Elfin Dances, to be Performed by Elephants

After it had been Time to say Good-bye and after it had been Time to say Goodbye. Again some time later …

…. – it surely had been a strange feeling, coming back to the country in which I lived for so many years, on the occasion of a conference concerning EU-issues – the Symposim “Drives of Regionalism and Integration in Europe and Asia“.

However, returning meant not least to go for the first time to the Gate Theatre in Dublin, where Ibsen’s The enemy of the people had been performed.

The program booklet interestingly states as “main topic” the question of democracy and the right of one indvidual claiming the right of cicil disobedience.

But then, for me, something came up on a deeper level.

Quoting Ibsen from the Gutenberg-text on the Internet

Peter Stockmann. A man with a family has no right to behave as you do. You have no right to do it, Thomas.

Dr. Stockmann. I have no right! There is only one single thing in the world a free man has no right to do. Do you know what that is?

Peter Stockmann. No.

Dr. Stockmann. Of course you don’t, but I will tell you. A free man has no right to soil himself with filth; he has no right to behave in a way that would justify his spitting in his own face.

And we find also the following section:

Mrs. Stockmann. Well, one would not give you credit for much thought for your wife and children today; if you had had that, you would not have gone and dragged us all into misfortune.

Dr. Stockmann. Are you out of your senses, Katherine! Because a man has a wife and children, is he not to be allowed to proclaim the truth-is he not to be allowed to be an actively useful citizen—is he not to be allowed to do a service to his native town!

Mrs. Stockmann. Yes, Thomas—in reason.

Aslaksen. Just what I say. Moderation in everything.

Mrs. Stockmann. And that is why you wrong us, Mr. Hovstad, in enticing my husband away from his home and making a dupe of him in all this.

Sure, there are various layers, food for thought.

Not least the integrating role and function of the family. And looking at Ibsen’s play, we learn about the two sides: integrating, i.e. requiring subordination; but also integrating by way of “integer solidarity”, unconditional love and trust, the production and provision of integrity.

The question is also about democracy and opportunism and the meaning of individuals fighting for something that they see as their “individual conviction”, against marjority rule and “exceptionalism”- as said this is stated in the (by the way: completely overpriced) program booklet. We read – and hear also in the play:

After all, we are a democratic country. Now, God knows in ordinary times I’d agree a hundered per cent with anybody’s right to say anything. But these are not ordinary times. Nations have crises and so do towns …’

And indeed it can be seen – probably not only in Irland – as matter of

our own broken little country, at a time when leadership and integrity are called upon, an inconceivable time when the many must take the consequences for the risks taken by the few.

There is then at least a third point – a question:

Who is actually the “enemy”. Aren’t we all – at least occasionally – claiming to be exactly that: individuals, not opportunistically subordinating ourselves but doing things our own way? Somewhat stubbornly following what we think is the right thing to do?
It surely comes back to the point mentioned earlier, with reference to the program booklet: the question if “one” can claim superiority, if an individual can claim to be right, ignoring the right of the majority …, the right to be wrong.
But in its simple statement this easily overlooks one matter, admittedly one that does not allow being answered in a simple way:
Isn’t this majority in many cases simply reduced by charismatic leaders to an amalgamation of individualists?
Perhaps the most telling is in Ibsen’s play the quasi-appeal to the common wealth, well presented in the Gate’s performance, adding the speech by the mayor who clearly “sells” the idea of individual wealth as matter of a collective good.
Now, if any economist needs teaching material on the plausibility and wrongness of liberalism, if any applied social science academic needs proof of the shortsightedness of the own liberalist thinking, I can only recommend a visit to the Gate theatre’s performance. – The task: learning how to be able to enjoy a “we-meal”.

May well be that we all think we are standing up – while we can be easily convinced that we are sitting in the same boat. Perhaps we should more think about sitting around the same table, for the said “we-meal”, however easily accepting as unquestionable that some get substantially more while others are actually sitting also around the table, but they are sitting on the floor, only allowed to pick up the bread crumbs.

It is true – alluding to some expression in Ruppert’s Beethoven-biography: that sometimes elfin dances – the differentiated academic analysis – needs to be performed by elephants. There is indeed always the danger of a traitor – and there is alwyas the question if we recognise early enough if it isn’t oursevles who are respnsibile for The Taking of Christ. (Yes, the National Gallery of Ireland is surely worth visiting.)

The Gate showed with a really fine performance that a bold message – the dance of an elephant – can well provoke the fine-tuned questions of elfs.

Un pensiero riguardo “Elfin Dances, to be Performed by Elephants


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