Ibsen and Early Modernist Theatre, 1890-1900

By Kirsten Shepherd-Barr | Go to book overview

CONCLUSION
The Concept of Early
Modernist Theatre in Theory
and Practice

In addition to the plays, Ibsen's letters, poems, and speeches provide valuable evidence of his awareness of a contemporary avant-garde movement and of his place within it. As was shown in the introduction, he began by expressing fiery anarchistic feelings in letters to Brandes during the early 1870s, full of such lines as, 'The state must be abolished! In that revolution I will take part,' and 'this mortal combat between two epochs.' 1 Gradually, however, the political nature of these statements takes on a self-consciously aesthetic aim. In 1882, at the peak of the fury at home over Ghosts, and clearly with An Enemy of the People in his thoughts, Ibsen writes to Brandes that 'I . . . must of necessity say, "The minority is always right." . . . I mean that minority which leads the van and pushes on to points the majority has not yet reached. I mean: that man is right who has allied himself most closely with the future.' 2 He comes closer to using the term 'avant-garde' in another letter to Brandes the following year: '. . . Jeg fastholder at en åndelig forpostfægter aldrig kan samle et flertal omkring sig'--'I maintain that a spiritual fighter in the front ranks never can gather a majority around him.' 3 The next play he would write, and which he mentions at the end of this letter, was The Wild Duck, a radical departure from his previous themes and formally innovative in its challenge to the generic conventions of comedy and tragedy. Toward the end of his life, in a letter to Prozor, Ibsen vows that he will not long be able to keep away from the old battlegrounds-- 'holde mig borte fra de gamle slagfelter'--but that he will need to enter them wielding new weapons and in new armor--'at m0+̸de frem med nye våben og i ny udrustning.' 4

The military metaphor of the author as soldier on the abstract battlefield of

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