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Doctor Faustus from Adam to Sartre Erich Kahler Doctor Faustus, his figure and destiny, has a long and colorful history, and among other mythicized human prototypes he has been the one most challenging to Western imagination. Indeed, together with Don Quixote and Don Juan— to both of whom he is closely related— Doctor Faustus has, in the course of recent centuries, de­ veloped into a symbol of Western man. Each of these three figures embodies the endless striving of modern man, his overstepping the limits of a bounded world in quest of adventure, his exploratory pursuit of the unknown, which lures him into ever wider, ever more precarious ranges of experience, ever farther and farther away from the good earth. Don Quixote is carried aloft by his romantic imagina­ tion; Don Juan, who is commonly seen as a kind of merry, carefree playboy, a lady-killer and libertine, is actually a very serious, indeed a tragic figure. Whether one sees in him the personification of man’s insatiable drive, or the humanized Devil, as pictured by Otto Rank, or the seeker of the inexhaustibly new— he is the transcendent trans­ gressor, the breaker of human boundaries. He is in fact quite incapable of love, he is unable even to settle down to the enjoyment of erotic pleasures, he is a conqueror for the sake of conquest, goaded along by a voracious desire for ever new and novel experience; and what eventually carries him down to Hell is the hubris of his excessive challenge. Doctor Faustus comprises the aspirations of both Don Quixote and Don Juan, but he fuses and broadens them into a more general endeavor. Adventure and conquest transcend the human sphere and reach out into cosmic zones. Even the erotic transgressions assume a metaphysical and cosmic significance. What I propose to do in the following is to give a brief account of the history of this miraculous figure, Doctor Faustus, in whom historical happenings and destinies are blended with mythical residues and with spiritual implications; I want to trace the various trans­ figurations of this story from its origins up to the modern era, when it came to reveal its powerful symbolic capacity by showing the expanse of Western man, indeed of man as a whole. In this capacity, as a symbol of man, it has served to express the life experience and grave concern of three artists representative of our own age: Thomas Mann, Paul Valéry, Jean-Paul Sartre. Indeed each of them, like 75 Goethe before them, used the Faustus story as a confessional. Camus too planned his Faustus version, but unfortunately he did not live to write it. I The story begins even before its actual beginnings. It begins with man’s mythical genesis. It begins with Adam. In the second and third chapters of Genesis we read: And the Lord God commanded the man saying, Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat: But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die . . . Now the serpent [the first appearance of the diabolic seducer— Goethe’s Mephistopheles refers to it as “my celebrated cousin” ] . . . more subtil than any beast of the field which the Lord God had made . . . said unto the woman, Yea, hath God said, Ye shall not eat of every tree of the garden? And the woman said . . . We may eat of the fruit of the trees of the garden: But of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, God hath said, Ye shall not eat of it, neither shall ye touch it, lest ye die. And the serpent said unto the woman, Ye shall not surely die: For God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil. And indeed, when they did eat of it, their eyes opened, and this was the creation of human consciousness through freedom of choice, shame, and labor, which means the actual creation of man, of the human tragedy, of the human...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1936-1637
Print ISSN
0010-4078
Pages
pp. 75-92
Launched on MUSE
2018-07-11
Open Access
No
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