A challenge to the usual interpretation of Faust
I’ll present a challenge to the usual interpretation of Faust:
I think Faust might be misunderstood due to the zeitgeist in which his story is set. I like to present an alternative reading of the Faust-myth.
The stories of Dr. Faust are well known to be set in the Christian middle ages. Faust is placed between the two main forces of that time: God and the Devil. These two are undoubtedly christian elements, but Faust surely isn’t. Faust is a manifestation of the etearnal European spirit, and in this sense a (albeit flawed) metahistorical figure.
Faust seeks to break the boundaries of man and therefor of the known world. While God seeks to impose and guard his order in the world, the Devil seeks to break down this order. The knowledge Faust seeks is not some practical information to enhance his career or expand his wealth. His quest transcends all this and he wants to understand all, including the dychotomy of God-Devil. Faust wants to rise above God and the Devil and overlook both of them.
A more primordial and more fundamental view of the world than good vs bad or God vs the Devil, is the view of Order & Chaos. While the former are dichotomies, Order and Chaos are also opposite forces but they differ in the fact that they are both complementary forces. Pre-christian Europe was based on spirituality and not on religion. While (in a nutshell!)religion is usually more focused on law, spirituality is usually more focused on principles. Spirituality should rightfully be considered higher than religion. This is of course a simplification, but it’s true enough to use it to illustrate my point. Faust left the plain of religion and rose to the plain of spirituality, and thus performed in a way a primordial, even pagan act of initiation.
Spiritual man puts his soul at risk by taking on the elemental forces in order to rise through initiatory death and resurrection. And in Europe this means taking on the forces of Order & Chaos. A bit like Odin seeks to allign the Aesir (who protect the order in Midgard) and the Jotunn (who are primordial chaotic forces) in such a way that the world is up for the initiatory battle of Ragnarok. In Ragnarok the two forces oppose each other and Odin’s aim is not just to win a battle, but to protect the life force itself so it can be reborn in Balder, who is a personification of the sacred light. This makes Ragarok an initiation followed by a ressurection of life. Odin rises above Order and Chaos by alligning them both for this purpose.
Back to Faust. Faust sees himself placed between to forces of good and evil, which although of a lesser meaning than Order and Chaos are still the main forces of that time. He seeks a knowledge that will place him above these two, knowing that it might crush him in between. He thus seeks a transcending ordeal in which the old Faust dies and the new über-Faust might be born.
Faust can not and should not be considered a hero or a spiritually enlightened man. But he does possess the spark of the inner sacred fire. And he does seek a way upwards that touches upon the anti-gravitational spirit. In this sense he shows a lightning, sudden insight, a primordial force. Maybe even a sudden flash of Will.
– Roger Dols