Monday, July 25, 2005

Life is a dunghill

Tinkerty tonk doesn't care for Ibsen:

Ibsen continues to resonate today, says Theodore Dalrymple, because of the universal egotism he promoted. A 1960s phenomenon that Ibsen advocated 80 years before the fact.

Dalrymple contrasts Ibsen's vision with that of Samuel Johnson:

Johnson saw human existence as inseparable from dissatisfaction. It is man’s nature to suffer from incompatible desires simultaneously—for example, wanting both security and excitement. When he has one, he longs for the other, so that contentment is rarely unalloyed and never lasting.

However, most people find it more comforting to believe in perfectibility than in imperfectibility—an example of what Dr. Johnson called the triumph of hope over experience. The notion of imperfectibility not only fans existential anxieties, but also—by precluding simple solutions to all human problems—places much tougher intellectual demands upon us than utopianism does. Not every question can be answered by reference to a few simple abstract principles that, if followed with sufficient rigor, will supposedly lead to perfection—which is why conservatism is so much more difficult to reduce to slogans than its much more abstract competitors.

I never cared for Ibsen: Too much gnashing of teeth and Scandanavian gloom for my taste.

I've always found these guys and their Scandinavian angst so over the top that you can't help laughing. For instance, I recently attended a performance of Strindberg's The Father which moved the audience from muffled snickers to outright hilarity. By the end, their were tears in all our eyes, and they weren't from the tragedy of it all.

I've always considered these writers members of the "Life is a Dunghill" school. One of the best examples of this in English literature is Jude the Obscure, by Thomas Hardy. Jude could not get into Oxford. This blighted his life. And on and on.

I felt like saying, "Jude, snap out of it! Move on! Get a job, for God's sake." But Jude insisted on being inconsolable and wallowed in his misery.

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