Double Reading

2001-11-06

Last night I read both Ayn Rand's novel Anthem and the penultimate Ibsen play: John Gabriel Borkman. The latter is a strong play for Ibsen's later efforts, with quite a bit of irony and even some comedic elements. Once again we find some of his major themes (the folly living through others, the importance of independence, the evasion of honesty in living), with the focus this time being on Borkman's son Erhart, whom Borkman, his wife Gunhild, and Gunhild's twin sister Ella all pin their hopes and lives on. Erhart will have nothing to do with it and leaves them all in the lurch by running off with a strong-headed, fun-loving, thirty-something divorcee named Fanny Wilson (why is it that so many of the life-loving characters in Ibsen's plays come from outside Norway, usually it seems from England or America?). Erhart and Wilson recognize that their relationship may not last forever, but as he says "I only want the chance to live" -- a chance he was always denied by his suffocating family. So I have one more Ibsen play to read: When We Dead Awaken, the last play he wrote (in 1899). By the way, I'm reading Ibsen's prose dramas in the translations by Michael Meyer, which I have found to be the most natural translations of Ibsen's plays into English.

As for Anthem, on re-reading it for the umpteenth time so soon after reading Christopher Collins' analysis of Zamyatin's novel We, it strikes me that other than some surface-level similarities between the two novels (both are set in far-future dystopias, have characters with numbers instead of names, are narrated by their protagonists in diary form, etc.), they really are quite different. That's not to say that Rand wasn't influenced by Zamyatin, because I think she was. Indeed it's quite possible that some aspects of Anthem are intended as refutations of some of Zamyatin's premises -- I'm thinking specifically of the lack of technology in Anthem as opposed to the advanced technology present in We, which the latter has in common with 1984. But there's more to chew on here....

Now playing: Renaissance, Tales of 1001 Nights. After Yes, Renaissance is my favorite rock band -- though with their creative mix of rock, folk, and classical it's perhaps not quite right to call them a rock band. I think of them as "progressive folk". Right now I'm listening to a song of theirs about Solzhenitsyn -- not your typical rock'n'roll fare!


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