The Legacy Of Ibsen

Modern writers have so catered to the adolescent demand for permission to consider oneself infinitely “special” that they have forgotten all about the tragic heroes ruined through a fatal flaw of character.

Ibsen led the way into this narcissism by teaching us to see the world entirely in terms of the virtuous individual contra the wicked society. It is true that he also wrote about the struggle against one’s inner demons, but that theme requires age and maturity to understand. It is much easier to cherry-pick the first theme, and go round whining that society is being mean to you. In a culture dominated by such facile “parlour Ibsenism”, if anyone tells you that you ought not do something that you want to do, you do not consider the ethics of your proposed action for a moment, but immediately begin screeching about “repression”. And yet, human nature being what it is, some characters and actions jolly well deserve to be repressed.

Just as parlour Freud has allowed us to “discover” whatever we like in the depths of people we have only just met, so too has parlour Ibsen taught us that whenever we come into conflict with others, it is invariably the others who are wrong. The combination of the two is devastating, and has rendered modern man largely incapable of considering any actions, whether his own or someone else’s, from a purely ethical or person-neutral standpoint, devoid of special pleading for ourselves and attribution of ingenious pathologies to our opponents.

We might of course say that this is nothing new, as the average medieval was confident that God was on his side and the Devil on the side of anyone who wanted to inconvenience him. And yet, however honoured in the breach, religion in theory allows for the possibility of self-scrutiny. In parlour Ibsenism, even this is excluded, thoroughly and forever, by the identification of virtue entirely with your own “sexual identity”. There is thus no occasion for self-scrutiny; you already know what gender you are, and from that you may deduce your own absolute righteousness. What more is to be said?

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