Faust: Ever Striving

My encounters with literature, whether dramatic or narrative, have been wide-ranging. From the briefest (the poems of Richard Brautigan, as tightly constructed as any haiku) to the epic works of Neal Stephenson and Thomas Pynchon (I read Gravity’s Rainbow three times), my reading list has been extensive. Of course I’ve only scratched the surface of world literature and don’t claim to have read everything or enough—and life being short, I never will.

But there’s been one enduring work from which I can’t walk away: Faust. Johann Wolfgang von Goethe began writing it in the 18th Century and completed in the early 19th, and I find myself compelled to return to this dramatic poem again and again. Part of this compulsion is the main theme of the two-part Faust: that of a human ever striving for excellence, but of course, never for perfection. (See my blog post “Abandon Perfection” for more on that.)

Faust served as the foundation of my doctoral dissertation, Towards a Production of Goethe’s Faust: A Dramaturgical Study of Criticism and Productions of Faust in English. In the 1990s I began working on a HyperCard presentation of the work; I still recall the robotic speech-synthesized voice reading the archangel’s line: “Swift, unimaginably swift…” and thought maybe the angels would be robots or androids. In the 21st Century, I wrote Virtual Obsession, with play, film, and web series versions about a college professor whose relationship with a student/webcam girl goes awry when he finds she is not his Gretchen or Helen, but rather his Mephistopheles—not the ewig weibliche, the eternal feminine, but rather a tormenting demon.

There’s a Star Trek: TOS episode where Kirk defends humanity against a false utopia, saying that humans must continue to move and grow. Perhaps that was the seed of my love of Faust and the echoing of that sentiment. In any case, that ever-striving continues to fuel my ambition, even in retirement.

Above: Faust turns to magic to transcend the confines of his high-vaulted, narrow Gothic chamber.

Published by stephenschrum

Associate Professor of Theatre Arts; interested in virtual worlds, playwrighting, and filmmaking. Now creating a podcast called "Audio Chimera."

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