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Goethe, Faust > Faust Week 2 - Part 1, Faust Study (iii) through A Street

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message 1: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 7718 comments Time for the middle of Part 1: Faust's Study (iii), Auerbach's Cellar in Leipzig, Witch's Kitchen, A Street, Evening, A Walk, Neighbor's House, a Street

Now we get to the actual deal between Faust and Mephistopheles, and they set off on their adventures, reminding me of two frat boys on spring break. Or is that unfair?


message 2: by Thomas (new)

Thomas | 4404 comments What is it that Faust wants? At first I thought it was knowledge of nature, the knowledge that he is unable to gain from books and his scientific instruments. He calls forth the Earth Spirit in this context, but the Earth Spirit denigrates him for his vanity and his audacity and abruptly departs. Here Faust seems to want the power of the Earth Spirit. Is this a transcendental kind of knowledge, rather than a knowledge of nature?

Later on he curses earthly things, or at least human sensuality: the senses, lying dreams, pride of ownership, wine, and "highest prize of lovers' thrall." (l. 1583-1606) This makes me think that it is a transcendental kind of knowledge that he is after, but I'm not sure what that would be exactly.

A few lines later, Faust makes it clear that he does not care what happens beyond his earthly existence: "Beyond to me makes little matter; If once this earthly world you shatter," and he challenges Mephistopheles to "Show me the fruit which, still unplucked, will rot, Trees freshly green with every day's renewal!" A very curious request, but I'm confused once again: is this fruit of the earth or something transcendental? In any case, Mephistopheles says he can deliver.

And then Faust declares that if he is ever satisfied with what Mephistopheles delivers, he, Faust, will have lost the bet and surrender himself to death.

What is it exactly that Faust wants? Knowledge? (Of what, exactly?) Or is it youth, like "the trees freshly green with every day's renewal"? Does he want a good time? A bad time? Both? "Frenzy I choose, most agonizing lust" (l.1766).


message 3: by PB (last edited Aug 09, 2015 09:15PM) (new)

PB (darlingdarcy) Quite like the questions above, I also find Faust's actual desires puzzling. What does he really want? Goethe seems to suggest that Faust himself doesn't know what exactly he wants. He desires so many things... but yet I doubt that anything will make him content.

In Scene VI, Withches' Kitchen, Faust, from my understanding, desires to have his youth back.
"From an old hag shall I demand assistance?
And will her foul mess take away
Full thirty years from my existence?"


message 4: by Tristram (new)

Tristram Shandy | 17 comments In the end, it all boils down to Faust's, quite trivially, wanting Gretchen:

"Und das sag ich ihm kurz und gut:
Wenn nicht das süße junge Blut
Heut nacht in meinen Armen ruht,
Sind wir um Mitternacht geschieden."


"To cut the matter short, my friend,
She must this very night be mine,—
And if to help me you decline,
Midnight shall see our compact end."


This is probably due to the potion Faust has imbibed in the witch's kitchen. At first, however, Faust really seems to have but a very undefined and rambling longing for fulfilment. At the beginning I had the impression that it was knowledge he was after. Having studied various sciences, he still found himself at a loss with regard to explaining what keeps the world together - "was die Welt im Innersten zusammenhält". In other words, he is dissatisfied with the boundaries of human knowledge and strives for metaphysical - shall I say? - truths. To him, the countryfolk's veneration is galling because he knows that his father and he, in applying their medical knowledge, probably killed as many people as they cured. Still, he prides himself on the vast extent of his learning and deems himself equal to the Earth Spirit, as you said.

Later on, I gained the impression that he wanted to get out of his study and live to the fullest:

"Du hörest ja: von Freud ist nicht die Rede!
Dem Taumel weih ich mich, dem schmerzlichsten Genuß,
Verliebtem Haß, erquickendem Verdruß.
Mein Busen, der vom Wissensdrang geheilt ist,
Soll keinen Schmerzen künftig sich verschließen,
Und was der ganzen Menschheit zugeteilt ist,
Will ich in meinem innern Selbst genießen,
Mit meinem Geist das Höchst- und Tiefste greifen,
Ihr Wohl und Weh auf meinen Busen häufen
Und so mein eigen Selbst zu ihrem Selbst erweitern
Und, wie sie selbst, am End auch ich zerscheitern!"


"Hearken! The end I aim at is not joy;
I crave excitement, agonizing bliss,
Enamour'd hatred, quickening vexation.
Purg'd from the love of knowledge, my vocation,
The scope of all my powers henceforth be this,
To bare my breast to every pang,—to know
In my heart's core all human weal and woe,
To grasp in thought the lofty and the deep,
Men's various fortunes on my breast to heap,
And thus to theirs dilate my individual mind,
And share at length with them the shipwreck of mankind."


That sounds like a quest for hedonism at its best, or worst. As though Faust, suspecting that there is no ulterior knowledge, just wants to spend his life in extreme ecstasy.

Faust, in a way, is like a spoilt child.


message 5: by Tristram (new)

Tristram Shandy | 17 comments Another question that might be interesting is to what degree Goethe might have used Meph as a mouthpiece of voicing his own criticism on society. When Meph is pulling the young student's leg, for instance, what he says about the various studies has a ring of truth in it.

Take for example his stance on the Law:

"To me this branch of science is well known,
And hence I cannot your repugnance blame.
Customs and laws in every place,
Like a disease, an heir-loom dread,
Still trail their curse from race to race,
And furtively abroad they spread.
To nonsense, reason's self they turn;
Beneficence becomes a pest;
Woe unto thee, that thou'rt a grandson born!
As for the law born with us, unexpressed;—
That law, alas, none careth to discern."


And in the witch's kitchen, Meph says:

"Gewöhnlich glaubt der Mensch, wenn er nur Worte hört,
Es müsse sich dabei doch auch was denken lassen."


"When words men hear, in sooth, they usually believe.
That there must needs therein be something to conceive."


I really liked that observation. But for all his skepticism with regard to science and knowledge, Meph also thinks that after all, striving for knowledge is the best man can do and that by neglecting this strife for knowledge, Faust is heading for destruction:

"Verachte nur Vernunft und Wissenschaft,
Des Menschen allerhöchste Kraft,
Laß nur in Blend- und Zauberwerken
Dich von dem Lügengeist bestärken,
So hab ich dich schon unbedingt! -"


"Mortal! the loftiest attributes of men,
Reason and Knowledge
, only thus contemn,
Still let the Prince of lies, without control,
With shows, and mocking charms delude thy soul,
I have thee unconditionally then!"


Is this not Goethe himself speaking here? Is he, like Milton and the Rolling Stones, rather inclined to feeling sympathy with the devil?


message 6: by Chris (new)

Chris | 360 comments Although Faust waffles back & forth over what he really wants, as I read through this section I do still Faust as quite full of himself as an intellectual. He can't relate to the common people as he & Mephisto walk the streets, nor the common pleasures in the Keller of drinking & music. Yet in his desire to be thirty years younger (and more virile?), he wants to be able to woo/seduce/love a beautiful woman. Seems like the basest of animal instincts, the desire for sex & pleasure combined with a higher emotional need for love.

Mephisto continues to appear more humorous than evil at this point. Ah, maybe the barb is only covered in the velvet glove. Only his lashing out against the church has a touch of sting to it.

Why the ruse with Martha about her husband? Is it only a set-up to place Faust in another conspiring situation which binds him further to Mephisto?


message 7: by Thomas (new)

Thomas | 4404 comments Christopher wrote: "Perhaps his desire for frenzy and agonizing lust relate to the part of him that almost regrets pursuit of knowledge at the expense of enjoying the finer, more human things in life, while another part of him is ready to give up anything to gain a level of knowledge beyond what is capable for mere mortals. "

I think that's a great point. We see Faust on the verge of suicide, and despite the fact that he is stopped by a chorus of angels singing about the resurrection his despair continues. He says he "hears the message" but he can't believe, and a little later he changes the meaning of "the word" in the first line of the Gospel of John to "the deed." A little further on, he curses "the mind with dazzling make-belief" and to make things absolutely clear, he curses faith itself.

I'm not sure how to put this all together exactly, but it seems to me that his urge to destroy himself leads to his wager with Mephisto and his pursuit of the sensuous life. Even before he takes the potion in the Witch's Kitchen he is transfixed by the form in the mirror, "the loveliest woman in existence!" Mephisto promises he will meet this "paragon of woman" in the flesh, which turns out to be Gretchen. Faust appears to give up on the mind, the soul, and the word, and turn to the flesh, the deed, and the sensual world out of despair.


message 8: by Harm (new)

Harm (harmnl) | 7 comments Faust seems to be a very complex man. Really disappointed in what life (and especially science) had offered him. He shows himself as a bitter, melancholic and desperate man looking for something - maybe anything - to take away the emptiness he feels. And he is also very full of himself and takes himself way too seriously :).

Mephisto on the other hand is playing the role of a jester and seems to be really enjoying himself. He is leading Faust on a road to disaster and this is obvious to anything who reads the story. Faust is the only who doesn't seem to understand what is going on. I think Freud would diagnose Faust as a person with a subconscious, but very strong death drive.


message 9: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 7718 comments Tristram wrote: "Another question that might be interesting is to what degree Goethe might have used Meph as a mouthpiece of voicing his own criticism on society. When Meph is pulling the young student's leg, for i..."

I really like that thought. I wondered what that fairly lengthy episode was doing in the play; it seemed not to have much to do with where the action, such as it is, was going. But your thought makes perfect sense, and gives a good justification for it being in the work.


message 10: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 7718 comments I think Faust wants different things at different times (he initially wants death), but I thought the following speech (Swanwick translation from Bartleby lines 1440ff) was telling. Early on he tells us how he has studied books, ideas, every important branch of knowledge, but he is unsatisfied. Now midway through his discussion in the study with Mephistopheles he says:

Hearken! The end I aim at is not joy;
I crave excitement, agonizing bliss,
Enamour’d hatred, quickening vexation.
Purg’d from the love of knowledge, my vocation,
The scope of all my powers henceforth be this,
To bare my breast to every pang,—to know
In my heart’s core all human weal and woe,
To grasp in thought the lofty and the deep,
Men’s various fortunes on my breast to heap,
And thus to theirs dilate my individual mind,
And share at length with them the shipwreck of mankind.

He's done the whole life-in-the-study-isolated-from-real-life bit. Now he wants to experience the fulness of life, the flesh-and-blood parts of the human experience.

That, at least, is at least part of what I think drives him to the bacchanal flurry with Meph.


message 11: by Tiffany (new)

Tiffany (ladyperrin) | 269 comments What a relief! I'm not alone! I, too, couldn't figure out what it was that Faust wanted. I've even broken my self-imposed rule of not reading the comments until after I'd finished the whole section in order to get help with understanding what Faust wants from Mephistopheles. I thought that I'd just missed a key line or something.


message 12: by Thomas (new)

Thomas | 4404 comments Everyman wrote: "He's done the whole life-in-the-study-isolated-from-real-life bit. Now he wants to experience the fulness of life, the flesh-and-blood parts of the human experience.
"


Is this what is known as "romanticism"? Rejecting rationalism for feeling or experience?


message 13: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 7718 comments Thomas wrote: "Is this what is known as "romanticism"? Rejecting rationalism for feeling or experience? "

I'm not much on literary definitions, but that works for me! It is sort of Goethe rejecting the Enlightenment, isn't it?


message 14: by Tristram (new)

Tristram Shandy | 17 comments Or rather trying to harmonize rationalism and exploring the world via experiencing it? I'd have difficulty imagining Goethe rejecting the Enlightenment because after all he was an Universalgelehrter, a polymath, and I remember from school his daring and brilliant poem Prometheus, which is an indictment of religion and puts Man in the centre.


message 15: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 7718 comments Tristram wrote: "Or rather trying to harmonize rationalism and exploring the world via experiencing it? I'd have difficulty imagining Goethe rejecting the Enlightenment because after all he was an Universalgelehrte..."

Yes, that's a better way of putting it.


message 16: by Theresa (new)

Theresa | 856 comments I felt he originally, before the deal, wanted a sense of vitality and maybe a sense of purpose. I don't think he recognizes that what he wants is a sense of purpose, I think he probably would have called it vitality, rather than purpose. Awesome who has lost his sense of purpose might well have a deep desire for guidance of some kind, bit Faust doesn't seem to be a praying man, so, enter the devil to fill the void.


message 17: by Theresa (new)

Theresa | 856 comments "Anyone" who has lost his sense of purpose...
(Damn autocorrect)


message 18: by Jeremy C. Brown (new)

Jeremy C. Brown | 163 comments Theresa wrote: "...Faust doesn't seem to be a praying man, so, enter the devil to fill the void.
"


I was thinking the same thing!


message 19: by Tk (new)

Tk | 51 comments Everyman wrote: "Now we get to the actual deal between Faust and Mephistopheles, and they set off on their adventures, reminding me of two frat boys on spring break. Or is that unfair? "

Uncharitable, perhaps, but it seems accurate. One is the older, wiser senior and the other is a socially stunted freshman.

I'm really enjoying this more and more as I read on. I am also confused about the convoluted reasons for the story of Marte's husband's death. It seems there are better ways to go about this.


message 20: by Ashley (new)

Ashley Adams | 327 comments Regarding what Faust wants- he seems to be all about the ladies. For one, he sees a feminine figure in the mirror of the witch's kitchen. I understand the mirror is magical, but it is a mirror. i.e. reflection. Is Faust desiring closer contact with his feminine side (or the Mother Earth inside of him)?

Also, as Faust strives for true experience, he doesn't want just any woman. He wants Margarete/Gretchen (the latter apparently a familiar form of the name, which gives hint at her relationship with Faust.) Keep in mind, when he first sees her, she is not only back from confession, but had nothing to confess in the first place. A symbol of purity/divinity? It isn't just any experience that Faust craves, her turns up his nose at drunken parties and talks of lusty ladies.


message 21: by Chris (new)

Chris | 360 comments I agree Ashley, that Gretchen is a symbol of purity which makes her even more alluring to Faust. Or did Mephisto make her more alluring to Faust so that he would want an innocent and faithful servant of God and thus Faust's actions would be looked upon as even worse that lying with a whore; binding him further to Mephisto & the "dark side" if you will.


message 22: by Wendel (last edited Aug 30, 2015 08:32AM) (new)

Wendel (wendelman) | 609 comments What is it that Faust wants. And what does he expect from Meph?

At the start of Study II Faust is in deep crisis (again). Disappointed in both science and magic, rejected by nature, isolated from society and, finally, unable to make sense of the Gospel. So when Meph tells him to go out and have some fun instead of complaining, Faust explodes. He is too old too play games, but not old enough not to feel the emptiness. Indeed, life has nothing to offer him, he would rather be dead.

That is childish. And yet, it expresses the human condition: the painful discrepancy between the divine spark within and the darkness without:
The god that dwells within my heart
Can stir my depths, I cannot hide-
Rules all my powers with relentless art,
But cannot move the world outside;
And thus existence is for me a weight,
Death is desirable, and life I hate.


Tut, tut mocks Meph, I’ve seen how you play with death. Then damn everything that makes me want to hold on, exclaims Faust. Curse my childhood memories, curse our illusions, curse our dreams, our possessions, money, comfort (wine even!), curse love, and finally curse faith and curse patience.

These terrible words are answered with more mockery. But also with an offer of diabolic assistance, at the price of the life beyond. Faust knows nothing of a life beyond, so Meph can have that. But he doubts whether Meph has anything worthwhile to offer a man of his stature. Only gold that runs like quicksilver, fruit that rot on the tree - the usual fare of the devil.

True, says Maph, and yet, you might come to like it. Ha, cries Faust, don’t you believe that:
If ever I recline, calmed, on a bed of sloth,
You may destroy me then and there.
If ever flattering you should wile me
That in myself I find delight,
If with enjoyment you beguile me,
Then break on me, eternal night.
This bet I offer.


Faust is convinced that nothing Meph can offer will satisfy him - so it seems a save bet. On the other hand, he has nothing to loose, and if he cannot fully understand life, if he cannot soar above humanity, than he might try the opposite. To descend from his ivory tower, to live life to the utmost, rücksichtslos. This is an important moment. As an act of desperation Faust chooses a path on which Meph can make a difference - it is only this change of plan that makes the deal feasible.
Torn is the subtle thread of thought,
I loathe the knowledge I once sought.
In sensuality's abysmal land
Let our passions drink their fill.


But make no mistake, continues Faust, it is not pleasure he is after, but "the most painful excess" and the contradictions of life ("enamored hate"). From now on, he will suffer with humanity, so Faust still believes that Meph will never win the bet.
Cured from the craving to know all, my mind
Shall not henceforth be closed to any pain,
And what is portioned out to all mankind,
I shall enjoy deep in my self, contain
Within my spirit summit and abyss,
Pile on my breast their agony and bliss,
And thus let my own self grow into theirs, unfettered,
Till as they are, at last I, too, am shattered.


Once again Meph mocks Faust's romantic illusions. If it is glory you're after, says Meph, then hire a poet to sing your praise. But in the end you are a human being, just like the rest. In fact, Faust seems to want to lose himself in abandon, and yes, there is also a faint echo of Christ here. Surely, Goethe leaves us guessing.

PS: all translations by Walter Kaufmann


message 23: by Lily (last edited Sep 03, 2015 09:42AM) (new)

Lily (joy1) | 4981 comments Wendel wrote: "...Indeed, life has nothing to offer him, he would rather be dead.

That is childish. And yet, it expresses the human condition:..."


Wendel -- why the characterization as "childish"? Feels more like mid-age or old-age (at times, the days without wisdom or patience) to me.... The child's life force generally seems much simpler, straight-forward, assumed, ....?


message 24: by Wendel (new)

Wendel (wendelman) | 609 comments Lily wrote: "-- why the characterization as "childish"..."

Faust's dissatisfaction with the state of his knowledge annoyed me. We see so many cases that must be much worse :-). So his going in tantrum mode (very direct communication) seemed childish. And yet, from a literary point of view, it works.

In Murnau's version Faust is frustrated because his knowledge is insufficient to save people from the plague. So his deal with the devil is (in the first instance at least) based on altruism. That may be nobler than the egocentrism of Goethe's Faust, but it is not necessarily more interesting to read about.

Maybe all literary heroes are childish by definition? If they were actually content with their lives or lost the energy to try to change things, what would there be to write about?


message 25: by Wendel (new)

Wendel (wendelman) | 609 comments Traditionally Faust concludes a pact with the devil to acquire knowledge not ment for humans to possess. Goethe’s Faust however has concluded that study will never lead to anything. When God is distant, we cannot know transcendental truth, the only one that seems worthwhile. Goethe's Faust is thrown back upon Nature, which can only be known through the senses (subjectively). So that’s what Faust decides to do, with help of the devil. But he bets it (subjectivity) will never satisfy him.

The philosophical background is explained by Jane K. Brown*: The shift from pact to bet thus advances the idealist critique of the possibilities and dangers of the now virtually complete secularization of European culture: the grounding of identity exclusively in the self on the one hand allows Faust the full development of his inherent capacities, but on the other hand leaves him to seek a basis for a knowledge of the non-self and for a morality grounded outside of the self. The dilemmas to which Rousseau and Kant had brought their century are here writ large.

*Jane K. Brown, "Faust", in: L. Sharpe (ed.), The Cambridge Companion to Goethe, 2002


message 26: by Clarissa (new)

Clarissa (clariann) | 204 comments Wendel wrote: "Traditionally Faust concludes a pact with the devil to acquire knowledge not ment for humans to possess. Goethe’s Faust however has concluded that study will never lead to anything. When God is dis..."

On wiki it says about Goethe:
His views make him, along with Adam Smith, Thomas Jefferson, and Ludwig van Beethoven, a figure in two worlds: on the one hand, devoted to the sense of taste, order, and finely crafted detail, which is the hallmark of the artistic sense of the Age of Reason and the neo-classical period of architecture; on the other, seeking a personal, intuitive, and personalized form of expression and society, firmly supporting the idea of self-regulating and organic systems

It is interesting that Jane K Brown mentions Kant, as I was wondering how much Kant would have influenced Goethe's writing, especially in Faust about the sense of noumenon and phenomenon. Initially I thought that Faust was mentally frustrated as he couldn't through learning reach the transcendent, but then as has been noted he goes straight for the sensual when given the opportunity to experience the world differently.


message 27: by Clarissa (new)

Clarissa (clariann) | 204 comments Wendel wrote: "Maybe all literary heroes are childish by definition? If they were actually content with their lives or lost the energy to try to change things, what would there be to write about? ."

I don't think all literary protagonists can be categorised as childish, seeking change to circumstances doesn't make a character immature. In the best novels and plays they generally represent the human experience of contradiction and flaws.

I am not sure how much Faust is supposed to represent a real person, at the moment he is just words on a page to me. Maybe it would work better as a visual medium with an actor bringing life to the script, I know that Goethe's Faust is considered to be the high point of German literature, so hopefully it'll click with me soon.


I wasn't sure if it is the influence of the devil that takes Faust to a young girl (he is obsessed with youth) or if that is the way he would have tended anyway.


message 28: by Wendel (new)

Wendel (wendelman) | 609 comments You must be completely right about the adults, Clari :-)

I believe that Faust is indeed more about ideas than about persons. But the situation is complicated by the long gestation of the play. I understand that the Urfaust (±1775) centered on the Gretchen’s tragedy. Therefore I like to think of it as a counterpart to Werther (1774): one analyzing the selfish passions of youth, the other the pitiless lust of old men (beware, this only my hypothesis).

In the versions of 1790 and 1809 (the one we read), Faust's motivation is developed in a more philosophical context. The addition of Study 2, Witches Kitchen and Forest & Cavern must have resulted in a completely different story. Faust II will take this development still further and seems to be pure allegory. But at the same time Goethe becomes more and more idiosyncratic, he never tries to build a system and always looks at things with an artist's eye.


message 29: by Clarissa (new)

Clarissa (clariann) | 204 comments Wendel wrote: "You must be completely right about the adults, Clari :-)

I believe that Faust is indeed more about ideas than about persons. But the situation is complicated by the long gestation of the play. I u..."


Is this a period you are interested in, Wendel, you seem very knowledgeable.


message 30: by Wendel (new)

Wendel (wendelman) | 609 comments Clari wrote: "Wendel wrote: "..."

Oh no, absolutely not, Clari. I just read the comments in my edition, and a few other things. But I do find Faust fascinating and have been thinking about it a lot these weeks.


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