§--'s Reviews > Faust Parts I & II

Faust Parts I & II by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
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's review
Dec 27, 2010

did not like it
bookshelves: plays
Read from November 24 to December 03, 2010 , read count: 1

"So strange, yet so universal," Harold Bloom says. I'd stop at "so strange." Very off-putting, even Part One.

1. It's not a tragedy! Why is it called one?! Everyone goes to Heaven in the end and gets away with murder (literally!).
2. Part Two is almost entirely unreadable because it is a 7000 line lyric poem rather than a dramatic work, which is what it purports to be. It shifts in time and place jarringly--from Medieval Germany to Ancient Greece to Walpurgisnacht to Heaven to etc. It's impossible to make anything coherent even thematically out of it.
3. Why did this appeal to Goethe? Why would a superheathen work for sixty years with the frame story of a Christian folktale? It's not clear what he does with it, either. The only way to make sense out of it is to generalize and oversimplify: "Faust is the story of the man who wanted too much." Goethe wanted too much. He was Goethe! Scientist, politician, poet, dramatist, novelist, perpetually enamored. Goethe seized the day. Goethe sympathizes with Faust and can't let him go to hell for being human.

If you're going to read Faust, stop after Part One. Even the Walpurgisnacht section of Part One is hard to follow (but nothing like the masque in Part Two or the Classical Walpurgisnacht). In the Penguin Classics edition, there's a prose summary by Goethe in the introduction. Even if you just read that you'll think you're on drugs.

There's no question that there's some unbelievable poetry going on here; it's just that it's probably lost in translation. As Don Quixote says, reading in translation is like looking at the back of a tapestry--you can see that there's something going on here, but you can't quite see what it is. While I applaud and admire Goethe for uniting in one work an encyclopedia of poetic forms--I just don't want to read it. I'm sorry if that makes me dumb.

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