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     Literature Goethe: Faust V. Some verses

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Exercise: Goethe, Faust

  V. Some verses

19) ... Ich bin der Geist, der stets verneint ...

  MEPHISTOPHELES: MEPHISTOPHELES
Ich bin der Geist, der stets verneint!
Und das mit Recht; denn alles, was entsteht,
Ist wert, daß es zugrunde geht;
Drum besser wär's, daß nichts entstünde.
So ist denn alles, was ihr Sünde,
Zerstörung, kurz, das Böse nennt,
Mein eigentliches Element.
  I am the Spirit that denies!
And rightly too; for all that doth begin
Should rightly to destruction run;
'Twere better then that nothing were begun.
Thus everything that you call Sin,
Destruction - in a word, as Evil represent-
That is my own, real element.
     

It seems that these verses fascinate many people, because this is the shortest expression of the absolute nihilism. Everthing that exists is worth to run to destruction and therefore it would be better, that nothing would exist. In these and in the verses that follow, Mephistopheles is less a clever, but malicious man (even realistic, if you want, because his analysis are more often than not very precise) is a representative of a principle.

  MEPHISTOPHELES:   MEPHISTOPHELES
Ich bin ein Teil des Teils, der anfangs alles war
Ein Teil der Finsternis, die sich das Licht gebar
Das stolze Licht, das nun der Mutter Nacht
Den alten Rang, den Raum ihr streitig macht,
Und doch gelingt's ihm nicht, da es,
so viel es strebt,
Verhaftet an den Körpern klebt.
But I'm part of the Part which at the first was all,
Part of the Darkness that gave birth to Light,
The haughty Light that now with Mother Night
Disputes her ancient rank and space withal,
And yet 'twill not succeed, since,
strive as strive it may,
Fettered to bodies will Light stay.
     

What does he want to say with this? He has a very special way of interpretation of the genesis like it is described in the Bible.

Am Anfang schuf Gott Himmel und Erde. Und die Erde war wüst und leer, und es war finster auf der Tiefe; und der Geist Gottes schwebte auf dem Wasser Und Gott sprach:
Es werde Licht! Und es ward Licht.
In the beginning God created heaven and earth. And the earth was without form and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters. And God said: Let there be light! And there was light.
     

If we look a little bit closes, we'll see that in the beginning there was darkness and light was born out of darkness. In another way said, darkness is the mother of light. Light fights agains the darkness and always there is the risk that it gets lost in the darkness. The light is always something created by God. Mephistopheles sees himself as a representative of that, what reigned before that. Light is dependent of bodies, it is born of bodies and is created for them. In the beginning there was nothing and to this nothing Mephistopheles wants to reduce everything. This is his battle. We see once again the complexity of the two characters. Faust and Mephistopheles are both representatives of different principles, but on the other hand also complex human beings.
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