By Jessica Goldschmidt
Thomas Ostermeier’s An Enemy of the People takes some liberties with Ibsen. David Bowie songs, chalkboard walls, empty hipster aesthetics… and a new ending.
Well, maybe not new. But different.
Ibsen’s 1882 play closes with an impassioned speech by his beleaguered hero about the supremacy of the individual over the tyranny of the majority. Ostermeier’s play replaces this monologue almost entirely with text from The Coming Insurrection, a polemic put out by The Invisible Committee in 2007. You can read about the tract’s background and context (and how unfortunately useful it seems to have proven for Glenn Beck) at the informative Wikipedia page. Or, if you’re feeling the need to shake up your perspective on pretty much everything, give the whole text a read for free. (It’s lengthy, but fascinating.)
But if you’re strapped for time and looking for a little insight, we offer a smattering of quotes, and invite you to peruse them and use them to think through Ostermeier’s (and Ibsen’s) work, which runs through this weekend at the BAM Harvey.
ON THE SELF:
"I AM WHAT I AM." My body belongs to me. I am me, you are you, and something’s wrong ... The more I want to be me, the more I feel an emptiness. The more I express myself, the more I am drained. The more I run after myself, the more tired I get.
The horror of work is less in the work itself than in the methodical ravaging, for centuries, of all that isn’t work: the familiarities of one’s neighborhood and trade, of one’s village, of struggle, of kinship, our attachment to places, to beings, to the seasons, to ways of doing and speaking.
… Here lies the present paradox: work has totally triumphed over all other ways of existing, at the very moment when workers have become superfluous.
ON THE “METROPOLIS”:
… The metropolis is this simultaneous death of city and country. … It is a current that would like to drag everything along in its hopeless mobility, to mobilize each and every one of us. Where information pummels us like some kind of hostile force. Where the only thing left to do is run. Where it becomes hard to wait, even for the umpteenth subway train.
ON, ESSENTIALLY, BROOKLYN:
A graphic designer wearing a handmade sweater is drinking a fruity cocktail with some friends on the terrace of an “ethnic” café. They’re chatty and cordial, they joke around a bit, they make sure not to be too loud or too quiet, they smile at each other, a little blissfully: we are so civilized. Afterwards, some of them will go work in the neighborhood community garden, while others will dabble in pottery, some Zen Buddhism, or in the making of an animated film. They find communion in the smug feeling that they constitute a new humanity, wiser and more refined than the previous one. And they are right.
What has congealed as an environment is a relationship to the world based on management, which is to say, on estrangement … We have become neighbors in a planetary co-op owners’ board meeting. It’s difficult to imagine a more complete hell.
… It goes like this: they hired our parents to destroy this world, now they’d like to put us to work rebuilding it, and—to top it all off—at a profit. … It’s sustainability! Alternative solutions, that’s it too! The health of the planet demands it! No doubt about it anymore, it’s a green scene; the environment will be the crux of the political economy of the 21st century. A new volley of “industrial solutions” comes with each new catastrophic possibility.
… As long as there is Man and Environment, the police will be there between them.
ON SOCIAL STRUCTURES:
Don’t back away from what is political in friendship.
… Form communes. Communes come into being when people find each other, get on with each other, and decide on a common path … It’s the joy of an encounter that survives its expected end. It’s what makes us say “we,” and makes that an event.
… As for deciding on actions, the principle could be as follows: each person should do their own reconnaissance, the information would then be put together, and the decision will occur to us rather than being made by us. The circulation of knowledge cancels hierarchy; it equalizes by raising up. Proliferating horizontal communication is also the best form of coordination among different communes, the best way to put an end to hegemony.Just goes to show some ideas never become obsolete.