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Who's Afraid of Nora Helmer?

In order for Henrik Ibsen and his women to survive, we must never give up trying to get in close contact with them.


[ibsen] "His themes are deadly to this day. In several parts of the world, Ibsen's pieces are still censored. For he writes about the major and important themes: about personal freedom, about gender equality, about the abuse of political power, about corruption, about child abuse, about idealism. ”

This is how Bentein Baardsom answered the question at the beginning of the Ibsen year, the question "Is Ibsen's relevant today?" The question urges us as readers to draw out the original and perspective-expanding; rewrite, interpret and criticize "eternal Ibsen". So banal the point about strong reads than can sound; it remains a "paper tiger" as long as one still adheres to the simplest dissemination and updating strategy, that is, the appeal of values ​​we already agree on. Every time the media, actors and theater connoisseurs reproduce another superficial, canonized interpretation of Ibsen, they help to strike another nail in his coffin.

Self-indulgent imperialism. For what artistic gain is there in theatrical productions whose main function is to affirm community values ​​that one must be a dictator, a racist or a sexist to offend? The answer to that may be that gender equality, democracy and freedom of the press are hot topics in most countries other than the Scandinavian countries, as Baardson points out. The fact that Ibsen is exported as a democratic brand to countries that need precisely that kind of agitation is also exclusively positive. However, the fact that Ibsen is politically explosive in other countries does not justify his being repeatedly played under the same politically correct readings and rules here in the country. Not only does this tendency threaten to displace the interesting in the pieces. In the worst case, it expresses a self-serving imperialism, where Ibsen's critical tone is first and foremost aimed at those who do not belong to our cultural circle.

In addition, if Ibsen is primarily understood as a tool for real societal improvement, one opens the following uncomfortable questions: Is Ibsen the best tool we have for the spread of democracy, justice and women's security and opportunities worldwide, or can he be successfully replaced by human rights organizations, the UN and Doctors Without Borders? In all its folly, the question illustrates the problem of legitimizing Ibsen in politically correct terms. In the literary writer Harold Bloom's words: "It is a sign of the decay of the literature study that one is held to be eccentric when one claims that literary does not depend on philosophical and that aesthetic cannot be reduced to ideology or metaphysics."

Nora of our time. The dilemmas related to the actualization of Ibsen in our time are exemplified well in the woman-oriented Ibsen reception. Should we read Ibsen's female lead roles as examples of valuable and revered feminism passwords, or does Ibsen and his audience have more to say that we think human, not women, as Ibsen himself put it?

“I am concerned about the Nora of our time, the ski hitter Anette Sagen. To dare and set out for a ski jump, to be in the limelight and to know the total freedom… ”This is how filmmaker Aslaug Holm Ibsen's most famous woman figure came to fruition. "I'm Nora," said Nobel Prize writer Elfride Jelinek about being "the woman who walks." On the one hand, you understand where they want to go with their Nora references: Strong, courageous, gifted women who settle with restrictive ties and seek their goals outside of traditional gender barriers.

But is Nora really a good metaphor for the female roles in 2006 that we are talking about? It is as if Jelinek and Holm relate to an established understanding of Nora as a heroine – a story that largely lives untouched by all the surprising, ambiguous tendencies that can be read into the play itself. In reality, that narrative draws far more backing in the feminist truths of our time than it does from an open, original encounter with the text. The established common-sense Nora is the woman Nora should be, she should be a modern, current and edible representative of the values ​​we want to export in and with Henrik Ibsen.

This is also exemplified by Ibsen's possible redundancy. Because the story of the liberated woman of our time (thankfully) is quite widespread, we are fully capable of understanding her destiny and problems without Ibsen's help. Perhaps there are even expressions and institutions that are far more effective in spreading this view than just Ibsen's Nora.

Pathetic. If the play is to survive as interesting, even in countries where divorces and working women are natural parts of social life, the actualization of "A Doll's Home" must take place through readings that at least have the intention to say something we did not think we knew before. A good example is Nora as she was read by Arnhild Skre in the magazine Window last year: “Pathetic (…) A melodramatic figure. She who showed so much power in saving the man goes out the door without knowing where or how to save herself. (…) Nora must have taken better care of herself if she was to have impressed, inspired or liberated me. ”

Nora's one-sided housewife experience makes her unsuitable as a model for the mainstream of modern Norwegian women.

Rather than consolidate the harmless, established interpretation, which will eventually be able to overthrow the Nora figure, Skre uses her experience as a modern woman and clashes with Nora, textual and original. Perhaps it could be added that Nora's one-sided housewife experience makes her unsuitable as a model for the mainstream of modern Norwegian women. That Nora's simple desire for education and liberation could be transferred to a Norwegian, time-crunched multi-child mother with higher education and full-time jobs, who differ in changing life courses, is of course a possibility. But it is far from as obvious as Nora's read and adopted hero status to be. She reminds me of an elementary school graduate, British white trash mother, who gets the idea that she wants to take a letter course in accounting. Still, I'm sad to see a set with such a fat, chain-smoking Nora, in spotted joggers, cola-light drinking in front of Oprah Winfrey's TV show.

Uniquely interpreted as the early champions of women's liberation, Henrik Ibsen remains nothing more than our valuable but replaceable foreign ambassadors. On the other hand, if we try to lash him and his women, we give them the possibility of immortality. Being innovative is always easier said than done, but a minimum requirement could be to refrain from consolidating an Ibsenian feminism that has long since left its originator, and now lives its own proper life as a stencil enlightenment brochure. n

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