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     Literature Goethe: Faust I. Introduction

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Exercise: Goethe, Faust

  I. Introduction

Goethe's Faust is, by far, the most important book in German literature. It plays the same role in German as the works of Shakespeare do in English, or 'Don Quijote' in Spanish, or 'The Divine Comedy' in Italian. It is part of school education in German-speaking countries and it belongs to, what we call, General Education.

Nevertheless, there is no reason to believe that all Germans, or German speaking people, know this piece, or that they are all fascinated by it. (In the author's opinion) It is well known that everything that is part of The General Education runs the risk of losing its authenticity: The teachers in the colleges teach it, because they are paid to do so. The students read it, because they have to. Some people read it, because it makes a good impression to be able to quote it. Many professors at Universities write books about Faust, because there are already so many books that one more doesn't make a big difference, and they, too, are paid for doing it. These reasons for reading the Faust are a bit arbitrary and do not have anything to do with Faust itself. People will read and write anything as long as they are paid to do it. For some people Faust does not represent a value in itself, but only for what it provides an income, a mark in a class paper or an examination. This type of appreciation is artificial and is boring at the same time.

The real interest in this process of teaching Faust is the fact that this work, that criticises so massively the routines of the academic world, as we will see later on, was able to convert itself into a part of this academic routine. Interestingly, Faust criticises the routines of the academic world, as we will learn later on, and yet Faust has become a part of the 'academic routine'!

The author of this chapter does not believe too much in what is called The General Education. For the author of this chapter a generous and responsible person does have education. In the years 1933 to 1945 there were many "well educated people", who together made the greatest catastrophe possible. The general education was compatible with the total barbarism and, therefore, is good for nothing.

(In the author's opinion) The teaching of Faust in colleges has only little success. In general people find it hard to relate their own situation to the situation of Faust. Goethe himself is quite a strong weapon against 'The General Education', merely passing information from generation to generation simply because 'establishment figures' have it in their minds 'that it should be done', without, it would seem, reflecting upon it's relevance in a modern world. These people should be advised of the words of Goethe himself:

Was morsch ist, soll brechen. That what is rotten shall break.

The perception any work of literature depends on many things for example on one's experiences, on one's sensitivity, on the circumstances in which one lives. People who are surrounded by people who don't want anything, people totally satisfied with what they have, people who are not sensitive enough to realise that life is more than just eat and drink, people who do not realise their own insufficiency, or people who do not have enough fantasy to see that their horizon is quite limited. Faust will show us a lot of people not wishing for anything more than just eat and drink. He shows us people that read books as other people collect stamps; he shows us people who have so little experience outside their own small worlds that they spend their days by pointing out the mistakes of others. The work shows us Hollywood before Hollywood existed. It shows us the hypocrisy in many different forms and above all it shows us Faust himself, who is bright, and able, enough to see through these people.

For the author, of this chapter, Faust is something very topical, so topical that, in certain circumstances, Faust can be made into a weapon. If one were to quote the phrases of Faust, printed below, to a professor, or another hypocrite, or to a person who is always quoting Faust, to demonstrate their 'great education', it can be guaranteed that you'll have success at making an impression - the author has tried it.

FAUST   FAUST.
  Such Er den redlichen Gewinn!
Sei Er kein schellenlauter Tor!
Es trägt Verstand und rechter Sinn
Mit wenig Kunst sich selber vor!
Und wenn's euch Ernst ist, was zu sagen,
Ist's nötig, Worten nachzujagen?
Ja, eure Reden, die so blinkend sind,
In denen ihr der Menschheit Schnitzel kräuselt,
Sind unerquicklich wie der Nebelwind,
Der herbstlich durch die dürren Blätter säuselt!
Seek for the really honest gain!
Don't be a fool in loudly tinkling dress!
Intelligence and good sense will express
Themselves with little art and strain.
And if in earnest you would say a thing,
Is it needful to chase after words? Ah, yes,
Your eloquence that is so glittering,
In which you twist up gewgaws for mankind,
Is unrefreshing as the misty wind,
Through withered leaves in autumn whispering.
   
   
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