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     Literature Goethe: Faust V. Some verses

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Exercise: Goethe, Faust

  V. Some verses


28) ... Denn eben wo Begriffe fehlen ...

  MEPHISTOPHELES:   MEPHISTOPHELES
Denn eben wo Begriffe fehlen,
Da stellt ein Wort zur rechten Zeit sich ein.
Mit Worten läßt sich trefflich streiten,
Mit Worten ein System bereiten,
An Worte läßt sich trefflich glauben,
Von einem Wort läßt sich kein Jota rauben.
For at the point where concepts fail,
At the right time a word is thrust in there.
With words we fitly can our foes assail,
With words a system we prepare,
Words we quite fitly can believe,
Nor from a word a mere iota thieve.
     

If you studied linguistics you have learnt that a word represents something concrete. This is evidently absolute nonsense. It is also nonsense to believe that a phrase has a meaning; in most of the cases they do not have one. Language transports energy without any meaning. For instance recently a German politician said that he was proud to be a German. This phrase transports energy, two. This little phrase warms the heart, but do not have any meaning. From the point of pure logic, one can only be proud of something that one has achieved. If one can be proud of something that he himself has not achieved, it needs a definition how far this person can be from the one that has achieved something. Can a Berliner be proud of something a guy from Munich (both are Germans) has done? But Berlin and Munich are about 600 km away. One could go 600 km and arrive also in Denmark. Can a German be proud of something that somebody in Denmark has done? Or somebody in France? Or the fact that Bolivia has so wonderful bananas? If one can be proud of the achievements of other people, one can be proud of anything. However, even though this little phrase did not have any meaning, it started a discussion about the national pride. It was a very hot and energetic discussion, but without any sense. As a summary one could say, that language transports energy, not necessarily meaning. The relation between language and reality is something very ambiguous, although many people think that it does exist a stable relation, one does not need to believe that behind a word is a concept, something concrete. A word only receives its meaning, if behind the word exists a personal experience. But one can produce lots of words, without them being charged with personal experiences and often a word is not more than a vibration in the air. Therefore it is correct, what Mephistopheles says, that it's a mistake to believe that behind a word has to be a concept.
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