sábado, 8 de junho de 2013
The Faustian Principle by Beat Wyss
Goethe defined the practice of descriptive interpretation which he used in his scientific writings as ‘morphology’. Spengler repeatedly stresses what a paradigm this method of research was for his own philosophy of history. ‘Drafts for a morphology of world history’ is the lesser-known subtitle of the Decline. The source of this method is found in Goethe’s poem on the metamorphosis of the leaf. The leaf is seen in embryonic form in the seed; it then becomes erect on the growing stem where it multiplies finally in the petals forming the flower head; when the fruit ripens, the leaf dies. Spengler’s four-stage cultural cycle is akin to the development of a vegetable organism; it germinates in the seed of the Romanesque, climbs the movement of upward I) striving Gothic art and finally attains the floral magificence of the Baroque. Only in the last phase do Goethe’s flower symbol and Spengler’s image of culture part ways: while the wilted plant conceals the seed of regeneration, the desert climate of civilization can only produce nutshells containing no kernel.
The aim of Goethe’s morphology is to identify what is typical and constant in the metamorphoses of this life. ‘Form is a mobile thing that develops and passes away. The theory of form is the theory of transformation. The theory of metamorphosis is the key to the symbols found in nature.’ (21) What is constant in the multiplicity of species and in the different ways a plant grows is the leaf, the Idea of the plant as such - Goethe calls this the ‘original phenomenon’. The aim of Spengler’s Decline is to arrive at a vision of the original phenomenon in world history. The universal idea of a cultural cycle is its expansion in the space made by time. The nature in which the cultural organism lives out this feeling of depth is the key to deciphering its Weltanschauung. Every culture has a basic image for its aspiration to leave the ‘Here’ and attain a ‘Yonder’: for this reason, maintains Spengler, every culture has one basic style, which it then moderates — as a plant modulates its leaf-shape - according to the four phases of its development. How is the path through history perceived? This question leads us to the primordial form of a cultural sphere. Arabia, for instance, perceives the world as a magically shimmering cavern; it stands in contrast to the Greek world, which is a cosmos of plastic, tangible bodies. ‘Cavern’ and ‘body’ therefore define the prime phenomena of Arabia and of the classical world respectively. For the West, the idea of ‘limitless space’ is most appropriate. Here the sense of the world floats off into infinity, on a quest for Valhalla:
What is Valhalla? Unknown to the Germanic peoples who migrated from the East, and even unknown to the Merovingians, it was imagined by the awakening Faustian soul, doubtless under the influence of myths of Graeco-pagan and Arabo-Christian origin that spread northwards from these two older and more southerly cultures, whose classical or sacred writings, ruins, mosaics, miniatures, ritual acts and dogmas penetrated into every corner of the new life. Yet despite this, Valhalla floats in a space beyond all perceptible reality, in distant, dark, Faustian regions. Olympus is fixed within reach, in the soil of Greece; the Paradise of the Christian fathers is an enchanted garden somewhere in the depths of a magical cosmos; Valhalla is nowhere.
True. In Dr. Faustus’ striving without result, Spenglers era recognises its own original phenomenon. The legendary necromancer enjoys widespread popularity: the German soldier goes off to the front in the First World War ‘with Goethe’s Faust in his knapsack’; on his death in 1936, in accordance with the instructions in his testament, Spengler is buried with a copy laid beside him. In 1947, Thomas Mann completed a strikingly accurate character study of this fateful representative of German identity.
Spengler likes portraying the Faustian soul in contrast to the classical physique: ‘The hour of Apollo is high noon, when Pan sleeps. Valhalla is sunless. Even in the Edda, one has a sense of those deepest midnights that Faust spends brooding in his study: midnights that are captured in Rembrandt’s etchings or that drown the tonalities of Beethoven’s music.’ (23) Such sentences express a final turning away from the nineteeth-century reception of the ancient world. In the second decade of the new century, the Greek world depicted in the paintings of Arnold Bocklin and the writings of Jacob Burckhardt and the young Nietzsche faded. One of the works that led this change in attitude was Wilhelm Worringer’s thesis, published in 1908, entided Abstraction and Introduction. This brilliantly written early work distinguishes between the sensuous imitation of nature found in the classical Mediterranean and the northern Gothic denial of the body.
Worringer’s theories have a lasting influence on Spengler. The paradigm of the classical world, its normative power over contemporary an, is rejected. The reliance on Greek culture is vain longing for a lost age. In the borrowed form of a Greek hero, the unhappy European dreams up for himself a fulfilled existence. Hellas is where Faust’s unquenchable desire takes him: it is a wish for Nirvana, a Beyond where there is room for everything that the soul doomed to eternal wandering must leave behind in reality. In the quest for ultimate fulfillment, the West forces itself into the alien mask of the ancient gods. Spengler calls the mistaken attempt of one culture to conform to the mould of another ‘pseudomorphosis’. His philosophy of history, according to which each culture grows and declines as a windowless monad, admits no cross-fertilisation between different cultures.
What does Faust hope to find in the Greek world? He has fallen in love with the unattainable. In the inaccessible classical world he glimpses the Euclidian body that is withheld from him. This delight in sensuousness, this blissful togetherness in ideal physical form - this is what the dark Faust desires as his alter ego. He gazes enviously after the carefree propensity for self-gratification that in the end makes one go soft. He has to deny himself this path. How different is the admirer from his Ideal; the Western character portrait is rough-hewn in comparison with the 'womanish impression’ (26) made by the Greek sculpture oft the fifth and fourth centuries B.C. It comes as no surprise that Winckelmann, the foremost venerator of Greek art, is said to have had homosexual leanings. The principal subject for the visual arts in the classical era is the nude. Western artists have struggled in vain to represent the naked body. ‘A Faustian nude is a contradiction in terms.’ (27) An example of this is seen in the bared muscle power in Michelangelo’s figures: nowhere can they be seen in restful harmony within their physical proportions; these people writhe within the cages of their bodies, as if a negative will were crying ro wrench arms, legs and corso apart by putting them through exaggeraced contortion».
The anguish felt by the self trapped in such a body is expressed in the tortured faces of Day and Night in the Medici Chapel in Florence. The physical body stands in the way of a boundless quest for the Absolute. Only the modern European experiences the polarity between self and the world in such a tragic way. The ancient world engenders a space where everything is within reach; its culture could be defined, in Riegl’s terminology, as ‘haptic’ as opposed to the ‘optical’ West. The Greeks attained mastery in sculpture, Western Europeans in painting. They arc drawn by the distant; again and again, their gaze loses itself on the horizon, in the clouds, in the movements of the air. ‘With Leonardo and Giorgione. Impressionism begins’: (28) this is the original style in which the Faustian Weltanschauung presents itself. Impressionism could not be further removed from the classical age; it denies the world of Euclidian bodies. The ancient world, which could only express itself in the tactile, had no feeling for far-off things. Its landscape painting is restricted to ‘the imitation of the immediately visible’ (29). The meaning of landscape is first discovered with Faust’s longing for distant lands. The Westerner cannot abide his own narrow sphere for very long. Bliss is where he is not.
21. Goethe, Morphologie, note p. 573.
22. Spengler, Oswald: Der Untergang des Abendlandes: Umrisse einer Morphologie der Weltgeschichte. (1918-1923) München 1980, pp. 238f.
23. Ibid., 241.
24. Ibid., 348.
25. Ibid., 350.
26. Ibid., 339.
27. Ibid., 346.
28. Ibid., 308.
29. Ibid., 396.
30. Ibid., 425.
31. Ibid., 394.
32. Ibid., 445.
33. Ibid., 51.
In: Hegel's Art History and the Critique. Cambridge, 1999. pp. 195-199.
Goethes Faust - Die Puppenshow für Erwachsene Freiburger Puppenbühne