Teachings From That Good Professor On Goethes Faust

Reads: 809  | Likes: 0  | Shelves: 0  | Comments: 0

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Reddit
  • Pinterest
  • Invite

More Details
Status: Finished  |  Genre: Memoir  |  House: Booksie Classic
The following is some of what I learned from that good Professor that I have already spoken about (and a bit more will follow before I change to other subjects).

Submitted: July 21, 2009

A A A | A A A

Submitted: July 21, 2009





Mephistopheles Materialized To Faust As He Was About To Drink Poison


Castalia, At Last


Fall 1976


I gave my boss a two-week notice. I told him I was going back to school. He wrote a really nice letter of recommendation for me. Just before I left Deadwood, I called up, Terry, CMU’s personnel director, and told him I was going to plant myself on his couch until I got hired. I didn’t hear any laugher on the other end of the phone.


After my visit to the Personnel office, things began to look pretty damn good, in fact. I was told point blank, “Don’t make waves. Follow the rules. Be patient and I’ll do what I can to get you hired,” and all that coming from the guy who once told me I would never find work at CMU.


Within a month I was hired. The job, a food service custodian, wasn’t permanent, but I had a good feeling about it. After five years, I had arrived; I was working at a university-- a dream come true. Feeling secure in my job, I went to my old Professor, Dr. Gill, and asked if I could sit in on his mythology class. We had a pretty good relationship going back to when I first started at CMU. He was my Philosophy Professor when I took a class on Plato, but that class was short-lived because I dropped out of school and moved to Arizona. I finished my ’73 class with him, the one where I studied Goethe’s Faust. I loved that class. I even kept my final exam-- an essay on Faust’s growth. I got an A in the class, and my exam did a lot to help me get that grade. The quoted parts of the essay I pretty much memorized, anyway what follows is my exam.




The play began with a despondent, old scholar huckstering over the worth of words. Faust searched so hard for meaning and substance that he was willing to give up his life for “the right answers.” He had, for many years, thrust himself headlong into the pursuit of knowledge only to find the written word empty and valueless. Defeated, he gave up on everything—books, sensuality, hope, and faith (the play was set at the time when the Catholic Church reigned supreme). In desperation, he was about to drink a vial of poison when Mephistopheles—the devil materialized. He got Faust to participate in a wager. It didn’t take much coaxing, though. “While I abide,” Faust said to the devil, “I live in servitude, whether yours or whose, why should I care.” Losing the bet was not a major concern for Faust; winning did have its allure, however. The devil had promised Faust a moment of bliss that would be so blissful that he would be willing to give up his soul in return. Faust agreed to the wager.


It wasn’t going to be easy for the devil. The problem was that Faust did not seek pleasure. When Mephistopheles began to tempt Faust with his bag of sensual pleasures, Faust replied, “Have you not heard? I do not desire joy…To sound the heights and depths man can know, their very souls shall be with mine entwined. I’ll load my bosom with their weal and woe and share the shipwreck of mankind.” Faust entered the wager without knowing what would make him happy, but he did know what would not make him happy. Mephistopheles was irritated at first, but once Faust met Gretchen, the devil’s confidence beamed.





Faust, seduced by Gretchen’s charm and sweetness, fell in love with her. Mephistopheles saw the whole affair as a “puppet show,” as the pursuit of physical delights. Faust, on the other hand, used this physical relationship to explore the transformative power of love. When Faust fell into a passion, however, Mephistopheles rejoiced. “Flame is still mine,” he exhorted, “the power of flame alone, or else were there nothing I could call my own.” But Faust wasn’t satisfied with just passion; he managed to turn his love for Gretchen into something more than a mere love fest.


Forever the “seeker,” Faust’s striving confused Mephistopheles. In fact, Mephistopheles never did comprehend Faust’s desire to “go beyond himself.” That striving got Faust involved with Gretchen, in both a passionate physical way and a non-physical way, but no less passionate. Out of his love for Gretchen he forged himself a new identity, an identity that came with the realization —“To seek, as in the bosom of a friend, beholding the train of all living things, to learn to perceive my brothers in the sky, the stream, and in the silent glade.” His passion took him to a new high, but, as everyone knows, “the higher you climb, the harder you fall,” and it was no different for Faust. For Mephistopheles, “demolition man extraordinaire,” it was easy to take advantage of a vulnerable Faust.


 In conjunction with Gretchen’s unplanned pregnancy, the devil’s influence over Faust resulted in several other tragedies. Overcome with guilt, Faust fell into Mephistopheles’ waiting arms. The devil diverted Faust away from his higher goals by using a young witch to tempt him. Faust was on his way to life of debauchery when, in a passionate embrace with the young temptress, out from her mouth ran a small mouse. Faust, at that point, was shocked into remembering his quest for a higher purpose. Before it was all over, however, Gretchen’s brother, mother, baby and, eventually, even Gretchen herself, died as a result of the entanglements of Faust’s relationship with Gretchen.


 At the end of Part One, Faust, tricked by the devil, handed Gretchen what he thought was a sleeping potion to give to her mother. The potion turned out to be poison and Gretchen was sentenced to death for her mother’s murder. Faust tried to rescue her, but when, on the day of her hanging, he burst into Gretchen’s jail cell, he found a completely transformed woman. No longer the sweet innocent thing he fell in love with, she rebuked Faust. Her pain and guilt just too overwhelming to live with, Gretchen had chosen death over suffering; she had crossed over into infinite resignation. Out of pity, Faust still sought to rescue her, but Gretchen didn’t want sympathy. Her terrible suffering had left her with no hope for redemption. She had sinned and she had to pay. Death was her only salvation, and Faust could do nothing to prevent it. As Gretchen was led up to the gallows, Faust turned his back on her, and walked away with Mephistopheles by his side.


Faust, in his love for Gretchen, had found what he was looking for—that anything was worth looking for at all—but he also found, as a result of that love, unexpected and unbearable suffering. Kierkegaard, in his response to his own unfulfilled love relationship, put it this way, “Ah, it is a wretched man who has never felt the compelling urge of love to sacrifice everything out of love and accordingly not be able to do it, but it is precisely this sacrifice out of love which causes the loved one the greatest unhappiness.” Faust bore his torment and guilt well, and, although despair became his constant companion, he was not, surprisingly, damned for eternity.


In Faust’s Last Breath He Was Filled With The Love That Made Him Whole


Faust Part Two




At the end of Part One, the impression left by Goethe was that Faust went off to hell with the devil, but in Part Two the Faust story continued. Faust, after awakening in the Greek classical period, found himself being nursed back to health by the Spirits in the forest glade. He resolved to push ahead with life in spite of the fact that he held himself responsible for the death of all that he had once held so dear. While convalescing, he learned from the regenerative power of nature that remorse and pity had no place in the healing process. He had also learned from watching the rainbowed hues dance above the waterfall that truth was a subtle quality. Indeed, it could not be grasped directly. Now more mature, he continued to search for what was worth looking for.


In the open air of the Greek classical period, Mephistopheles was out of place and uncomfortable. He was a stranger in a strange land. The ugly and profane were hard to find, but every once in a while Mephistopheles was able to indulge himself. Faust, and Mephistopheles took some comfort in the halls of courtly power. Courtly power impressed Faust, and, in this new land, it was everywhere. Faust took his quest right into the center of that power.




The pomp and status of the royal life disappointed Faust. He found the power there to be illusionary. War brought devastation and destruction. In the end, it all came down to ashes. He found no value in that power. It only recycled war and hate. Demoralized, he began to doubt the usefulness of the “might makes right” doctrine, and he even began to doubt the usefulness of Mephistopheles.


Young Man


When Faust said to Mephistopheles, “In your nothing I hope to find everything,” he showed his new found direction. The more Faust denied Mephistopheles, the more Mephistopheles’ power over Faust diminished. In fact, the devil’s waning influence over Faust took on added significance when, in a chance meeting on the road, Faust saw Helen of Troy. With one look, Faust knew he wanted her. He had to have her. Showing decisive action, he grabbed for Helen’s wraith, but before he could make contact with her, she vanished before his eyes. After that, Faust set out to find her. More than carnal desire motivated Faust in his quest for Helen. As a captive of the Greeks, she bore her dignity well. Her queenly tapestries became an object of scorn and ridicule, but she was not bowed. In spite of all her tragedy, she was the personification of dignity. Because of Helen, Faust discovered a new lease on life.


With help from many, good and bad alike, Faust rediscovered Helen and, once again, was overwhelmed by her queenly stature. Faust—“To see her made the empty hearts of men whole.” Her beauty had a softer side, too. As goddess of poetry, she was a giver of life. She was the “ideal” of beauty and grace. Faust—“I tremble, scarcely breathe, my words have fled. Space, time, all gone. I live a dream instead.” Helen—“I feel my life fordone, yet I live anew in you inwoven the unknown true.” Faust—“Brood not, the destiny of truth to trace. Being is duty, were it a moments space.” Their love for each other, fueled by the regenerative power of the earth, created duty out of misfortune and affirmation out of privation. Made whole, Faust now followed a path that only he could walk.


From the union of Faust and Helen, a child was born. Euphorion was more than a love child; he was a “child of pure love.” To aspire, to evolve, love had to be set free. Love was never born free, its freedom had to be earned. Something had to be sacrificed. With the birth of pure love, mother and child had fulfilled their purpose—both Helen and Euphorion vanished, leaving Faust alone once again.


On the mountaintop, while in quiet contemplation, a vision of Gretchen appeared to Faust in the clouds, and in that instant love’s meaning became whole for him. Love was born from the earth, but earth-embodied activity was never enough. Survival demanded more. Survival demanded purposeful activity, death-transcending activity. A product of inspiration and aspiration, purposeful activity always “passed the touch.” Earth-embodied love, a self-indulgent love, would not survive. Love had to be animated by a higher purpose, a purpose that would insure its survival. “The deed is all; the glory nothing” became Faust’s motto. Striving produced errs. Striving for the impossible, produced many errs, but, when one strove for an impossible love, redemption was never far behind.


Faust set himself a new goal—to teach the meaning of whole love—a lesson that had to be learned from the inside out. Faust did not cower under this challenge. He began by creating the necessary conditions to inspire love’s meaning. With Mephistopheles’ help, he became the ruler of a small country. His plan was to get people to build dykes and reclaim land from the sea. The dykes would not only provide peace and prosperity for his people, but also teach the people a life-sustaining work ethic. But, before the dykes, before work ethic, before the prosperity, a “can do attitude,” had to be instilled in the people, an attitude that would, eventually, turn into a higher morality. This higher morality, liberty, and prosperity were all dependent upon dyke maintenance and construction. The work ethic that held the country and the communities together became the universality shared morality of the entire country. The need for vigilance and responsibility got passed on from parent to child. The seed of purposeful action, first sowed by Faust, would bear fruit the likes of which had not been seen before, or, so Faust hoped. Faust success was real, and so was his happiness.


Thus it came to pass that a free people, in a free land, prospered, and Faust’s dream became reality. At one point, Faust (almost) could be heard muttering to the moment, “You are so fare as to last an eternity,”—and thus he would have forfeited his soul to the devil. However, at that very moment he remembered some unfinished business that needed immediate attention, so he sent Mephistopheles to take care of it. The devil was sent into the country to persuade the old couple, Baucus and Philamen, to give up their land. Because they lived within the sound of the church bell, the church had a legal claim to their property. In order for Faust’s dream to be fully realized, he needed to relocate the old couple. But, when they balked at this relocation plan, they were murdered along with their wayfarer friend. Faust, once again, shared in the responsibility for the deaths of innocents.



Old man


An old and guilt-weary Faust became totally free of Mephistopheles when he confronted Care and denied magic. The whole of Faust Part Two depicted the progress of Faust as he became more reserved and confident while Mephistopheles became more excitable and foolish. Faust, when he denied magic, went blind and lost his strength, but he was not distressed. He knew, finally, that some things were worth pursuing, and he discovered that those things worth pursuing were not to be pursued without scruples. As the eternal night closed in around him, he experienced a kind of enlightenment. (At least that’s the way I saw it.) With his last breath, he was filled with the meaning of love and was made whole by it.


Faust leaves us with the “epitaph of the deed.” Humanity needs improving. Once efforts in that direction get going there is no stopping it, even in death. Faust grew from a child into a whole man, from microcosm to macrocosm. He offers hope to humanity. He also cautions: we have much to do without spending all our time on the ideals of religiosity. Let salvation take care of itself. Creation moves forward. Always look to love’s meaning for the answers. Faust calls us to do more.








© Copyright 2020 bwinwnbwi. All rights reserved.

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Reddit
  • Pinterest
  • Invite

Add Your Comments: