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2018 Book #43 - Faust by Goethe



What do I have to say about Faust that hasn't been said before? I can't claim to have thoroughly understood this book, as I don't know what theological conundra German thinkers were preoccupied with at the time of its writing.

(This prose translation, by Bayard Quincy Morgan, was done in 1954. Although I found it quite readable, perhaps a more current one would have illuminated the subtleties more for me.)

I know it's an old folk story, told many times. It seems to me to derive from the book of Job, with God and the devil making a wager about what one of God's favorite cats will do if the devil gets free reign to tempt him. Unlike Job, though, Dr. Faust hardly seems a model of piety. He seems more like the author of Ecclesiastes... world-weary, jaded, searching for answers with no belief they are there. He quite quickly takes the devil's offer to show him a night on the town and doesn't acquit himself with the greatest moral rectitude.

My favorite bits are the phantasmagorical scenes, such as materializing in and out of a tavern with drunkards, or a gathering of witches on a stormy night. I have no idea how you would stage this without a monstrously huge audio-visual budget.

This translation ellipses most of Part II, just coming in with the resolution, which supposedly clears up the theological difficulties presented earlier, though I'll just have to take their word on that. Let's face it, hallucinations of the demonic are almost always more entertaining than visions of heaven, which seem boringly static. The farther you go left in a Hieronymus Bosch painting, the more wonderfully surreal the imagery.

So I enjoyed this as entertainment, not a deep pondering of problems related to God. Maybe I'm just a hedonistic musician.
Tags: 2018 book reviews
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