gold to the unheeding ears of the gods, who are preparing to enter the splendid fortress of Valhalla. "Rheingold! Rheingold! Reines Gold!" they sing—an untranslatable play on words, for "rein," pronounced like the name of the river, means pure, unadulterated, natural. It is this purity that of course is lost when the natural order is violated.)

As if to reinforce the importance of the theme of a primal injury to Nature, Wagner gives us a second instance of it: at the beginning of Die Götterdämmerung (“The Twilight of the Gods”), the final work in the tetralogy, three female figures, the Norns or Fates (daughters of Erda), review the history of the drama. They recount how Wotan once came to the World Ash Tree to drink of wisdom from a spring at its roots; at the same time he broke from the tree a branch that he used to fashion a spear, the instrument (and symbol) of his power. This act caused the tree to wither and eventually die; now, the Norns inform us, the dry wood from that tree is heaped up in the form of mighty branches around Valhalla, awaiting the spark to ignite it and cause the conflagration that will spell the doom of the gods. Here, even more clearly, we are made aware of the connection between the violation of Nature and universal destruction!

It is hard to believe that another theme of prime importance in Wagner's fable has not received greater attention: the role of the Feminine in this drama of violation—of crime, curse, passion, and resolution. To speak solely of a primal crime against Nature in The Ring is, once again, imprecise, for it is the Feminine as well that is the victim of violation throughout the work, and the villain is what we have come to recognize as the patriarchy, with all that this concept connotes for the contemporary mind. And once again Wagner's work contains an artistic expression of Thomas Berry's analysis of our terminal era and anticipates the new story Berry finds necessary for our time, for he describes a precondition for the emergence of the next era of Earth's history as follows: "The Ecozoic can come into existence only through an appreciation of the feminine dimension of the Earth, through a liberation of women from the oppressions and the constraints [of the past]" (from a list of conditions, handed out at Berry's lecture, that he proposes for entering the Ecozoic Era).

The Ring opens in the depths of the Rhine, in the female element of water, where the Rhinemaidens are guarding the gold. Its theft, which launches the plot, is at the same time a wrong done to its three guardians, one they lament to the gods. But Wotan wants to hear nothing of their complaint, and Loge advises them that, since their gold is gone, they should sun themselves henceforth "in the gods' new splendor"—in other words, in the reflected glory of the patriarchy. Yet the clever Loge realizes that this splendor is doomed: "They are hastening to their end, those [gods] who believe so firmly in their enduring power."

We have already observed a second offense against the Feminine, its use as a pawn in a commercial transaction: in Das Rheingold Wotan is almost willing to surrender Freia to the giants as payment for Valhalla, site and symbol of his power—Freia, who with her golden apples that insure the gods' youth and vitality, is clearly a fertility goddess and another incarnation of Gaia. Although Wotan heeds Erda's warning at the last moment and relinquishes the ring in order to save Freia, this consideration for the Feminine doesn't last. Indeed, it is the splitting off of this element in himself that contributes greatly to making him the tragic figure he is, for the exigencies of the plot later lead him to repudiate his beloved daughter Brünnhilde (offspring of his union with the Earth goddess Erda). From that moment—dramatized, with some of The Ring 's most moving music, at the conclusion of Die Walküre—Wotan is a doomed and dying god. Analogously, the fact that Siegfried, grandson of Wotan, "forgets" his feminine half Brünnhilde as the result of a magic potion seals  his fate.

And also from that time on, it is Brünnhilde, not her spouse Siegfried, who is the true hero of the work. For passion or suffering is not enough to make a figure into a tragic hero; there must be perception of the root of suffering as well (as Oedipus, for instance, must first realize and then atone for his crime). Brünnhilde exhibits this perception at the end of The Ring, in the last act of Die Götterdämmerung. One is tempted to say that the "ring" is closed or "rounded off" here, that the "cycle" is completed. Two examples: at the end of Das Rheingold the Rhinemaidens "lamented" the theft of their gold to the gods, who ignored them. The word Wagner uses is "klagen," which means to complain or lodge a complaint as well as to lament. Then, at the end of Die Götterdämmerung Brünnhilde addresses the ruler of the gods (the patriarchy once again!): "Meine Klage hör, du hehrster Gott!" (Hear my complaint, you august god!). It is the sins of the patriarchy—the rape of Nature, the denigration of the Feminine, and the ensuing struggle for profit and power-—that have brought about her present grief, the murder of her spouse Siegfried. And all of this has happened, she adds, "dass wissend würde ein Weib!" (that a woman might gain knowledge!—my emphasis). The immediate consequence of her (feminine) knowledge is the second instance of rounding off or closing the circle: Brünnhilde takes the gold ring from the finger of her dead husband and places it on her own, saying that she is taking back what is rightfully hers and bequeathing it to "the wise sisters who dwell in the depths of the waters." The Rhinemaidens are to take it from her ashes after her self-immolation on Siegfried's funeral pyre.

It may seem like a relatively minor element in the total drama that Brünnhilde claims the ring as her "Erbe" (heritage, inheritance) and places it on her finger, that the Rhinemaidens retrieve it from her ashes and bear it back to its pristine place in the depths of the Rhine (after one last attempt on the part of Hagen, Alberich's son, to reclaim it for the patriarchy—in vain, for the Rhinemaidens pull him down into the water and drown him), yet I find it significant that Shaw, for all his perspicacity about the work, misses this point completely. Here is his description of the scene (he is very scornful of Die Götterdämmerung in general, seeing in it a surrender to the clichés of grand opera): "The hall of the Gibichungs catches fire, as most halls would were a cremation attempted in the middle of the floor (I permit myself this gibe purposely to emphasize the excessive artificiality of the scene); but the Rhine overflows its banks to allow the three Rhine maidens to take the ring from Siegfried's [sic] finger, incidentally extinguishing the conflagration as it does so" (p. 82).

Not accidentally, another scene in Die Götterdämmerung also elicits Shaw's disapproval: in Act One Waltraute, a sister Valkyrie, begs Brünnhilde to return to the Rhinemaidens the ring Siegfried has given her. Shaw's words again: "Clinging in anguish to Wotan's knees, she [Waltraute] has heard him mutter that were the ring returned to the daughters of the deep Rhine, both gods and world would be redeemed from that stage curse of Alberic's in The Rhine Gold" (p. 74). Shaw's comment: "[Waltraute] betrays her irrelevance by explaining that the gods can be saved by the restoration of the ring to the Rhine maidens. This, considered as part of the previous allegory, is nonsense . . . ." (p. 80-81).

To understand Shaw's difficulties with the conclusion of The Ring, why he sees in it "the collapse of the allegory," we must first be clear about what he takes to be the drama's meaning:


In the old-fashioned orders of creation [it is these "orders," incidentally, that are mirrored in Paradise Lost and Faust, those "world-poems" mentioned earlier], the supernatural personages are invariably conceived as greater than man, for good or evil. In the modern humanitarian order as adopted by Wagner, Man is the highest. In The Rhine Gold, it is pretended that there are as yet no men on the earth. There are dwarfs, giants, and gods. The danger is that you will jump to the conclusion that the gods, at least, are a higher order than the human order. On the contrary, the world is waiting for Man to redeem it from the lame and cramped government of the gods. Once grasp that; and the allegory becomes simple enough. Really, of course, the dwarfs, giants, and gods are dramatizations of the three main orders of men: to wit, the instinctive, predatory, lustful, greedy people; the patient, toiling, stupid, respectful, money-worshipping people; and the intellectual, moral, talented people who devise and administer States and Churches [sic!]. History shows us only one order higher than the highest of these: namely, the order of Heroes.                                            (Shaw, pp. 28-29)


It is the defeat, the tragic fall, of this Hero, this Man (not entirely coincidentally Shaw uses the capitalized masculine form) that Shaw cannot accept; in terms of the drama, what is involved is the fall of Siegfried, whom he sees as a quasi-Nietzschean superman, a proto-Protestant who, revolting against the powers that be, extends the dominion of Man. Elements of Wagner's work that don't fit into Shaw's scheme are dismissed as "irrelevant" or "nonsense," and prominent among these, as we have seen, is the motif of the restoration of the ring to the Rhinemaidens. Shaw even misses the point that it is Brünnhilde who ultimately performs this act! What he fails to perceive here is the (linked) theme of Nature and the Feminine that sounds throughout the work and is not at all "irrelevant" to it or to our time.

The question of time brings us back to a consideration of Thomas Berry's periodization: when Shaw stated at the outset of his study that The Ring is "a drama of today," we must ask ourselves what day that is in Berry's scheme and how it differs from ours. According to Berry, Shaw (and of course Wagner) lived during what might be called the heroic stage of the scientific-technological age, when the West's "commercial-industrial plundering process" was beginning to spread triumphantly over the entire globe. Now, by our day, that process has brought about the terminal phase of a much longer period in Earth history, the Cenozoic; as a result, we are in a much better position than Shaw was to understand the prophetic fable of Die Götterdämmerung—indeed, the import of The Ring as a whole.


In the foregoing I have argued for a contemporary allegorical reading of The Ring; now it is time for a brief recapitulation and amplification of that argument. A pure natural substance is wrested from the depths and, misused, becomes the object of a disastrous power struggle, one that destroys not only human beings but Nature as well (cf. the fire and flood at the end of Die Götterdämmerung). To begin with this ending: what struck Shaw as "irrelevant"—the return of the substance in question to its natural setting—strikes us now as an anticipation of today's movement toward "ecological restoration," the desire to make amends to a violated natural order.5 It is in this direction—and in this direction only—that many believe humankind's "redemption" lies, and it is this which gives meaning in contemporary terms to Brünnhilde's "redemptive" act. Out of the multitude of musical motifs that make up The Ring's score, two are dominant at its close: one is the motif of the Rhinemaidens, over a final restatement of the Valhalla motif. Thus, in his conclusion the composer gives special emphasis once again to Nature and the Feminine vis-à-vis the power of the patriarchy.

Now, one basic and meaningful way to define the century and a half since the birth of Shaw (1856) and the beginning of the composition of The Ring's music (1853) is to call it the Hydrocarbon Age. Once we accept this definition, it is difficult not to read The Ring as an allegorical account of that age and especially of the role of oil—sometimes referred to as "liquid gold" or "black gold"—in it. A fascinating and instructive book by Daniel Yergin, The Prize: The Epic Quest for Oil, Money, and Power,6 demonstrates in detail how, inescapably and fatefully, practically every figure of outstanding wealth and political power for over a century has been closely connected with oil and its history; indeed, oil wealth and political power have sometimes even been united in one figure, such as that of the forty-first President of the United States, George Bush. Interestingly enough, the figurative language used to recount this history frequently recalls the actual figures on Wagner's stage: for example, one speaks of the "giants" Standard Oil and Royal Dutch/Shell, and Yergin's chapter describing Ida Tarbell's exposé of Standard Oil, which led to the dismemberment of that monopoly, is entitled "The Dragon Slain" (Siegfried's famous slaying of a dragon occurs in the third drama of the tetralogy)!

The struggle for control of "black gold" has of course involved not only wealthy and powerful individuals and corporations but entire nations as well, leading to conflicts as recent as the Gulf War. Even sober observers of the conflagration at the end of that war sound the same apocalyptic note we hear at the end of The Ring: "As we continued our journey from Saudi Arabia into Kuwait, we felt we were entering an environmental hell. In the oil fields, well fires and smoke clouds filled the horizon; oil spilling from the damaged wells formed extensive rivers and lakes; and soot covered the desert with a black crust. It looked like the end of the world” (emphasis mine).7

It is striking, then, how Wagner anticipates our present age and equally striking how Shaw failed to see, in his critique of Wagner, the implications of the scientific-technological phase of modern history. One might argue that, after all, most of Shaw's life was spent in the "heroic" period of that history, yet in 1952 Theodor Adorno, a German critic of The Ring, shares essentially the view of the Irish dramatist, seeing in this work the regrettable retraction of a revolutionary impulse: "If we wanted to express the 'idea' of The Ring in simple words, we could say that man emancipates himself from the blind connection with nature from which he originates, subsequently winning power over nature, only to succumb to it in the last analysis.8 Thus, for Adorno the triumph of the Rhinemaidens at the end of Die Götterdämmerung represents the denial of the inevitable progress of history as seen by a Hegel and a Marx. To counter his view as well as Shaw's and to reinforce Wagner's vision from a perhaps surprising perspective, here are the words of Russell Means, a Native American: "All European tradition, Marxism included, has conspired to defy the natural order of all things. Mother Earth has been abused, the powers have been abused, and this cannot go on forever. No theory can alter that simple fact. Mother Earth will retaliate, the whole environment will retaliate, and the abusers will be eliminated. Things come full circle, back to where they started. That's revolution. And that's a prophecy of my people, of the Hopi people . . . ."9

In his assessment of the scientific-technological phase of recent history, Thomas Berry tells us that "[a] sense of the planet Earth never entered into our minds. We paid little attention to the more comprehensive visions of reality. This was for the poets . . . ."10 If we had paid attention, I have tried to demonstrate, we might have appreciated the geocentric (Berry's word is "biocentric") vision of Wagner's Ring and been able to measure accurately its distance from Shaw's anthropocentric one—which, we have also seen, may be called a patriarchal one. In this same connection, we might also have paid attention to another geocentric poet writing in German, Rainer Maria Rilke, whose poems abound with celebration of the plant and animal worlds, who passionately affirmed the Earth in his ninth Duino Elegy and had lamented, at the time of the cataclysm of Western civilization represented by the First World War, that "the world has fallen into the hands of men."

If we pay close attention to The Ring today, I believe we will realize that this work deals with what Berry calls those "larger contours of conflict [occurring] in this stupendous transition from the terminal Cenozoic to the emerging Ecozoic" and that it also celebrates what Berry calls the healing "feminine dimension of the Earth."

Perhaps it is high time that we listen to the poets.





1Thomas Berry's Eleventh Annual E. F. Schumacher Lecture has been published in revised form as The Ecozoic Era (Great Barrington, Mass.: Schumacher Center for a New Economics, 1991).

2Reprint of fourth edition (New York: Dover, 1967), p. 1. Subsequent page references to this edition will be given in the text. Shaw's view was shared by Patrice Chéreaux, who, in his famous and controversial 1976 production of The Ring at Bayreuth, set the scene in the modern industrial age.

3The Betrayal of the Self: The Fear of Autonomy in Men and Women, trans. Hildegarde and Hunter Hannum (New York: Grove Press, 1988), p. 1.

4For an exhaustive study of Wagner's sources and what he did with them, see Deryck Cooke, I Saw the World End: A Study of Wagner's Ring (London: Oxford University Press, 1979). His discussion of Erda is on pp. 226-32.

5For concrete examples of this movement, see Stephanie Mills's Eleventh Annual Schumacher lecture, Making Amends to the Myriad Creatures (Great Barrington, Mass.: Schumacher Center for a New Economics, 1991).

6New York: Simon & Schuster, 1992.

7Richard S. Golob, "'It Looks Like the End of the World,'" Harvard Magazine, Sept.-Oct. 1991, pp. 30 and 32.

8Versuch über Wagner (Essay on Wagner) (Frankfort: Suhrkamp Taschenbuch Verlag, 1974), p. 126 (translation mine).

9"Fighting Words on the Future of the Earth," Mother Jones, Dec. 1980, p. 30.

10The Dream of the Earth (San Francisco: Sierra Club Books, 1990), p. 44.


Hunter G. Hannum has been a teacher and critic of German literature and co-editor with Edgar Lohner of Modern German Drama (Houghton Mifflin 1996), an anthology widely used in American colleges and universities. With his wife, Hildegarde, a member of the board of the Schumacher Center for a New Economics, he has been a free-lance translator from the German. Among their titles are Unwritten Memories, an informal autobiography by Katia Mann, wife of Thomas Mann, and several works by Switzerland-based psychotherapist Alice Miller, including For Your Own Good: Hidden Cruelty in Child-Rearing and the Roots of Violence and Thou Shalt Not Be Aware: Society’s Betrayal of the Child.





Schumacher Center for a New Economics and Hunter G. Hannum