Thomas, please excuse me for intruding on your discussion with Joe about the validity of multiple ways of understanding LICHT. I will try to be brief, which means avoiding the extremely complex and vexed question of there being 'just one truth', but I just wanted to ask you, even if we accept that point for the sake of the present discussion, what does it mean in relation to the interpretation and understanding of a work of art? That only one interpretation and understanding is valid? And, if so, what would make it valid and the others not valid? Would the intentions of the artist be the reference point? Or something beyond this, such as what is written in the work itself, perhaps? I am inclined to think that if it really is the case, as you say, that there is just one truth, then it is likely that that truth will manifest itself in many ways, especially in a great work of art. This is in part what I attempted to argue in my own session at Kürten this year, because universal themes (and surely truth, if it is anything, it must be universal!) manifest at many levels and often a work of art will capture all, or at least many, of these. The truths that apply to who we are as a society are likely to also resonate with who are as individuals, and chances are that truths about the spiritual dimension of life (if such a dimension exists) may also be reflected in the truths about the personal dimension of life, the social, even the political. This would suggest to me that a work of art that deals with universal themes can indeed be understood in many ways, insofar as it can resonate with truth at many levels.
But of course it does not follow that therefore any and every interpretation is valid. But I am sometimes surprised at the unexpected understandings of great works of art that seem to be convincing, even though they may be very different from what the artist, and others, had previously imagined. I think one of the remarkable things about great artists - such as Stockhausen - is that their connection with "the universal" (and I am carefully avoiding defining what that is, because I don't know) is often so profound that they create work that generates opportunities for understanding that neither they, nor many of their contemporaries and followers, had ever dreamed of.
First, I just want to make it very clear that I am referring to the Greek tradition of holocaust, which became the Jewish blood rite of korban olah. Now, I realize that the Greek term "holocaust" in connection with Stockhausen will immediately conjure up WWII atrocities, which is why I try to always carefully establish my reasoning for the use of the term in its original meaning. In chief, it is the seeking of forgiveness by the Sound Scene couples ("We repent!"), which is immediately followed by the union of the Bastard Pairs' flames into a giant pillar of fire, that ascends and then disappears. Those three elements are the main components of a holocaust, where a sacrificial animal is burnt up completely. The "up" part is an essential part of the metaphor of "olah". It is understood that the offering is being "sent up", presumably towards God. Any one of those elements on its own would be coincidental, but all three together make it really hard to ignore the symbolism of the holocaust offering.
Regarding the multiplicity of meanings in Stockhausen's work, I might be more flexible about this because I'm a performer. This summer in Central Park, Jesse Tyler Ferguson (from the Modern Family sitcom) played Trinculo in The Tempest. This is a jester's role, and most of his jokes are low humor about drinking and sex that presumably would have set Shakespeare's groundlings to howling. On the page, they read in a very specific way, but Ferguson performed a miracle with his line readings. He found a way to make them sound very urbane, and nearly every time he opened his mouth, he surprised me with his decisions.
Analysts perform a similar act of interpretation, and there is a great deal of leeway within most great works for many different analyses. I think of Shenker's analysis of Beethoven's Ninth versus Susan McClary's, for instance. With Stockhausen, we are so often led to believe that there is a "correct" analysis of the piece, because he does so much analyzing of his own work. There is almost a Pavlovian sense that we must hear things a certain way in his music, and this leads to a disordered way of thinking in some analyses that approach Stockhausen's music as a puzzle to be solved. Robin has spoken of being engaged in a kind of chess match with Stockhausen in their correspondence, and much of his analysis reads the same way, as if he is trying to checkmate the composer at every turn.
However, most of Stockhausen's music is constructed to encourage divergent experiences. Even the seat one chooses in the auditorium for his highly spatialized works will create a very specific experience that will not be the same as another listener's. In works like Cosmic Pulses, the information is so dense that there is clearly no intention for a unilateral listening experience.
With Licht, the formulas and the text conspire to narrow Stockhausen's meanings. He was a moralist, as well. That makes the works appear to have very set meanings, but as the example of Chor-Spirale shows, the narrative of the operas is tenuous at best. We can all agree that Stockhausen is not telling a 7-part story in any real sense. What pieces of story there are in Licht are means to an end, which is Stockhausen's musical fable. Perhaps it wouldn't be unwise to think of Licht almost as a tone poem like Scheherazade or Till Eulenspiegel. In many sections it has much more in common with program music than opera. We can sense the sea in Rimsky-Korsakov's music, and Strauss gives us a sense of Till on his horse, but we can't literally follow "the action" beat by beat in these works.
Given such an abstract approach to narrative, I think it's reasonable that we cannot expect just one analysis to be correct. That being said, your theologian's instincts to look for one truth is wise, for a number of reasons. First, there is so much to unpack in Licht, and the narrative is largely terra incognita, with just a few settlements from Günter Peters, me, and a few others. If one approaches it with too much flexibility, I think it's possible to become quite paralyzed. Second, because Stockhausen moralizes so frequently in Licht, I think the mission you are on is a necessary one: to essentially "fill in" the moral lacuna that he left in so many scenes. To weave all of that together into one dramaturgical quilt will be quite helpful. Your work has already been so important to me, at least. I think that's another argument in favor of your approach: It is highly effective!
Meanwhile, Ian is off on an island (sorry...) creating an interpretation of Licht that is beholden to no one but Lacan. I imagine that he might take us in very odd directions, ones that Stockhausen might not recognize. But I will enjoy reading it, especially if he makes his case well. Again, I think of the opera director who does something completely radical but can justify his decision with the score.
Which brings me back to Padrissa, and chocolate cake, which is a great point. We just know that it is a "Himmelfahrt" and that their unified sound can be heard "in the sky". Who is to say where they really are? The narrative through lines help answer many of these questions. We know that Michael is welcomed to Heaven by Eva in the next act, and the strong implication is that Heaven is actually Sirius. We even have a sense of how this should look from the score. So, it wouldn't be wrong to have Eve whisk Michael away to the set of the Act Three, but I think it would be too literal.
Stockhausen is coy about this, just as he is with the "Crucifixion" from earlier in Michaels Reise. If he had a vision for how "Himmelfahrt" should have looked, we know that he would have told us. Therefore, a director is free to make so many decisions about how to stage these moments. For the record, Marco declined to masturbate, and the final solution that they settled on was quite brilliant, as the image of the body atomizes into stars with Michael and Eve suspended in the background. That process of working with Padrissa that Thomas describes seems quite applicable to analysis, as well, where ideas are thrown around and some clearly do not work ("red lines"). I guess for me, there just will never be any solution that is the only correct one. Perhaps another way of saying it is that 2+2 equals 4, but it also equals 24÷6 and √16 and so on...
By way of clarification (mindful that my approach to LICHT is not really the topic of discussion here!) I should just point out that it is not entirely correct to say that I am trying to create an interpretation of LICHT that is 'beholden to no one but Lacan'. My main purpose is to show that LICHT can be interpreted and understood as a psychological drama, a drama about how the human psyche works (and by that I mean the human psyche generally, not just Stockhausen's!), not just as a theological drama, or a drama about cosmic and spiritual entities. Lacan will be my major framework for doing that, but not necessarily my sole framework. There way well be parts of LICHT where the music and drama can be seen to deal with issues that are not so well covered by Lacan, and there I may find other psychological theorists (particularly in the broad area of psychoanalysis) from whom to draw. I am also drawing considerably from semiotic theory (especially as Lacan was almost as much a semiotician as he is a psychoanalyst - well, maybe not almost as much, but significantly, nonetheless!), and therefore I intend to be drawing somewhat from writers such as Monelle and Lotman as well and, to some extent, Roland Barthes. But certainly Lacan is the principal model for interpretation of the symbolism - but I expect not the sole model.
My approach is to some extent based on the view that there is a certain synergy between the way the human mind works and the way theological and spiritual concepts are expressed in religion and mythology. As I mentioned in my talk at Kürten, I think this is probably something with which both theists and atheists would agree: the former seeing humanity as a reflection of the Divine and the latter seeing religion and mythology as an expression of humanity. The mere incidence of the synergy is enough for me to feel that even a singular conception of truth can accommodate my approach. I'll leave it for others to decide whether the theists' or the atheists' explanation for that synergy is the correct one!
With THE TRUTH obviously I have exaggerated a bit. Now somehow more cautious: If you interpret a text (and LICHT as a whole can be understood as a text) as a historian and in this sense in a scientific way, you definitely have to argue, and everybody is free to argue against that - but with arguments. And what are arguments in the case of Stockhausen's operas? I would think of 3 realms: First the shape and the character of the music or more general what is written in the score; 2. the interpretations the composer uttered; 3. the meaning of the traditions that are decisive for the work (for instance Urantia Book, the bible, Greek and Roman religious traditions). It is quite obvious that there is not only one way to deal with all these sources - but on the other hand interpretation is not limiteless, but very much limited by these given sources. And in this way you can argue that your own interpretation is more reasonable than the other and ideally you can come to a common result. That is quite another way of dealing with the cycle than is the project of Ian with Lacan, where quite another tradition is introduced. I very much look forward to see the results, if really we get new insights or will get something more limited or narrowed to just one aspect. The more I think about these items the more I realize that the direction of my argument is very much influenced by experiences with Western European stage directors in theaters and opera houses, many nights in which I suffered terribly. Very often I get the impression that they just follow there own obsessions regardless what the piece of art is like. Therefore I am looking for a sort of objective criteria, not only in historical investigations, but also on stage. When Massenets "Werther" is staged and what I see on stage is just an orgy of sexual abuse, something is wrong, and when I love this opera, I get furious. In such a case I think it is clear: There is an "objective truth". And, to make that quite clear: I still think that Carlus Padrissa and his team is a very good (even ideal) stage director for LICHT because they all love the music and have the willigness to ask what is in the score - and react with their sometimes very modernistic style - but that also fits to Stockhausen.
Yes, Ian! I really should have said "not beholden to Stockhausen", which is the key divergence. I was lazily using "Lacan" as a placeholder for your potpourri of methods. (Of course, in my defense, he is the one you mention most often!) :)
Thomas, you and I agree completely that Licht can, and should, be analyzed as a text. I think your 3 realms of argument are quite correct, as well. But even if we apply traditional hermeneutic methods, or even legal canons of interpretation, we can easily see how many divergent interpretations arise. We just need to look at the galaxies of opinions about sacred texts and legal doctrine that emerge using these seemingly precise methods.
The analyst who doesn't commit to one viewpoint is digging himself in a hole, especially in an academic environment. It's hard not to resist the temptation to show all the different layers of meaning in Licht. So, maybe, it is important to commit to one "truth" for the present analysis, and save another "truth" for a subsequent essay.
Still, your point is taken about Werther, and I don't disagree with you at all. To go back to Shakespeare, these are 400-year old plays. There's pretty much nothing that hasn't been done to them on the stage. They are great works that can withstand bad stagings. But no director, to your point, can disguise the fact that Romeo and Juliet is a tragic story about infatuation, or that Macbeth shows the corrupting influence of power.
I am sympathetic to both sides of the issue. On the one hand, I understand completely when a director doesn't want to stage La Traviata for the umpteenth time in its original guise. What's his contribution going to be? Innovative blocking? A new set with prettier curtains? The impulse to re-envision such a warhorse makes complete sense to me.
But on the other hand, the reason Verdi's work is so revered is because, well, it is Verdi's work! Your line about suffering made me laugh, because it is so true. You feel trapped when you are in one of these productions which goes off the rails almost immediately because of a bad director.
A few years ago, Philip Seymour Hoffman played Iago in Peter Sellar's Othello, and it was pure torture. The direction was so hapless that it lead Hoffman to think the only solution was to yell his lines at everyone. It was a miserable evening of theater that could have been avoided if anyone involved in the production had actually been interested in Shakespeare's text.
I feel that it could be useful to have a discussion-forum on the music of Stockhausen. There are so many people from all over the world, young and old, learned and eager to get into contact with this musical world: musicologists, composers, musicians, music lovers; people who plan concerts - who write books or have to give lectures and so on. So there should be much stuff, many ideas that we can share. And when we have open questions, there may be people who studied just that and could give a hint or a stimulus.
A problem might be the English language, but i feel that is the only possibility that many people who are interested can participate. And we can exercise tolerance to mistakes!