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     Literature Exercises V. Some verses

Goethe: Faust

  V. Some verses

Some comments about literature

A literary work cannot only be the presentation of a vision of a world and therefore this famous question: What does the author want to tell us with his work? is perfect nonsense. The author does not want to say anything. If the author wanted to say something, he could do so in words, clear and simple. It would not be necessary that he wrote a novel, a poem etc. that the reader deciphers the enigma. A literary work is the expression of what cannot be described with words. If Faust was the pure presentation of a vision of a world, it would be a weak work. The majority of the interpretation see in Faust the presentation of a vision of mankind, of humanity. They try to reduce Faust to what we have called the line of narration are therefore incorrect.

In the same way absurd is the famous discussion, whether literature has to be a world in itself, l'art pour l'art, separated from the social context. This does not exist. The literature does not explain the world, but it describes feelings that an individual has in reflection of the social context. The literature does not explain the world, but it is not outside the world. It is neither the presentation of a vision of the world, but it is neither l'art pour l'art apart from any social context. Mario Vargar Llosa said something very true in his famous book "History of a deicide".

"Writing novels is an act of rebellion against the reality, against God, against the creation of God, which is the reality. It is a tentative correction, a change or abolition of the real reality, of its substitution by the reality that the novelist creates. He is a dissident: creates an illusive live, creates verbal worlds because he does not accept the live and the world like they are (or like he thinks they are). The root of his vocation is the feeling of dissatisfaction against the live; each novel is a secret deicide, is a symbolic assassination of the reality."

The line of narration

If we have a closer look at the line of narration in Faust, the bet between the Lord and Mephistopheles makes us realise that the concept is not very strong. There are lots of ambiguity and contradictions. The first contradiction is that not Mephistopheles saves Faust. Faust did not know how to escape from his situation and his sterile live. Without Mephistopheles Faust would have committed suicide. But still more important is that the main idea undergoes an important modification. Mephistopheles was not needed to cheer up Faust. Mephistopheles is not reason for the situation Faust is in. What he actually does is to cheer Faust up by doing things that are morally not accepted. The main problem at the climax of the tragedy is that his deception turns into a moral problem.

Two very different things get mixed up: The line of narration is not a very strong idea and the book does not get its strength from this line of narration, but from the separate parts that often do not have anything to do with this main line. Therefore we are going to discuss the Faust now less systematic, but present some verses. Possibly Goethe did not see Faust as a homogeneous work, because we find these verses in the book.

Wird vieles vor den Augen abgesponnen,
So daß die Menge staunend gaffen kann,
Da habt Ihr in der Breite gleich gewonnen,
Ihr seid ein vielgeliebter Mann.
Die Masse könnt Ihr nur durch Masse zwingen,
Ein jeder sucht sich endlich selbst was aus.
Wer vieles bringt, wird manchem etwas bringen;
Und jeder geht zufrieden aus dem Haus.
Gebt Ihr ein Stück, so gebt es gleich in Stücken!
Solch ein Ragout, es muß Euch glücken;

If, as they gaze, much is reeled off and spun,
So that the startled crowd gapes all it can,
A multitude you will at once have won;
You then will be a much-loved man.
You can compel the mass by mass alone;
Each in the end will seek out something as his own.
Bring much and you'll bring this or that to everyone
And each will leave contented when the play is done.
If you will give a piece, give it at once in pieces!
Ragout like this your fame increases.


A ragout is presented, everyone takes what he or she likes and in the end all are content. This is, what we now will do, take some parts of this ragout.

Faust is a very dense text and one can read it many times and always find something new. A text this full cannot be presented like a drama for theatre, because no-one is able to catch so much information just listening to it once.

The selection of verses is totally arbitrary and does not follow any systematic. Neither can be said, that they are the most important. They were chosen, because the author of this chapter liked them best.

Everyone who studies philology knows the problem, that some interprete a piece of literature this way and other another way. This leads to eternal discussions. This type of problem could not be understood by the author of this chapter. If a work enriches the life, if it reveals us something, if it allows us to see its beauty, if it amuses us or whatever, then it is correct. If the Goethe wanted to say this or something else does not have any importance. The only interest is, that interpretations give us something, those are wrong, that are sterile and boring and therefore are forgotten within two weeks.