Academic journal article German Quarterly

Fausts Kolonie. Goethes kritische Phänomenologie der Moderne

Academic journal article German Quarterly

Fausts Kolonie. Goethes kritische Phänomenologie der Moderne

Article excerpt

Jaeger, Michael. Fausts Kolonie. Goethes kritische Phänomenologie der Moderne. Wurzburg: Königshausen & Neumann, 2004. 668 pp. euro49.80 paperback.

As successive generations and ideological standpoints have each had their Goethe, each has also had its Faust. This history can in part be described as a series of responses to the play's obsession with time and history. Like Faust calling out to an elusive "moment," the play's critics have recurrently discovered in the work a snapshot of this or that modernity. In Nietzsche's irritated account in Unzeitgemässe Betrachtungen, Faust's is a weak modernity that stands in contrast to that of a revolutionary age engendered by Rousseau. Notoriously, 20th-century critics from both the right and left would cite the play as a whole and the notion of Faustian "striving" in particular in support of their own modern programs of action. In his Fausts Kolonie. Goethes kritische Phänomenologie der Moderne, Michael Jaeger underscores the rather different historical context and intentions of his own account. Distinguishing his interpretation from those that have in various ways celebrated Faust's exploits, Jaeger's reading situates itself, in its more bleakly critical approach, as both post-War and post-Wall.

Jaeger's analysis is biographically anchored. To understand Goethe's Faust, he argues, is to understand the trauma inflicted on the play's author by the French Revolution and its political aftershocks. As Jaeger repeatedly reminds us, the July Revolution of 1830 constitutes what Goethe calls the "greatest intellectual challenge" ("größe Denkübung") of his life (11 and passim). But already after 1789, Goethe uses the Faust-drama to create a poetic "phenomenology" of-and coming-to-terms with-the upheavals in France (331). Goethe distances himself from Faust as he does from Werther. By the time we get to Faust's concluding scene in Act y it is clear that Goethe bears "no feelings of identification or even sympathy" for his protagonist (255-56). Instead, he depicts in this figure a particularly modern "pathological," "autistic" (406) subjectivism. Faust's momentary insight into the truth of "many-hued reflection" ("farbigen Abglanz" [1. 4727]) is the exception that proves the rule (492); Faust's life is marked by the inability to reflect, and by a destructive project of colonization that originates in a repressed fear of death (416, 434). Accordingly, Faust's "radical Promethean revolt follows the same uncompromising self-justifying logic of the Revolution," and of the Reign of Terror (153-54). …

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