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The Inner-worldly Spirituality of Goethe’s Faust : Founding a Secular Ethic. David Pan Humanities Core Course Winter 2011, Lecture 2. Goethe changes the structure of the Faust legend to create a new secular humanist ethic centered around individual development in society.

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The inner worldly spirituality of goethe s faust founding a secular ethic

The Inner-worldly Spirituality of Goethe’s Faust: Founding a Secular Ethic

David Pan

Humanities Core Course

Winter 2011, Lecture 2


The inner worldly spirituality of goethe s faust founding a secular ethic

Goethe changes the structure of the Faust legend to create a new secular humanist ethic centered around individual development in society.

  • Though Goethe’s Faust is focused on the world, he maintains a spiritual attitude toward it.

  • Faust’s inner-worldly spirituality establishes an ethic of individual development.

  • Goethe’s Faust reconfigures the elements of Christianity so that the focus of human activity is no longer other-worldly salvation but engagement with human society.


The inner worldly spirituality of goethe s faust founding a secular ethic

Goethe changes the structure of the Faust legend to create a new secular humanist ethic centered around individual development in society.

  • Though Goethe’s Faust is focused on the world, he maintains a spiritual attitude toward it.

    • Goethe’s Faust, like Johann Faustus of the Faustbuch, begins by turning away from the word and towards the world.

    • But Goethe adds the Earth Spirit, making the turn towards the world into something spiritual.

    • Even the Choirs of Angels and Disciples affirm the spiritual aspect of Faust’s quest.


The inner worldly spirituality of goethe s faust founding a secular ethic

Goethe’s Faust, like Johann Faustus of the Faustbuch, begins by turning away from the word and towards the world…

Faust:

Alas, I have studied philosophy,

The law as well as medicine,

And to my sorrow, theology;

Studied them well with ardent zeal,

Yet here I am, a wretched fool,

No wiser than I was before.

They call me Magister, even Doctor,

And for some ten years now

I’ve led my students by the nose,

Up and down, across, and in circles—

All I see is that we cannot know!

[…]

Therefore I have turned to magic,

So that by the spirit’s might and main

I might yet learn some secret lore;

That I need no longer sweat and toil

And dress my ignorance in empty words;

That I might behold the warp and the woof

Of the world’s inmost fabric,

Of its essential strength and fount

And no longer dig about in words. (354-64, 377-85)

In turning to magic, Goethe’s Faust turns away from books and words…

… and towards direct experience of the world

Source: Goethe, Johann Wolfgang von. Faust, First Part, trans. Peter Salm. New York: Bantam, 2007. This and all subsequent references to this text refer to the line numbers in this edition.


But goethe adds the earth spirit making the turn towards the world into something spiritual

… but Goethe adds the Earth Spirit, making the turn towards the world into something spiritual.

Faust does not seek material gain, but rather a god-like experience of the world and of nature.

FAUST.

You roam the ample world, my bustling spirit;

How close I feel to you!

SPIRIT.

You’re like the spirit that you grasp.

You’re not like me.

(The SPIRIT vanishes.)

FAUST (overwhelmed).

Not your equal?

Then whom do I resemble?

I, the image of the godhead!

And not your equal? (510-17)

He has no means to achieve the power over nature that he seeks.

After this failure, Faust continues to seek a spiritual relation to the world.

Goethe, Johann Wolgang von. Faust and Erdgeist. 1810/12 or 1819. Wikimedia Commons. Wikimedia, 31 January 2008. Web. 22 December 2010.


Even the choirs of angels and disciples affirm the spiritual aspect of faust s quest

Even the Choirs of Angels and Disciples affirm the spiritual aspect of Faust’s quest.

CHOIR OF ANGELS.

Christ is arisen!

Blessed He who loves

And who emerges whole

From the grueling

Grievous [beneficial and conditioning, heilsam’ und uebende] ordeal. (757-761)

The emphasis in the resurrection of Christ is on passing through the edifying ordeal of worldly experience.

CHOIR OF THE DISCIPLES.

He who was buried,

The Lord of life,

Has ascended in glory,

To Heaven on high,

In eager Becoming

Near joyous creation.

Ah! We dwellers on earth

Are here to suffer.

We followers stayed

And languished for Him.

In anguish, O Master,

We crave your bliss. (785-96)

Ascension to heaven is a movement into a realm of Becoming, a movement that the earthbound crave as well.

The question for the play is whether the experience

of Becoming can be found in the world as well.


The inner worldly spirituality of goethe s faust founding a secular ethic

Goethe changes the structure of the Faust legend to create a new secular humanist ethic centered around individual development in society.

  • Though Goethe’s Faust is focused on the world, he maintains a spiritual attitude toward it.

  • Faust’s inner-worldly spirituality establishes an ethic of individual development.

    • Goethe’s Faust is not interested in pleasure, but in continual striving.

    • The wager gives Faust the possibility of a worldly immortality.

    • In winning the bet, his triumph over the devil would not be a submission to God, but a confirmation of his own individual sovereignty.


Goethe s faust is not interested in pleasure but in continual striving

Goethe’s Faust is not interested in pleasure, but in continual striving.

FAUST.

Yet do you offer [Doch hast du] food which does not satisfy,

Red gold which moves unsteadily,

Quicksilver-like between one’s fingers.

You offer sports where no one gains the prize,

A girl perhaps who in my very arms

Hangs on another with conspiring eyes.

Honors that the world bestows on man

Which vanish like a shooting star?

Show me the fruit that rots before it’s plucked

And trees that grow their greenery anew each day!

MEPHISTOPHELES.

A project of this nature does not trouble me.

I know I can provide such treasures.

But there will come a time, my friend,

When we shall want to feast at our leisure.

FAUST

If you should ever find me lolling on a bed of ease,

Let me be done for on the spot!

If you ever lure me with your lying flatteries,

And I find satisfaction in myself,

If you bamboozle me with pleasure,

Then let this be my final day!

This bet I offer you! (1675-97)

When asked by Mephistopheles what he is seeking, Faust responds with the perplexing query about whether Mephistopheles can provide Faust with an experience of continual dissatisfaction.

Mephistopheles insists on offering pleasure.

Faust rejects leisure and satisfaction, but for him the opposite to pleasure is not a focus on an otherworldly reality, but individual striving in the world.


The wager gives faust the possibility of worldly immortality

The wager gives Faust the possibility of worldly immortality.

In previous versions, Faust concludes a pact with the devil.

In Goethe’s Faust, Faust makes a bet with the devil.

FAUSTUS.

I, JOHN FAUSTUS, OF WERTENBERG, DOCTOR, BY THESE PRESENTS, DO GIVE BOTH BODY AND SOUL TO LUCIFER PRINCE OF THE EAST, AND HIS MINISTER MEPHISTOPHILIS; AND FURTHERMORE GRANT UNTO THEM, THAT,TWENTY-FOUR YEARS BEING EXPIRED, THE ARTICLES ABOVE-WRITTEN INVIOLATE, FULL POWER TO FETCH OR CARRY THE SAID JOHN FAUSTUS, BODY AND SOUL, FLESH, BLOOD, OR GOODS, INTO THEIR HABITATION WHERESOEVER. BY ME, JOHN FAUSTUS.

(Christopher Marlowe, Dr. Faustus, 88-89)

FAUST.

If you should ever find me lolling on a bed of ease,

Let me be done for on the spot!

If you ever lure me with your lying flatteries,

And I find satisfaction in myself,

If you bamboozle me with pleasure,

Then let this be my final day!

This bet I offer you!

MEPHISTOPHELES. Agreed!

FAUST. Let’s shake on it! (1692-98)

Win

Continual striving and devil’s service

Lose

Satisfaction means loss of soul

Soul Devil’s Service

In earlier versions, Faust concludes a pact in which he exchanges his soul for the devil’s service.

In Goethe’s drama, Faust has the possibility of winning the wager: he only loses his soul if he find “satisfaction” in himself.

Christopher Marlowe, The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus: From the Quarto of 1604, ed. Rev. Alexander Dyce, Project Gutenberg, January 1997 (etext #779), Web, 20 December 2010.


The inner worldly spirituality of goethe s faust founding a secular ethic

In winning the bet, his triumph over the devil would not be a submission to God, but a confirmation of his own individual sovereignty.

MEPHISTOPHELES.

Weigh it thoroughly, we shall not forget.

FAUST.

You have a perfect right to this;

this is no rach or headlong action.

Such as I am [Once come to rest], I am a slave –

of yours or whosesoever is of no concern.

[Wie ich beharre, bin ich Knecht,

Ob dein, was frag’ ich, oder wessen.] (1710-11)

By affirming that his inactivity would also be his enslavement according to his own definition, even if God and the devil did not exist, Faust emphasizes that he as an individual is setting the terms of the wager in such a way that they reflect his own personal ideals and not that of some outside authority.

“Mephistopheles Offering His Help to Faust”. Photograph. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. Web. 22 Dec. 2010.


The inner worldly spirituality of goethe s faust founding a secular ethic

Goethe changes the structure of the Faust legend to create a new secular humanist ethic centered around individual development in society.

  • Though Goethe’s Faust is focused on the world, he maintains a spiritual attitude toward it.

    Faust’s inner-worldly spirituality establishes an ethic of individual development.

  • Goethe’s Faust reconfigures the elements of Christianity so that the focus of human activity is no longer other-worldly salvation but engagement with human society.

    • Faust begins with a Christian orientation toward a spiritual goal, but wants to achieve it through action rather than the word.

    • The primacy of action transforms the meaning of Christ and the devil in the play.

      • Within the orientation toward action, Mephistopheles describes himself as a spirit of negation and destruction as opposed to creation.

      • Mephistopheles no longer represents the evil of a pure materialism that was invoked in the Faustbuch, but now has a positive role to play as the negation that spurs activity.

      • Christ and Faust have a parallel status in the play in that they both choose the fullness of human experience.

    • The project of the play is to establish a merging of individual ideal and worldly reality through human development in society.


The inner worldly spirituality of goethe s faust founding a secular ethic

Faust begins with a Christian orientation toward a spiritual goal, but wants to achieve it through action rather than the word.

FAUST.

…one learns to prize the supernatural,

one yearns for highest Revelation,

which nowhere burns more nobly and more bright

than here in my New Testament.

I feel impelled to read this basic text

and to transpose the hallowed words,

with feeling and integrity,

into my own beloved German

(He opens a volume and begins.)

It is written: “In the beginning was the Word!”

Even now I balk. Can no one help?

I truly cannot rate the word so high.

I must translate it otherwise.

I believe the Spirit has inspired me

and I must write: “In the beginning there was Mind.”

Think thoroughly on this first line,

hold back your pen from undue haste!

Is it mind that stirs and makes all things?

The text should state: “In the beginning there was Power!”

Yet while I am about to write this down,

something warns me I will not adhere to this.

The Spirit’s on my side! The answer is at hand:

I write, assured, “In the beginning was the Deed.” (1216-47)

Faust maintains a focus on supernatural revelation.

Buts wants to achieve revelation through action rather than words.


The inner worldly spirituality of goethe s faust founding a secular ethic

Within the orientation toward action, Mephistopheles describes himself as a spirit of negation and destruction as opposed to creation.

MEPHISTOPHELES.

I am the spirit that denies forever!

And rightly so! What has arisen from the void

deserves to be annihilated.

It would be best if nothing ever would arise.

And thus what you call havoc,

deadly sin, or briefly stated: Evil,

that is my proper element. (1338-44)

Mephistopheles describes himself as the spirit of negation and destruction.

Though he opposes creation, he has a complementary relation to it.

MEPHISTOPHELES

It isn’t much when all is said and done.

What stands opposed to Nothingness—

the bungling earth, that something more or less—

in spite of all I undertook

I could not get my hands on it.

After waves and quakes and fires,

the lands and seas are still intact,

and all that cursed stuff, the brood of beasts and men,

is too tenacious to be shaken.

Think of the multitudes I buried!

Yet there is always fresh new blood in circulation.

(1363-73)

But he admits that he is unable to overcome the power of creation.


The inner worldly spirituality of goethe s faust founding a secular ethic

Mephistopheles no longer represents the evil of a pure materialism that was invoked in the Faustbuch, but now has a positive role to play as the negation that spurs activity.

THE LORD.

Man’s diligence is easily exhausted,

He grows too fond of unremitting peace.

I’m therefore pleased to give him a companion

Who must goad and prod and be a devil

(330-33)

The primary source of human failure is stasis.

The devil is useful in promoting continual activity.

I am a portion of that part which once was everything,

a part of darkness which gave birth to Light,

that haughty Light which now disputes the rank

and ancient sway of Mother Night,

and though it tries its best, it won’t succeed because it cleaves and sticks to bodies.

The bodies mill about, Light beautifies the bodies,

yet bodies have forever blocked its way—

and so I hope it won’t be long before all bodies are annihilated. (1349-50)

  • Mephistopheles describes himself as that which impels new creation.

  • Though the Lord and Mephistopheles establish the devil as the spirit of negation, it forms an essential part of the mechanism of development.


The inner worldly spirituality of goethe s faust founding a secular ethic

Christ and Faust have a parallel status in the play in that they both choose the fullness of human experience.

Faust’s desire to go into the world is similar to the path of Christ through the world.

FAUST.

I told you, I am not concerned with pleasure

I crave corrosive joy and dissipation,

enamored hate and quickening despair.

My breast no longer thirsts for knowledge

and will welcome grief and pain.

Whatever is the lot of humankind

I want to taste within my deepest self.

I want to seize the highest and the lowest,

to load its woe and bliss upon my breast,

and thus expand my single self titanically

and in the end, go down with all the rest [of humankind].

[Und was der ganzen Menschheit zugeteilt ist,

Will ich in meinem innern Selbst geniessen,

Mit meinem Geist das Hoechst’ und Tiefste greifen,

Ihr Wohl und Weh auf meinen Busen haeufen,

Und so mein eigen Selbst zu ihrem Selbst erweitern,

Und, wie sie selbst, am End’ auch ich zerscheitern.](1765-1775)

CHOIR OF ANGELS.

Christ is arisen!

Blessed He who loves

And who emerges whole

From the grueling

Grievous [beneficial and conditioning] ordeal.

[heilsam’ und uebende Pruefung].(757-761)

The element of sacrifice has been written out of the story in Goethe’s depiction of both Christ and Faust.


Faust imagines a merging of individual ideal and worldly reality through human action in society

Faust imagines a merging of individual ideal and worldly reality through human action in society.

Faust’s promise to never be satisfied is the “sum and essence” of his striving as an individual.

FAUST.

Be not afraid that I might break this pact!

The sum and essence of my striving

is the very thing I promise you.

I had become too overblown,

while actually I only rank with you.

Ever since the mighty spirit turned from me,

Nature kept her doorway closed.

The threads of thought are torn to pieces,

and learning has become repugnant.

Let in the throes of raging senses

seething passions quench my thirst!

In never lifted magic veils

let every miracle take form!

Let me plunge into the rush of passing time,

into the rolling tide of circumstance!

Then let sorrow and delight,

frustration or success,

occur in turn as happenstance;

restless action is the state of man. (1741-1759)

Goethe’s Faust establishes a new goal of merging the ideal with the material in the social

He accepts that he cannot rule over nature.

He rejects thought and learning.

He embraces action and wants to immerse himself in the passions and circumstances of the human world.


The inner worldly spirituality of goethe s faust founding a secular ethic

Goethe changes the structure of the Faust legend to create a new secular humanist ethic centered around individual development in society.

  • Though Goethe’s Faust is focused on the world, he maintains a spiritual attitude toward it.

    • Goethe’s Faust, like Johann Faustus of the Faustbuch, begins by turning away from the word and towards the world.

    • But Goethe adds the Earth Spirit, making the turn towards the world into something spiritual.

    • Even the Choirs of Angels and Disciples affirm the spiritual aspect of Faust’s quest.

  • Faust’s inner-worldly spirituality establishes an ethic of individual development.

    • Goethe’s Faust is not interested in pleasure, but in continual striving.

    • The wager gives Faust the possibility of a worldly immortality.

    • In winning the bet, his triumph over the devil would not be a submission to God, but a confirmation of his own individual sovereignty.

  • Goethe’s Faust reconfigures the elements of Christianity so that the focus of human activity is no longer other-worldly salvation but engagement with human society.

    • Faust begins with a Christian orientation toward a spiritual goal, but wants to achieve it through action rather than the word.

    • The primacy of action transforms the meaning of Christ and the devil in the play.

      • Within the orientation toward action, Mephistopheles describes himself as a spirit of negation and destruction as opposed to creation.

      • Mephistopheles no longer represents the evil of a pure materialism that was invoked in the Faustbuch, but now has a positive role to play as the negation that spurs activity.

      • Christ and Faust have a parallel status in the play in that they both choose the fullness of human experience.

    • The project of the play is to establish a merging of individual ideal and worldly reality through human development in society.


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