Goethe and Wimping Out About Faust

GoetheOn this day in 1814, Irish mystery writer Sheridan Le Fanu was born. Russian architect and engineer Vladimir Shukhov was born in 1853. Nature photographer Vittorio Sella was born in 1859. Late Romantic opera composer Umberto Giordano was born in 1867. Here is a bit of his opera Fedora:

Actor Charles Boyer was born in 1899. Writer Robertson Davies was born in 1913. Sociologist C. Wright Mills was born in 1916. He popularized one of my favorite terms in his book, The Power Elite.

Kamandi - Jack KirbyComic book artist Jack Kirby was born in 1917. Last year, I wrote this about him:

When I was a kid, I thought comics sucked. The only mainstream comic I ever read was Kamandi: The Last Boy on Earth. It was written and drawn by Jack Kirby. But it definitely wasn’t the art I liked. Kirby is a really important comic book artist. He more or less created Marvel Comics as we now know it. And his style was totally new: extreme perspective implying lots of motion. But it was Kirby the storyteller that I liked.

I am not at all a fan of Stan Lee who I think did very little in terms of comic books except to make a lot of money publicizing them. Kirby expanded what comic books did, and Lee kept them as dumbed down as possible to keep those 13 year olds reading them.

Actor Donald O’Connor was born in 1925. Actor Ben Gazzara was born in 1930. And Sterling Morrison of the Velvet Underground was born in 1942.

Documentary filmmaker and activist Robert Greenwald is 68 today. Actor Luis Guzman is 57. Actor Daniel Stern is 56. Ice skater Scott Hamilton is 55. And comedian Jack Black is 44.

The day, however, belongs to the great writer Johann Wolfgang von Goethe who was born on this day in 1749. It is generally hard to appreciate writers who do not write in your own language. I don’t have such a problem with Cervantes, because I enjoy his outlook on life and his humor always comes through loud and clear. With someone like Proust, it is hard to get through the translation because the writing is so dense. Goethe is somewhere in the middle. I do appreciate his world view: it seems like he was a gentle soul. Most of what I’ve read is Faust. In fact, I really like the Walter Kaufmann translation, because it has the German on the left hand page. And you can see that it is a lot easier to translate German into English than French or Spanish.

Speaking of his gentle soul: I still don’t know how I feel about his take on the Faustian legend. Goethe gets Faust off on a loophole. In a Romantic sense (the one that he was writing within), this is a cop out. But in a modern sense, it is perfect. It entirely sums up modern America. Faust is loved by God, so of course he isn’t going to let anything bad happen to his boy. Hell is for the poor, the not chosen. It most certainly isn’t for God’s favorites, regardless of how they behave. Welcome to American meritocracy!

Here is a bit of Faust read in German with the English translation on the screen:

Happy birthday Goethe!

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About Frank Moraes

Frank Moraes is a freelance writer and editor online and in print. He is educated as a scientist with a PhD in Atmospheric Physics. He has worked in climate science, remote sensing, throughout the computer industry, and as a college physics instructor. Find out more at About Frank Moraes.

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