Thursday, November 11, 2004

On Faust, Gass (and Wikipedia)

This was originally a comment on Derik's post about Faust, but it became too long so I thought I would put it here.

Goethe's Faust Part One is actually pretty short (particularly for anyone who has read Recognitions twice already) at 148 pages (Luke translation, Oxford World Classics pbk.). It is the essential Faust story. Part Two is only "loosely connected with Part One and the German legend of Faust."

Gounod's opera synopsis will provide a real bare-bones summary, but that will probably not suffice.

The quote from the beginning of The Recognitions is from Faust Part Two, lines 6834-35.

Since there are various translations, I'll give it here:

Mephistopheles [sotto voce]:
What great work's that?

Wagner [in a whisper]:
A man is being made.

The rest of the passage is worth reading (I'm, guessing, but since WG left the passage in its original German, he was invoking the entire work instead of just those words).

A man? So you have locked an amorous pair
Up in your chimney-stack somehow?

Why, God forbid! That method's out of fashion now:
Procreation's sheer nonsense, we declare!
That tender point where life used to begin
That gentle power springing from within,
Taking and giving, programmed to portray
Itself, to assimilate what came its way
From near or far - all that's now null and void;
By animals, no doubt, it's still enjoyed,
But man henceforth, being so highly gifted,
Must have an origin more uplifted...

This is a bit of a stretch, but I think that passage is telling, particularly considering Gass' comments on the novel's journey aspect (aren't all journeys a metaphor for man's progress or [in later works] an attempt to recover from The Fall) and the Oedipal aspect that Gass points out too would make this passage seem particularly ironic (a Gaddis focal point?). I won't elaborate because it would seem shallow to do so until I've actually read some of the frickin book.

p.s. For anyone who hasn't read the Gass introduction, it's very good.

p.p.s. I was thinking that this might be a good opportunity for some of us to contribute to the Gaddis page on Wikipedia. There isn't very much information there now and that seems a shame. Any thoughts?


Blogger DerikB said...

Thanks, Bud.

I found this summary that does a good job with Part I:

And this article on Faust and Alchemy, which may have some relevance later in the reading:

Somewhere I found this quote (which I feel may also relate) from the end of Faust II when the angels take Faust away from the grasps of Mephistopheles:

"Whoever strives in ceaseless toil,
Him we may grant redemption."

November 11, 2004 at 10:54 AM  
Blogger CAAF said...

That last is like a concise definition of Lutheranism, another product of Germany.

November 11, 2004 at 11:23 AM  
Blogger DerikB said...

I was raised (apparently not very well) as a Lutheran and never got that feeling. I guess we were off the more lazy variety.

Having since given it up, I can't say anymore.

November 11, 2004 at 12:14 PM  

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