Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Dr. Faustus

Markus Gabriel's philosophy the New Realism has a feature that he himself describes in his TED talk on You Tube: The concept of an existing World gets rid of the infinity of things and facts. The fear of infinity makes us reasoning in a multitude of worldviews be they scientific (catchword: world formula) or religious (catchword: death is not the end) etc. In particular the idea that everything is connected and interacting is wrong because there is no overall structure. However, many things are connected such that man introduces worldviews to make things simpler. None of these worldviews works; they are all expressions of our fear of infinity. As already mentioned before: We are alone but as free autonomous human beings we have the privilege of infinite possibilities of exploring.

Following his argument that the World does not exist Gabriel elaborated on the meaning of life in an interview: The meaning of life is not something all-embracing. It develops out of the attitude of each individual who happens to be part of a community. Men (Women) do not live and work alone so it is quite common that persons abandon their freedom, their ego in the interest of groups, communities or religions. Such an attitude that Gabriel calls personal nihilism will frequently lead to crises in life or of faith. Typical examples are strong believers developing doubts and atheists catching themselves thinking there may be something behind their existence.

In all these arguments I recognize Goethe's Faust who states at the summit of his personal crisis:

Habe nun, ach! Philosophie,
Juristerei und Medizin,
Und leider auch Theologie
Durchaus studiert, mit heißem Bemühn.
Da steh ich nun, ich armer Tor!
Und bin so klug als wie zuvor;
I've studied now Philosophy
And Jurisprudence, Medicine,
And even, alas! Theology
All through and through with ardour keen!
Here now I stand, poor fool, and see
I'm just as wise as formerly.

We see a desperate Faust who wants to break out, regain his autonomy, his infinite possibilities of exploring even for the prize of pacting with the devil. In fact, Mephistopheles opens for Faust all freedom of action. Getting Gretchen pregnant is only one of Faust's deadly sins. Therefore in Christian tradition the saga of the historical? Faust ends in a catastrophe in the nearby townlet of Staufen as we read on the wall of the restaurant and hotel Zum Löwen: Anno 1539 ist im Leuen zu Staufen Doctor Faustus so ein wunderlicher Nigromanta gewesen, elendiglich gestorben und es geht die Sage der obersten Teufel einer, der Maphist stopilis den er in seinen Lebenszeiten nur seinen Schwager genannt, habe ihm, nachdem der Pact von 24 Jahren abgelaufen, das Genick abgebrochen und seine arme Seele der ewigen Verdammnis überantwortet (Anno 1539, in The Lion at Staufen Doctor Faustus who had been such a strange necromancer died miserably, and according to the legend one of the supreme devils Maphist stopilis - he used to call only his good brother as long as he lived - had, after their 24 year old pact had expired, broken his neck, and delivered his poor soul to eternal damnation).

Breaking the neck of  Dr. Faustus. Wall painting on The Lion at Staufen
This end is in sharp contrast to the hero's destiny in Goethe's Faust. In part II of the drama near the end a choir of angels announces: Wer immer strebend sich bemüht, Den können wir erlösen (Whoever strives with all his might, That man we can redeem). I find Goethe's conclusion that a free autonomous human being using his (her) infinite possibilities of exploring until his end will be redeemed comforting.

You will find this basic idea of  "using your talents" in the New Testament in the Parable of the Talents (Matthew 25:14-30): For the kingdom of heaven is like a man traveling to a far country, who called his own servants and delivered his goods to them. And to one he gave five talents, to another two, and to another one, to each according to his own ability; and immediately he went on a journey ... When the lord came back from his journey the two servants with the five and the two talents had gained on them. Then he who had received the one talent came and said, "Lord, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you have not sown, and gathering where you have not scattered seed. And I was afraid, and went and hid your talent in the ground. Look, there you have what is yours." But his lord answered and said to him, "You wicked and lazy servant, you knew that I reap where I have not sown, and gather where I have not scattered seed. So you ought to have deposited my money with the bankers, and at my coming I would have received back my own with interest" ... And cast the unprofitable servant into the outer darkness. There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. 

It is interesting to read that Jesus even accepts the help of bankers to gain on money that - considering current interest rates - is hardly possible these days.

1 comment:

  1. Seeing the wall painting takes me back ten years ago when we visited in Staufen, thanks for bringing back memories! I couldn't remember the explanation as well as the village.