Origin and Destination of Humanity
XIII. Ibsen's Spiritual Mindset
23 March 1904, Berlin
Before I close the lecture cycle of this winter with a picture of the human future and human ideals, I would like to talk of the present cultural life as it expresses itself in one of the most significant and most typical spiritual heroes of our time.
Not from the literary, not from the aesthetic point of view, but from the world view I might speak of Ibsen's attitude; for really everything expresses itself just in Ibsen that the deepest and best spirits of the modern time feel and think.
One has often said that every poet is the expression of his time. Indeed, this sentence holds good, but only if one gives it the quite special contents, it can be understood. Just as Homer, Sophocles, and Goethe were expressions of their time, it is undoubtedly Henrik Ibsen (1828-1906, Norwegian playwright and poet) for the present, and nevertheless how differently our time does leave its stamp on him as once on those personalities.
In order to recognise how completely different the time was around the turn of the 18-th century, the time of Goethe, Schiller and Herder, and how differently our time expresses itself, one needs to put two things next to each other only. Goethe still rounds off the second part of his Faust, seals it and leaves it behind as a big will of his life. After his death he leaves a legacy behind to the human beings, shining into the future, full of forces in the confidence: “the traces of my days will survive into eternity” (Faust II, 11583-11584). A human being who is basically the representative of the whole humanity stands before us in Faust. We cling to him; he fulfils us with purpose in life, with life-force. Beyond his death Goethe points out that to us. Faust cannot become outdated; we find deeper and deeper truths in it. We feel it as something living on, something that we have not exhausted: this is an end of his life pointing to the future.
Henrik Ibsen consciously finished his life work long before his death with his drama When We Dead Awaken (1899). What has fulfilled human beings for half a century, what existed in revolutionary and other ideas penetrated Henrik Ibsen's soul. He described what the hearts moves what separates them, fighting the struggle for existence in a way never seen before. This drama appears as a big review and stands there like a symbol of the artist himself. He was a hermit in the human life, a hermit in his own life. For half a century he looked for human happiness and truth, did not save any forces to get to light and truth, to the solution of the big riddles of life. Now he himself awakes, feels what lies behind him as something dead, and he decides to write nothing more. It is a review that points only to the transitory; what he longed for appears to him as something mysterious, something unreal the ideals collapse behind him. Because he awoke, he is at his wits' end. This is the poet who is the representative of our time, the poetically greatest one. This life balance is a criticism of everything that we have a give-up and at the same time an awakening from and at the criticism of our time. An immense overview of the modern life expresses itself in this drama; if we realise it, we understand the tragic in the personality of the poet. For Henrik Ibsen is a tragic personality.
If one wants to understand him completely, one has to understand him as representative of our time. Hence, do not consider it as academic sophistry if I try at first to conceive the nerve of our time; for Henrik Ibsen is an expression of it. A word characterises our time and also the whole Ibsen, this is the word “personality.” Goethe also probably said: “personality is the highest happiness of the earth children only.” But, nevertheless, it happens with Ibsen quite differently. Ibsen is completely a child of our time, and from here we understand him best of all.
Remember how differently the personality stands there in ancient Greece. How does Oedipus stand there? What moves the destiny of Oedipus goes far beyond his whole house. We have to make connections with quite different regions: his destiny extends beyond his individual personality, it is lifted out above personality however, the personal is not yet lifted out from the moral connection with the whole world. This is different from today: we have now to search for the centre in the personality that destiny relocated in the personality. Bit by bit we can pursue this. With the emergence of Christianity it happens that the urge of individuality wants to satisfy itself. The personality wants to be free, free before the highest, before the divine. The connections are torn, the personality shifts for itself. During the Middle Ages, personality tries to understand itself.
How deeply the whole environment is yet connected with the personality in Greece! How the human being grows out of his surroundings! He is born out of the whole universe. The external configuration of the Greek life, however, is like a piece of art: Plato creates a state idea in which the single human being should adapt himself like a limb to the whole body. Christianity brings another ideal; but this new one is purchased by the price of the relationship with nature, one seeks above nature. The Christian searches what should release his personality in something that reaches beyond personality. Even the individual Roman felt as a member of the whole state: he is a citizen first, and then he is a human being. In mediaeval times, a tendency prevails that looks out over the environment, looks up to a yonder world which one clings to. This makes a big difference for the whole human thinking, feeling and willing. This continues that way up to modern times.
The Greek, the Roman citizen lived and died for what surrounded him what lived in his outside world. In mediaeval times, something of a divine world order still lived, indeed, not in the environment, but in the “Gospel of the Good News,” and expressed it like in a mirror. In the best as in the simplest souls, in the mystic as in the people this divine world order was alive. It is something that is given from without, indeed, but that lives as something emerging in the soul. What happens in the world of stars as God's will fulfils the soul substantially: one knows what is beyond birth and death.
Let us take the new time and look from the artistic point of view at Shakespeare. What finds expression in Shakespeare's dramas and lives in these dramas is the character first of all. Something like that does not exist in Greece and in mediaeval times. Shakespeare's dramas are character dramas; the main interest is directed to the human being, to that what happens in the depth of his soul, as he is put into the world.
The Middle Ages had no real drama; the human beings were occupied with other interests. Now the personality emerges but with it all the uncertain, all the incomprehensible of personality emerges at the same time. Take Hamlet: one can hear so many different interpretations about that from so many scholars. About no work so many books were probably written. This is due to the fact that this character itself has something uncertain. It is no longer a mirror image of the outside world, also no longer a mirror of the Good News.
The whole point of view of the modern times takes on this character. Have a look at the figure of Kant (1724-1804, German philosopher) how everything is put into the personality. What he says would be possible neither in mediaeval times, nor in antiquity. It is something quite uncertain that he represents: act in such a way that your action could become the guideline of the community. But this ideal remains something quite uncertain. He says: we cannot recognise, we have limits that we cannot overcome with our reason; it only feels something dark that urges and drives. Kant calls it the categorical imperative.
The Greek, the medieval human being had sharply outlined ideals. He knew not only that he should live like the other human beings in their sense: they lived in his blood. This had changed: a categorical imperative which has no right contents positioned itself before the reason; nothing fills this soul with particular ideals. Thus it was in the 18th century.
Something that asks for certain ideals awoke in our classical authors. It is interesting that Schiller who was a not less harsh critic of his time like Ibsen we take the Robbers: Karl Moor wants something certain, he wants to create human beings who change their time, do not practise only criticism , it is interesting that Schiller trusts in the ideal and says: whatever the world may be, I put human beings into it who set this world on fire.
Even more significantly this comes to the fore with Goethe in his Faust. Goethe appears here as a spirit who looks into the new aurora.
But now there came the 19th century with its demand for freedom, for personality. What is freedom? In which respect should the human being be free? One must want something certain. But it was freedom in itself, which one wanted. In addition to that, the 19-th century had become the most rationalistic one. The human beings see their surroundings; but no ideal pours out of them; the human beings are no longer borne by ideals. The human being stands on the peak of his personality, and the personality has become self purpose. Hence, humanity can no longer distinguish two concepts today: individuality and personality; it does no longer distinguish what must be separated.
What is individuality? Individuality is that what appears full of contents in the world. If I have a future thought, full of contents, and imagine what I insert into the world, my personality may be powerful or weak, but it is the support of these ideals, the cover of my individuality. The sum of all these ideals is the individuality which shines from the personality. The 19th century does not make this differentiation; it considers the mere powerful personality, which should be, actually, a vessel, a self purpose. That is why the personality becomes something nebulous, and with it also that becomes nebulous which was as clear as ether once. Mysticism was called mathesis once because it was clear like two times two. The human being lived in such spiritual contents, he took stock of himself and found something that was higher than personality: he recognised his individuality. The 19-th century cannot understand mysticism, one talks of it as something unclear, something incomprehensible. This was necessary: the personality had to be felt once like a hollow skin. One speaks mostly of personality, however, the real personality exists least of all. Where the personality is fulfilled with individuality, one speaks of it least of all because it is a matter of course. One talks mostly of that what is not there. If, hence, the 19th century talks of mysticism, it speaks of something unclear. We understand why this happened that way.
As a son of his time Henrik Ibsen deeply looked down into this personality and this time. Like an honest truth seeker he strives for the true contents of the personality, but as somebody who is completely born out of his time. “Oh my eye is dazzled by the light to which it turns.”
How would have an old Roman spoken of the right? It was a matter of course to him; as little as he denied the light, he would have denied the law. With Ibsen one reads: “Right? Where is it valid as right?” Everything is determined by power to a greater or lesser degree. Thus we see Henrik Ibsen as a thoroughly revolutionary spirit. He looked into the human breast, and he found nothing there, everything that the 19th century offered was nothing to him. He expresses it: oh how have these old ideals of the French revolution lost their strength; we need a revolution of the whole human spirit today! This is the mood expressing itself in Ibsen's dramas.
Once again let us consider the ancient times. The Greek felt well in his polis, the Roman in his state, the medieval human being felt as a child of God. How does the son of the modern time feel? He finds nothing around himself that can support him. The Greek and the medieval human being did not feel as lonesome human beings, with Ibsen the strongest man is the most lonesome one. This feeling of loneliness is something absolutely modern, and Ibsen's art arises from it. This concept, nevertheless, which speaks from Ibsen's dramas: we must appeal to the human personality, is nothing clear. These forces in the human being which must be uncovered are something uncertain, but we have to turn to them. Ibsen tries to understand the human beings around him in such a way. However, what else can one see in such a time than the struggle of the personality which is torn out from all social connections? Yes, there is the second possibility: if the human being is still connected with the state, with his surroundings, his personality bows to that, denies itself. However, what can these connections mean to the human being even today? They were true once, now the human being shifts only for himself and disharmonies originate between the personality and the surroundings.
Ibsen has a decided sense of the untruth of these connections between the human being and his surroundings. The seeker of truth becomes the rigorous critic of the lie. Hence, his heroes become uprooted personalities, and those who want to produce the connection with their surroundings must become enslaved by the lie, can do it only by deception of their self-consciousness. In the dramas of the middle time this attitude can be found. We see this if we let pass by Brand (1866), Peer Gynt (1867), and Emperor and Galilean (1873) before our eyes. We find a tip to three ages in the latter drama. The first is that which we have characterised before, that of the past when the external form held good so much. Emperor Julian looks into the second, that of the Galilean, which shows an internalisation of the soul. But a third age is said to come when the human being has ideals again and coins them from within to the outside. Destiny once came from without. What must be longed for is the internal ideals which the strong human being can impress to the world; he should be an emissary not reproduce, but shape, create. The third world age in which the ideal comes into its own is not yet attained. In the loneliness, the human being finds it in his soul, but not in such a way that it had force and power to fashion the world. This unification of Christianity with the antique ideal is the reverse way. But Ibsen put this ideal on a weak soul which collapses; Julian is still the human being of the past.
On the other hand, we have to do it with the human being who rests on the only formal, on the hollowed out personality. Nothing is more typical for Ibsen than the way he put the hard gnarled figure of his “Brand” into our time. He is not despotic and autocratic, but he is torn out of the connection with the environment. He stands there as a clergyman, surrounded by people to whom the connection with the divine had become a lie. Beside him a clergyman stands who only believes what he believes because he generally has no strong religious feeling.
An ideal which is a higher one must be able to work on all human beings. The theosophical ideal of brotherliness immerses the human acting in mildness and benevolence and regards every human being as a human brother. As long as this ideal is not yet born and the human being must rest on the fragments and leftovers of the old ideals which mix personality and individuality, he appears as hard and sturdy. Who puts up the personality ideal in such a way becomes hard and sturdy like Brand, and it must be that way. Individuality connects, personality separates. Nevertheless, this passage through the personality uncovered forces which had to be developed and would not have emerged, otherwise. We had to lose the old ideals, to regain them once on a higher level. A poet like Ibsen had to reach into this personality and to describe it as a hollow one as he does it brilliantly in the League of Youth (1869).
He explained what works on the personality, what it should only present in his later dramas in which he becomes the positive critic of the time like in the Pillars of Society (1877).
He shows us the personality in conflict with its surroundings in the Ghosts (1881). During the conflict with her surroundings Mrs. Alving must lie where she seeks for truth to bring her son in a clean atmosphere. Thus fate befalls her like the ancient Greeks. Ibsen lives in the sign of Darwin, and this Oswald stands not in a spiritual, ethical connection with the past, but in that of heredity. The personality, as far as it is soul, can only be torn out from its surroundings; the corporeality is connected with the physical heredity, and thus a fate befalls Oswald Alving pouring out only from the physical laws like a moral, spiritual-divine fate befalls the antique hero.
With it Ibsen is completely a son of his time. However, he also shows that way what of this personality is justified of the personality which should again become an individuality maybe later.
In an especially typical way this problem faces us in the woman. Nora lives as it were at A Doll's House (1879) and grows out of it, seeking for the way to individuality. All old world views have stated an individual, natural difference between man and woman, and this reproduced till our time. The passage had just to be found by the personality to remove this. Only as personalities man and woman are opposing each other on the same level; not until they find the same in the personality, they are able to develop the same individual, so that they go once as companions toward future. As long as one got the ideals from without, they were connected with the natural, and the natural was rooted in the difference between man and woman which can be compensated only in the soul. From nature this contrast was brought into religion still in mediaeval times, while it yet had an echo of the natural in the divine.
You find the male and female principles in the old religions side by side as something that flashes through the whole being, lives and works in nature. We find it in Osiris and Isis, in God Father and Mary. Only when one had cast off the nature basis, when one got to the soul and emancipated this soul, the personal in the human being finally managed to get to freedom by that which is not connected with the differentiation of man and woman. So only the contrast of male and female was overcome. And the poet of personality also had to find the typical word for it. Thus that differentiation grows up as a problem in him in such dramas like A Doll's House, Rosmersholm (1886) and The Lady from the Sea (1887).
We see how Ibsen is connected with everything that constitutes the greatness, even if the emptiness of our time. The more Ibsen looked into the future, the more he felt how the emptiness must happen if the personality is emancipated, is detached from its divine-spiritual connections. Thus Ibsen himself faces the problem of personality in The Master Builder (1892) with the big question to the future: we have freed the personality to what end? Something uncertain remains with this search for the essential. As a real truth seeker he represents this unknown like in an allegory in The Lady from the Sea. She gets free for the old duties. However, one has to continue asking: to what end? This is shown in the drama symbolically in a marvellous way.
When he tries to look even farther into the riddles of life in Little Eyolf (1894), in When We Dead Awaken, something deep disappears to him in the human heart in which he believed before. Desperation seizes the sculptor in When We Dead Awaken who tried to catch the ideal. He cannot yet form the free human being: animal grimaces rise before him. He tries to form something creatively that lifts him out of them, a resurrection however, always the grimaces push themselves to the fore, position themselves before the picture. When he realises that he cannot overcome them, he awakes and sees what is missing for our time, what it does not have. A tremendously tragic moment is put before us in When We Dead Awaken.
Thus Henrik Ibsen is an intrepid prophet of our time: he still feels in the deepest heart, assured of a good future, that there must be something that reaches beyond personality; but he is quiet, and this silence has that tremendously tragic in itself. Who familiarised himself with what stands out in the personality beyond birth and death who made himself familiar with the big law of karma finds new contents also in the personal. He establishes a new ideal; he overcomes personality and makes himself the confessor and lord of this big law of retribution.
The antique human being trusted in the reality around himself; he built up the supports of his soul on it. The Middle Ages experienced the ideal in the innermost soul. The modern human being has descended to isolation in the personality, to egotism. He still feels the categorical imperative but as something uncertain, dark. He strives for personal freedom, but the question imposes itself on him: to what end should the personality be freed?
The old ideals say nothing more to our time; something new must arise.
It is the purpose of the theosophical world view to bring freedom about which does no longer depend on personal arbitrariness, which combines again with divine ideals. It is the spiritual, theosophical life and world view to contribute to it, to build up this future.
Only if the best of our time point to this theosophical, spiritual-scientific world view being rooted in the cosmic reality, it gets the significance which it must have. If a great man is quiet in tragic modesty, one like Henrik Ibsen who has aroused the minds, this is such a suggestion.
In the days of the 19-th century drawing to an end he wrote his When We Dead Awaken. Now then, the time has come that to us dead human beings Goethe's saying comes true:
As long as you don't have
This dying and growing,
You are any dull guest
On the dark earth only. (From West-Eastern Divan)
The time has come that we live again, that we become personalities again but emancipated personalities: individualities.