Where Love, Beauty, And Form Merge The Journey Ends

Picture 009Without Context Words Are Empty And Impotent

Dec. ‘77

Final Exam On Goethe’s Faust

For me, after my bicycle trip, it was back to washing pots and pans. However, my accumulated work seniority enabled me, after a time, to move into a midnight custodian job. With my days freed up, I wanted to take a class, but it was already too late to do that. Instead I asked my old professor, Dr. Gill, if I could sit in on his class. I had already taken that class, but he was teaching it to an honor’s section of students, and I wanted to see what that was all about. The class, his philosophy through literature class, was a favorite of mine. Dr. Gill knew I loved the Faust story, so he let me sit in. I was surprised to find that the class was taught exactly the same to the honor’s students, and, even though I wasn’t there to be graded, I still took the final exam. Dr. Gill liked what I wrote so much that he suggested I try to publish it. That was a confidence booster. Here’s the exam—a post Heidegger take on Faust.

Power and the word:

After a time, Faust lost all faith in the power of words. Words are a form of “disclosure,” that’s all. Without context, meaning, and understanding words are empty and impotent. Goethe’s play was important because it depicted the kinship that exists between discourse and understanding. When the growth of Faust was looked at from start to finish, it was no longer just about words; it was a representational model of a powerful sense of life lived meaningfully.

When Faust used Mephistopheles to acquire power, havoc and misery followed. In the grip of care, the care of pure desire, Faust wielded great power and caused great harm. Many innocents suffered and even died because of Faust’s reckless behavior and ignorance. He intended good, but he produced the opposite. After many disappointments, he discovered that, like the word without understanding, power without scruples caused untold disasters. A great deal of tragedy came to pass before Faust learned that very important lesson.

Unrestricted power always caused harm, and even power directed toward the success of “high ideals” was poignantly wedded to discourse and understanding. Faust made many mistakes, but he never stopped learning from those mistakes. “The man who desires the impossible,” Manto said, “that man I love. Man errs as long as he strives…” To succeed, Faust, like so many before and after him, had to fail. Until he began to understand the most powerful of discourses, he remained a victim of his own ignorance.

Exam Final Continued

Faust’s Quest:

Faust learned that a kinship existed between power and the word. Likewise, he had to learn that there existed a kinship between love, beauty, and form. For Faust, sensuality was never an end in itself, and because of that, Gretchen’s love was his reward. Seeking a higher ideal, and lifted by sensuality into a real and penetrating love, Faust found temporary happiness. Unfortunately, he made mistakes along the way; mistakes that contributed to the deaths of his beloved Gretchen and the child that he conceived with her. Out of that tragedy, Faust learned the difference between love and sensuality, and—if one were to ask Mephistopheles—his participation in that tragedy earned him a place in Hell.

The condemnation of Faust was—and remains—arguable. Knowledge is not free, and the death of Gretchen and her baby was an extreme example of just how unjust the price of knowledge can sometimes be. After their tragic demise, Faust was transported (we are not told by what magic) to the Greek Classical Period where he met and fell in love with Helen of Troy. The first time he set eyes on Helen, she was a captive enemy being lead away by the victorious Greeks after the sack of Troy. Helen’s beauty went to the core of her very being. She was proud, but not too proud. She was nobody’s prisoner; restricted by circumstances, but never bowed. She represented human dignity at its highest level. Faust was totally smitten by her comely presence and beauty. He fell in love with her on the spot, but when he reached out for her she vanished into thin air. Thus began Faust’s quest for a love that would deliver him unto that place where love, beauty, and form merge. In order to find Helen, and get to that place, Faust had to pay a visit to the mythical Mothers.

The Mothers were mysterious and terrifying. They practiced magic and, best I could tell from the reading, they were like witches, but not of this world. Many had encountered the Mothers before, but only those who could endure total resignation survived to tell the story. A pure heart and absolute sincerity were required to survive. For Faust, going to the Mothers, was his only chance to find and win Helen, and walking away from the Mothers, after encountering infinite resignation, if indeed one did walk away, meant walking away fully renewed. Faust was not deterred by the threat to his life.

Mephistopheles could not accompany Faust to the Mothers. In his bag of tricks, resignation was eternally absent. Upon Faust�
��s return, Mephistopheles influence over him greatly diminished. Before the Mothers, the two were comrades, although reluctant ones, and after the Mothers, a gaping distance separated them. “In your nothingness I hope to find everything,” said Faust to Mephistopheles, and so it was, after the Mothers, Faust became free to follow his own instincts.

Faust was stronger and more determined now. He also acquired the information he needed to find Helen. Faust’s Mothers encounter, and Goethe’s lack of description of it, I suppose was meant to allow the imagination of the reader to fill in the blanks. The Mothers’ experience permanently changed Faust—why? Heidegger says that when one confronts his non-relational, not to be outstripped possibility of Dasein (his anticipation of death), he becomes free (for resoluteness). After the Mothers’ experience, Faust became free from Mephistopheles, and in that freedom, it seems to me, he discovered his authenticity. Acting authentically, acting as if each breath was a final breath, Faust was able to look deep into the conditional nature of care and free himself from Mephistopheles. However, before Faust could deny care’s relational nature (his attachment to desire), before he could totally abandon Mephistopheles, he had to learn an additional lesson. Each of us must find his work and do it. That lesson was a hard one for Faust to learn, but it was even harder for him to learn that it was not enough to do the work; how he did it was just as important. In other words–when does the means justify the ends?

To be continued…


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