Abstract

Richard Wagner's Siegfried constitutes something of an anomaly within the Ring cycle: the epic narrative of the Nibelungs and Valsungs grinds to a virtual halt, while two characters, Mime and Siegfried, reenact the fairy tale of the ““youth who went forth to learn what fear is.”” The fairy tale's mythic framework nevertheless reasserts itself within the fairytale enclosure in the guise of sexuality, in particular sexual difference: As Siegfried begins asking troubling questions about his paternity, Mime is thrust into the role of unitary origin, culminating in his desperate claim that he is Siegfried's ““father and mother.”” This article explores how exactly Wagner stages the tug of war between Siegfried and Mime over sexual difference, in particular in act I of Siegfried, allying different ways of conceiving descent, knowledge, and love with either the epic or the anti-epic (which Wagner associates with the fairy tale). This turns the generic struggle at the heart of Siegfried into a struggle between two kinds of families laying claim to Siegfried's paternity: the Gods of Valhalla who reproduce sexually, and the Nibelungs who are capable only of asexual reproduction of the self-same. This article argues that Wagner draws on his own speculations on sexuality, race, and history, in particular his idiosyncratic reading of Schopenhauer, to overlay this opposition not only with moral significations, but racial ones as well.

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