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
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.
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
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.