Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Mere lifelong sacrifice itself may not suffice - or, not writing about Ibsen

Am I frittering because a good idea is percolating, or am I avoiding the emptiness of my ideas?  Prof. Ape boldly claims “that book blogging is no longer principally the purview of rank amateurs (most are at least competent amateurs),” but I do not believe he reads Wuthering Expectations.  I guess he did say “principally” and “most,” and our definition of “competent” may differ.

It is not as if there is nothing to say about Ibsen’s Brand, the 1866 book (it was published long before it was staged, and is more of a poem than a play).  The title character, the martyrdom-obsessed minister, a man who is not himself a troll, a force of nature, but wishes he were:

My God is the great god of storm,
absolute arbiter of doom,
imperious in His love! (Act I)

He is not Captain Ahab, but wants to be, which is worse.  The whale bites off one leg; Brand seeks out the whale not to kill it but to offer another limb.  His humanity is allowed to surface, but each time it does, something happens to remind him of the need for sacrifice, for nothing but sacrifice.  Perhaps God actually does desire his purging and martyrdom, although for what, now there’s a mystery.

All or nothing.  That
is my demand.  The task
is very great.  And the risk,
also, is very great.
There’ll be no mercy shown.
There’s no provision made
for weakness or dread.
Falter, and you go down
into the depths of the sea.
Mere lifelong sacrifice
itself may not suffice. (Act 2)

Mere lifelong sacrifice!  So Brand is a substantial work, ethically complex, poetically invigorating.  Geoffrey Hill’s adaptation is a treat, Ibsen’s rhymes replaced by a deft mixture of slant rhymes and alliteration.  The “storm \ doom” pair up above is a sample of what Hill does with the entire play.    The short lines make the play hurtle forward.  I might have read it too fast, gulped without chewing.

And I have moved on to Peer Gynt (1867), and want to write about it, not Brand.  Just look at these characters:  A Voice in the Darkness, An Ugly Brat, The Statue of Memnon (ah ha, this critter reappears in Ubu Cuckolded), Prof. Begriffenfeldt, Ph. D., A Lean Person, The Troll King.  I have been trying to sell Ubu Roi as a compendium of crazy, but Peer Gynt is completely insane.    And, of course, realistic.  Ibsen = realism.

Well, as non-writing goes, I have written worse, so I should stop and fritter away my time in some other manner.  Vacation preparation, maybe.  Are three kinds of Trader Joe’s candy sufficient for a long car trip, or should I bring something more substantial as well, like a box of doughnuts?  Ibsen offers no guidance on this question.


  1. Pastries on a car trip? No, no, no. But then again, I'm more of a dried fruit and/or licorice kind of girl when it comes to snacks, so don't trust my opinion on the matter.

  2. No pastries, huh? All right - strike doughnuts from the packing list, insert "box of Dove Bars."

  3. That's much better. Plus all the Trollope you can carry?

  4. You're going to need Twizzlers, preferably strawberry flavor, although cherry will suffice in a pinch. Perfect road-trip snack - not gooey, or crumby, plus easy and fun to eat. :)

  5. We're not really a Twizzler household. But Trollope, yes. Trollope works well read aloud in a car.

  6. You need something salty. Do they still sell peanut butter–filled pretzels? Mmm.