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Goethe, Faust > Faust Week 5 - Part 2 Act 2

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message 1: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 7718 comments For reasons explained in the Tea Shop thread I'm opening this week's discussion without any comments, just opening it for the discussion to proceed.


message 2: by Thomas (last edited Sep 02, 2015 07:32PM) (new)

Thomas | 4404 comments I'm running behind schedule, but I did manage to finally get through the Classical Walpurgisnacht. My first thought is: how could this ever be staged? Has it ever been staged? Did Goethe intend for it to be performed, or is it more of a dramatic thought experiment?

But I love the Homunculus. He (or she, I guess, since s/he is called hermaphroditic) reminds me of a Platonic version of Frankenstein's creature. Pure soul in search of a body. What a fascinating idea for a character, but again, I wonder: how could this have been staged? Especially in the 19th century...


message 3: by Wendel (last edited Sep 03, 2015 09:09AM) (new)

Wendel (wendelman) | 609 comments Performances of Faust 2 have been few and far between. Because of the obvious production difficulties (Goethe wasn't to be bothered by such trivialities), but also because the second part has been far less popular than the Gretchen story.

However, there is Peter Stein’s year 2000 mega production of the complete Faust (not one sentence omitted!), taking 22 hours on two consecutive nights (starring Bruno Ganz as Faust).

Critics were less than happy with Stein's version, It seems they were disappointed with its baroque conventionality. But I was excited today, watching parts of the video's. Of course only for one or two hours - and having just read the text also made a difference.

Faust 1 (first of five parts):
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oGjom...

Faust 2 (first of eight parts):
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IZaZ2...

You can watch also a very different production by Ingmar Thilo.
A compilation from Faust 2:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5_Ojd...


message 4: by Thomas (new)

Thomas | 4404 comments Thanks, Wendel! Very interesting... Unfortunately I have no German and the automated English translation is quite useless, but I will definitely scan through it for the stage work.

The Ingmar Thilo production sort of looks like a Saturday Night Live sketch...


message 5: by Wendel (new)

Wendel (wendelman) | 609 comments Yes, the links were meant as an example of how Faust 2 could be staged. Have a look, for instance, at the impossible scenes after the earthquake in the Classic Walpurgis night, starting at 15:40. Rising mountains, dwarfs, ants!


message 6: by Wendel (new)

Wendel (wendelman) | 609 comments The first two short scenes in the second act are delicious: an insect choir, young Hegel (I like to think) as an impertinent academic bachelor, poor Wagner again and the homunculus, that is brilliant.

Next comes the long Classic Walpurgis night, difficult but mesmerizing. Situated on Pharsalus battlefield (Greece, 48 BC, Caesar beats Pompey, end of the Roman republic). I’m not going (in a first read) to try to decipher the hidden content (or read the comments, 85 pages for this act in my edition).

The quality of the language, the looseness of the structure - so often I am reminded of Ulysses.


message 7: by Ashley (new)

Ashley Adams | 327 comments Thomas wrote: "But I love the Homunculus. He (or she, I guess, since s/he is called hermaphroditic) reminds me of a Platonic version of Frankenstein's creature. Pure soul in search of a body. What a fascinating idea for a character"

The Homunculus is awesome! Its search for existence makes a lot more sense to me than Faust's search for Helen.


message 8: by Ashley (new)

Ashley Adams | 327 comments Wendel wrote: "Rising mountains, dwarfs, ants! "

Thanks for the link! The costumes are super interesting.


message 9: by Wendel (new)

Wendel (wendelman) | 609 comments Homunculus disappears into the sea - Goethe thought that the current life forms resulted from a long development (not a creation), originating in the sea. So one may imagine that homunculus, a manipulated being, is hoping to become 'real' in a parellel proces.

It is interesting to note that in 1831, while Goethe was finishing Faust, the young Darwin was boarding the Beagle.


message 10: by Jeremy C. Brown (new)

Jeremy C. Brown | 163 comments Is anyone else listening to the LibriVox recordings of this? There's one female reader that's driving me absolutely insane with her rising cadence at the end of each sentence in her voice. Out of as many volunteers they have reading through out Faust, she's the only one that puts that kind of a inflection in her voice and I find it extremely distracting. I may find myself looking for a different voice recording...


message 11: by Thomas (new)

Thomas | 4404 comments Wendel wrote: "Homunculus disappears into the sea - Goethe thought that the current life forms resulted from a long development (not a creation), originating in the sea. So one may imagine that homunculus, a mani..."

There is something of this in the conversation between Thales and Anaxagoras (to whom the Homunculus has gone in order to discover the secret of "becoming.") The Homunculus must decide if Anaxagoras is right that creation comes from fire, or if Thales is right that it comes from water. It seems that the philosophers are talking at cross purposes, one about geology and the other about biology, but they would agree that both are evolutionary processes. Homunculus rides off with Proteus into the "lovely damp" at the conclusion of the festival of the Aegean, so it's safe to say that Water carries the day... though the last line tells us "All four elements are one."

Were Goethe's thoughts on evolution one of the reasons he did not publish Part 2 in his lifetime?


message 12: by Wendel (new)

Wendel (wendelman) | 609 comments The Anaxagoras and Thales debate can also be understood in political terms: revolution vs. evolution of social institutions. No need to ask which side Goethe was on. Though in his later years he became so conservative that even evolution was too fast for him. When Humboldt advanced new ideas supporting the 'vulcanists’, Goethe said that at his age he felt justified to stick to his old ideas, even in the face of evidence. Can’t say that I am completely strange to this attitude.


message 13: by Chris (new)

Chris | 360 comments Interesting Wendel. And I am with you about getting older and sticking to one's old ideas.


message 14: by Clarissa (new)

Clarissa (clariann) | 204 comments Thomas wrote: "Wendel wrote: "Homunculus disappears into the sea - Goethe thought that the current life forms resulted from a long development (not a creation), originating in the sea. So one may imagine that hom..."

one of the section on cliffnotes says:

In all these scenes Goethe demonstrates his high regard for the free and courageous Greek spirit, and the harmonious Classical outlook on life. In addition, there are philosophical examinations of various beliefs about the origin of life in which Goethe supports a theory of gradual evolution that on a physical level reflects Faust's slow moral evolution. In effect Goethe uses these scenes to conduct a scientific and theological survey of the universe. Many of the incidents and characters also mirror earlier happenings in the poem or foreshadow coming ones. They provide deeper insights into the meaning and function of the episodes and the overall purpose of the second section of Faust.


message 15: by Clarissa (new)

Clarissa (clariann) | 204 comments I have read that Faust is all about alienation, are other people picking up on this major theme?
Disappointingly thus far I am finding this difficult to read and difficult to visualise as a theatre production. I think if my German was better and I could read it in the original at the rate of more than one sentence an hour I might appreciate it more :)


message 16: by Wendel (last edited Sep 17, 2015 08:01AM) (new)

Wendel (wendelman) | 609 comments Clari wrote: "I have read that Faust is all about alienation, are other people picking up on this major theme?
Disappointingly thus far I am finding this difficult to read and difficult to visualise as a theatre..."


Faust's walk with Wagner demonstrates that he is indeed thoroughly estranged from both his wider (the citizens they meet) and his narrower (Wagner) community. But does that make it a major theme?

I use both the original text and a translation. Normally I would not need a translation, but this is as tough as it gets in German. Actually, some parts I read only in translation, but even in a good rendering much is lost.

At the end of the day, however, it is an illusion that one should be able to communicate with every great classic. You can work on it, but there is also an element of grace. Faust engages me in a way Dante, for instance, did not - so I consider myself lucky this time.


message 17: by Ashley (new)

Ashley Adams | 327 comments Clari wrote: "I have read that Faust is all about alienation, are other people picking up on this major theme?"

Faust is a struggle for me, Clari. That being said, your comment prompted me to revisit some of Faust's earlier monologues. I might have been taking Faust's alienation for granted. I assumed he was alienated intellectually and socially by the ivory tower of academia.

However, in the very beginning of the play Faust makes curious comments like "Am I a god? I feel such light in me!" Upon summoning the Earth Spirit he says "You who bestride the world from end to end, Spirit of deeds, how close I feel to thee!" It seems from these remarks that what Faust craves connection with (and consequently is alienated from) is the spirit of deeds. He wants to act in the way of the creator.


message 18: by Wendel (new)

Wendel (wendelman) | 609 comments Ashley wrote: "Faust craves connection with (and consequently is alienated from) is the spirit of deeds. He wants to act in the way of the creator. i..."

For Goethe everything was one: God, Nature, Man. But not without strife. So one can say that the struggle to realize this fundamental unity, or to overcome alienation, is the theme of the book. But the word alienation, with its marxists connotations, may lead to misunderstanding and I haven't seen it much used in this context.

I also think it is rather backward looking, while Faust is - at least since the first Study scene - forward looking. With Meph's help (doing the good thing without wanting it) he is trying, as you say it, 'to act in the way of the creator'. Alight the world with his Devine spark: that is his nature, his duty.


message 19: by Clarissa (new)

Clarissa (clariann) | 204 comments Wendel wrote: "But the word alienation, with its marxists connotations, may lead to misunderstanding and I haven't seen it much used in this context. "

I don't think I've seen a Marxist reading of the play, the political comments seem to suggest that Goethe was anti the French Revolution and became more conservative as he got older.

A few examples of where alienation is used in online readings:

Goethe’s play is about dealing with alienation, frustration, dissatisfaction, and despair. It is about the common human desire for answers to the meaning and purpose of life. In this sense it may be one of the most profound examinations of what modern psychologists might call a "mid-life crisis," for Faust is a 50-year-old scholar who has spent his entire life studying the disciplines of philosophy, law, medicine, and theology, and has come to the conclusion that his studies have been in vain. His pact with the devil is a little different from that of other uses of the legend: he doesn’t so much want money, sex, and power, or even renewed youth or an opportunity to pursue happiness. What he wants is just to experience one moment of satisfaction to which he might say, "Linger awhile, you are so lovely."

Faust, Goethe's great dramatic poem in two parts, is his crowning work. Even though it is based on the medieval legend of a man who sold his soul to the devil, it actually treats modern man's sense of alienation and his need to come to terms with the world in which he lives.

This theme has always been an important one in western literature, but it has gained in urgency during our own century. Each generation must explore anew the problems of human estrangement and fulfillment — the best way to begin such a search is to see what the past has to offer. Goethe's vision may not provide the perfect or the only answer, but it has been a source of inspiration to many readers for more than a hundred years and reflects the thoughts and experiences of one of the 19th century's most active and gifted minds.


message 20: by Wendel (new)

Wendel (wendelman) | 609 comments Alienation is about the rupture between the individual and society. It seems to be more common in a society that places great value on the individual and on originality. So the Romantic generation (and all since) must be vulnerable. Faust however talks about a distance from society only during the walk with Wagner. Otherwise he is more concerned with his own unattainable ambitions. That's why I would hesitate to use the word alienation here.


message 21: by Clarissa (new)

Clarissa (clariann) | 204 comments Wendel wrote: "Alienation is about the rupture between the individual and society. It seems to be more common in a society that places great value on the individual and on originality. So the Romantic generation ..."

I think alienation can be more than between the individual and society, a person can feel alienated from themselves. In the first part Faust certainly doesn't seem to know what he wants or what his goal should be. There is a definite sense of him not belonging anywhere. Also I don't believe there is any warmth between him and another person, he lusts and desires, seems happier walking with the devil, than with his friend, Wagner.


message 22: by Chris (new)

Chris | 360 comments And doesn't the beginning of Part Two have the spirits taking away his memories and any remorse? That would certainly alienate Faust from his own true emotions, and thus part of his self.


message 23: by Wendel (new)

Wendel (wendelman) | 609 comments What Goethe in this introduction wanted to express is, imho, that Faust is healed by Nature (which he more or less identified with God). Or, as it has been put, Faust is saved from his own thoughts and memories, his inner unity is restored.

Our modern idea of psychology may lead us to expect a suppressed trauma, but that is not necessarily the way Goethe saw it. And even today many believe in the healing power of nature, a blessed forgetfulness, and maybe not altogether without justice.

Of course, Faust is not healed from his ambition, but that is in Goethe’s concept not a bad thing at all.


message 24: by Clarissa (new)

Clarissa (clariann) | 204 comments Wendel wrote: "Our modern idea of psychology may lead us to expect a suppressed trauma, but that is not necessarily the way Goethe saw it."

I always think that it is an interesting debate between what the author intends and what the reader reads.


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