Monday, December 20, 2010
Saturday, December 18, 2010
For the first time in my life, I realized that the term "Faustian bargain" is not really idiomatic in German. In German, they talk about the "pact," or the "wager," not the "bargain." So I did a search on google books for the phrases "Pakt mit dem Teufel" [pact with the devil] and "das Faustische" [the Faustian]. Note the spike after the Second World War.
Friday, December 17, 2010
Tuesday, December 14, 2010
Sixty Years of Thomas Mann's Doctor Faustus
A fan of Goethe's Faust and the Faust myth in general, Urich Grothus makes a few points about the literature. Firstly, he sees Syphilis as more of a metaphor for a pact with the Devil, which enables Leverkuhn to begin on his musical journey-- "The infection is interpreted as a stimulant to artistic creativity - and as a silent pact with the devil who makes his appearance exactly half-way through the novel, probably only in Leverkühn’s fantasy." He describes the untreated syphilis as Leverkuhn's undoing in the end, paralyzing him the day he invites his friends over to share his presentation of his "Lament of Doctor Faustus" and to inform them of his condition.
Grothus describes the novel as a parallel for the "entire era from Imperial Germany to the Nazi regime." He describes Zeitblom as definitively non-Nazi, but not necessarily anti-Nazi, as he never actually resists them. Through Zeitblom, Mann articulates his idea that the “good” in German society and intellectual history could not easily be separated from the “bad” and dark.
Grothus goes on to compare Leverkuhn to both Nietzsche and Schoenberg, arguing that the latter is clearly the model for Leverkuhn's musical life, citing the 12-tone music as Schoenberg's invention, and the former for Leverkuhn's "clinical history." He offers a little insight to the relationship between Mann and Schoenberg: "Schönberg, whose sense of humor was not quite up to his musical genius, was furious to be portrayed as suffering from syphilis and being in a pact with the devil (and even feared that future generations might think Mann, rather than he, had invented the system). Schönberg had once said that his system would “ensure the hegemony of German music for the next hundred years”. Even he was not free from the temptation to style Germany as the unique music nation, different from and superior to any other."
Grothus thus describes the desire for Germany to be unique and great-- the Kulturnation-- as the first central topic of the novel; the closeness "of aestheticism and barbarism, of beauty and crime, ...which touches the fundamental role of art in society" as the second topic of the novel; and music-- with Theador Adorno as Mann's musical advisor-- as the third topic.
Comparing modern Germany to the Germany of Mann's time, Grothus says, "the strain of irrationalism that Mann describes and that was so fraught with disaster has all but vanished in contemporary German culture." He discusses the moving away from philosophy as a topic of fascination for the German people-- how few modern graduates have even given the consideration that previous generations have to philosophical works, but philosophy's neighbor, music, has survived.
He concludes saying, "there are good reasons to believe that, finally, democracy in Germany has been the success that Thomas Mann, in Zeitblom’s words, had already hoped for during the Weimar Republic. “It was an attempt, a not utterly and entirely hopeless attempt (the second since the failure of Bismarck and his unification performance) to normalize Germany in the sense of Europeanizing or “democratizing’ it, of making it part of the social life of peoples.”
Thursday, December 9, 2010
Thursday, December 2, 2010
Here are my notes:
Václav Havel’s Faust Drama Temptation (1985): Or, The Challenge of Influence
By Ehrhard Bahr
Goethe Yearbook: Publications of the Goethe Society of North America (GSNA) 1994; 7: 194-206.
Bahr began the article by discussing that while the Faust story has been retold countless times, no one has exclusive rights to it (not even Goethe!). Yet, it’s important to note that the Czechs believe the Faust legend remains part of their national heritage since one of the earliest translations was a Czech translation in 1611. The 1985 version was written by Vaclav Havel, a master of absurdist theatre (Their work expressed the belief that, in a godless universe, human existence has no meaning or purpose and therefore all communication breaks down. Logical construction and argument gives way to irrational and illogical speech and to its ultimate conclusion, silence; characters caught in hopeless situations forced to do repetitive or meaningless actions; inadequacy of language to form human connections; nonsense), and a prominent dissident of the “Velvet Revolution” (non-violent revolution in Czechoslovakia that saw the overthrow of the communist government). He was also a principle organizer of the Czechoslovak human rights organization Charter 77, until he was jailed repeatedly for a total of 5 years. Interestingly, Havel was presented with versions of Faust by Goethe and Mann while in prison, instead of the traditional socialist realism readings, but I’ll talk about the reason for that later. He wrote Temptation after returning home from prison, which turned out to be one of the darkest periods of his life. Being so, he interpreted the Faust story differently, as he attempted to confront the intellectual and ethical problems of his time. His central theme was: “responsibility and the affirmation of individual identity in a time of dehumanizing pressures exerted by the totalitarian state and/or modern society,” which ran parallel to his real life beliefs. Havel expresses that repression and regulation of ideas are the real moral enemies of humanity, and that a “devil” who encourages independent pondering of the deep questions is working for good, not evil. This idea connects to his firm support for dissidents as agents that rebel against a repressive power, which characterized the majority of his political career before he became President of the Czech and Slovak Republic in 1990.
Bahr went into depth on how Havel’s version of Faust was influenced by Goethe and Mann’s versions.
Examples: protagonist’s first name is Henry (Henreich like Goethe’s) instead of the traditional John (Johann); existence of a Margarete figure, named Marketa, who suffers nearly the same fate as her Goethean counterpart; Mann’s motif of a “cutting coldness” radiating from the devil character; appearance and behavior of devil; costume party with Goethean Walpurgis Night theme (everyone dressed accordingly)
Havel goes farther than Mann when his protagonist outdoes the devil in coldness. If you look at scene 9 (p. 61), when Foustka gives in to temptation and thinks he’s manipulated Fistula, the devilish figure’s teeth begin to chatter and he rubs his arms, exclaiming “Man, you must be 100 below zero!”
Bahr then describes the instance where Havel was imprisoned by the secret police of Czechoslovakia, and had a trap set for him. They provided him with Goethe’s and Mann’s versions of Faust in order to distort his statements and ruin his credibility with other dissidents. After reading them, he began to have “strange dreams and ideas” and felt that he was being physically tempted by the devil. He later described this incidence as his greatest moral failure.
Read quote from reading pg. 196
From this experience, Bahr describes Havel’s idea, originally from Martin Heidegger’s existential, of “two souls in one breast.” It became a central idea in Temptation, that it’s immoral to try to shift the blame onto someone else. In other words, “The individual cannot blame other persons or circumstances or shift responsibility onto that “other soul” in his breast. Such an attempt would lead, according to Havel, to the disintegration of one’s own identity.”
Bahr drew his thesis out of this idea. Using the term tessera, which means “completion and antithesis,” he argues that Havel “rewrote the central theme of Goethe’s Faust, namely, the problem of two souls in one breast, because he thought that Goethe had failed to resolve the problem with enough ethical rigor to meet the demands of our times.” Havel had a strong desire to challenge the ethics of the interpretations from the older texts.
In order to prove his argument, he went through the scenes and characters, drawing comparisons and showing how Havel expanded the Faustian myths of Goethe and Mann to accomodate the current state of affairs in Central Europe in the 1980s.
Examples: Dr. Foustka seduces Marketa intellectually, as opposed to Goethe’s Faust’s sexual seduction. In the 20th century, intellectual seduction is far more powerful; Marketa sent to psych ward which was the customary procedure for handling dissidents in the former Soviet Union…there, Marketa attempts suicide while singing the same song that Goethe borrowed from Ophelia’s Hamlet scene…Foustka lies to save his own skin, not coming to her rescue in the end.
It’s important to note that in Havel’s version, Foustka was not saved by a divine grace in the end. Instead, he was shown ridicule, and his dissidence was trivialized, as shown when everyone began clapping after his impassioned speech on the last page. He was not allowed to get away with his corrupt behaviors of manipulation. As he was not shown as a positive figure, Havel used Foustka’s negative aspect to address his own personal moral failure, and to allow the audience to realize within themselves what is good. Since Havel lived througha tumultuous political era, this interpretation of the Faust story was necessary as a model for dealing with the totalitarian past of Central Europe. He essentially provided an ethics for dissidents in the post-totalitarian states of Eastern Europe.