Lukács/Ibsen: Tragedy, Selfhood, and "Real Life" in The Master Builder and When We Dead Awaken


William Storm


The relationship of Georg Lukács andHenrik Ibsen is contradictory in several ways, not in the sense of their limited personal contact (a single meeting) but with regard to two of the theorist’s widely-known essays, “The Sociology of Modern Drama” and “The Metaphysics of Tragedy.” In each, Ibsen is given little more than passing attention, yet they serve to illumine two of the playwright’s final works, The Master Builder and When We Dead Awaken.“The Sociology of Modern Drama” is concerned largely with contrasting what Lukács perceives as the limitations of the “new” drama with a richness he sees in the “old”—that is, in ancient and Renaissance tragedy. In one sense, there is no surprise in Ibsen not being mentioned in this argument, yet Lukács in his youth was a great admirer of Ibsen, emulating him in his writings and affiliation with the Thalia Theatre. Thus, paradoxically, the dramatist who was so esteemed is not mentioned as exceptional to the trends that Lukács describes in the “Sociology.” Still, a reading of Lukács against The Master Builder is gainfully intstructive with regard to Halvard Solness, including what Lukács would call his individuation, mythos, and “pathology” in relation to tragic stature. Similarly, a reading of “The Metaphysics of Tragedy” in concert with When We Dead Awaken enhances the understanding of Ibsen’s own metaphysics, notably in the depiction of Arnold Rubek, his consciousness and tragic end. Lukács’s theory of “real life” is particularly germane to an apprehension of both Solness and Rubek, and to the supersensory aspects of Ibsen’s late tragic dramas.

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