Friday, August 31, 2012

Some thoughts on Goethe's Faust


Among the classes I needed to select this fall semester was a literature class, and I chose Goethe’s Faust.  I am familiar with the story and jumped at the chance to study this along with some other German literature.

One of our first assignments is to give a short (no more than 12 minutes) presentation on some old or new “Faust” myths: representations from culture where this story has become a part of our ethos…as represented, for example, of the saying “I’d give my right arm to do that” as in I’d give a large part of myself, cripple myself, dare I say “sell my soul” to get some seemingly important benefit in this life, right now.

I am making an assumption that you, my reader, is familiar with the Faust story, but in the case that you are not, Faust sells himself (his soul) to the devil in exchange for all his desires being filled here on earth for a span of years.

Now not to be a ‘spoiler’ but in the end, in Goethe’s version, Faust is ‘redeemed’ and ends up in heaven, but in an earlier version, written by Christopher Marllowe, Dr. Faustus goes to hell.

As I was reading a commentary on Goethe, and enjoying some of his other poetry, it occurred to me that we seem to think we are giving up something to ‘be good’ and to sacrifice for others, and to not fall prey to our yearnings and lusts, but to follow the leadings of God.  To not yearn for earthly pleasures but to look forward to the World to come. Do we think we are somehow depriving ourselves of something here on earth that might not be as good as Heaven.

Think about this; that someone, (like Dr Faustus in the story) would be willing to enjoy satisfying all his desires here on earth for a set number of years, and damn himself to eternal torment in hell, and think that perhaps the memories of his pleasure would keep him going through the pain and torment?

Do any of us have the idea that good memories of pleasure will ‘tide us over’ future suffering and torment? Perhaps temporarily, but why give up heaven for the fleeting passion and pleasures of the moment here on earth?

This could be the ultimate definition of short-sightedness! 

But don’t we do the same thing when we choose to go into tremendous debt on a house we can’t afford just to feel equal with the “Jones”? 

When we fall for advertising saying we need to own the luxury car?

Or the name-brand clothing?  Or sneakers? Or_____? (fill in the blank)

Do we somehow forget that we really cannot take these "things" with us?

What are we, right here and now, selling our own souls for?

“For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul?  Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?” (Matthew 16:26)

“I consider that the suffering of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” Romans 8:18

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