Reviews

What the Editors Are Reading

I read Goethe’s Faust in college and had not looked into it again until the other day when, prompted by curiosity roused by Willi Jasper’s new book Lusitania: The Cultural History of a Catastrophe, I pulled a copy of the play off my shelf and began rereading with the idea of forming a better sense of the immense influence Faust had on imperial German culture before the Great War.  The reason for that is the German people’s pride in German Kultur and the scorn with which they regarded Zivilisation, meaning the culture of the rest of the West.  The story of Doctor Faustus was published first in 1587 and reworked immediately by Christopher Marlowe.  As everyone knows, it concerns a learned scholar who, having reached as he thinks the extremities of human learning, makes a pact with the Devil that allows him to master and practice the infernal arts.  To Germans in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, German Kultur was spiritual and idealistic, Western Zivilisation vulgar, excessively technological, and materialistic—in other words, hubristic and Faustian.  Thus the appeal of Goethe’s drama.  It is, indeed, a marvelous play, written in rough verse generally in couplets with four stresses, which makes the poetry far easier reading than, for example, a play of Shakespeare’s, but with Shakespearean insight and full of wise...

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