Archive for December 2002

Reflections on Creativity

December 31, 2002

Last year I wrote a research paper on the philosophy of Mark Twain. Twain was a very cynical person. He thought that people are products of their environment and are entirely motivated by self-interest. Any man, he said, who does something good for his neighbor, is actually doing it to make himself feel better. Everything comes back to self. Also, he said, there are no new ideas. People are machines that simply process what they have heard and then spit it out again.This has been haunting me for the better part of a year.

I know that it’s not right. The logic is impeccable, but the feeling is gone. It just doesn’t seem to fit. Apparently, Twain’s philosophy did not work for Twain, either, because he later lost two of his three daughters and his wife to death, and it crushed him. Twain had no way to deal with his suffering. After the second daughter died (she was taking a bath, and the radio fell into the bathtub while it was plugged in), he wasted away to nothing. His philosophy could not save him then. It did not make him happy.

So, I have concluded, Mark Twain was wrong in his view of the world. Yet his logic is impeccable, and so many of the things he says are just, why, why isn’t it right?

Interpretation, I think. It’s a difference in interpretation. Twain saw things clearly, but in my humble opinion (and humble it must be to make such a claim) he did not quite see it correctly. He looked at simple things and saw too much in it, I think, like a man looking at a drawing of a circle and saying it is a representation of the union of God and Man. It may be, but perhaps it is just a circle. Ask the artist.

Do people act out of self-interest, and do they do the right thing because it makes them feel good? Often, yes, but I would also say that the right thing often does not feel good at all. There is a big difference between doing something because it feels good and doing something because it is right. Truth does not so much bring joy as it brings internal clarity and peace.

People often do the right thing out of self-interest, but I really do think there are two different kinds of motivation at work here. If all motivation was the same, then there would not be a difference between people doing the right thing for the right reasons and the wrong thing for the wrong reasons. Yet there obviously is. “The last temptation is the greatest treason; To do the right thing for the wrong reason.” (TS Eliot)

But, stepping back, isn’t self-interest what decision making is all about? You choose A because you want to. It’s your choice. That’s what making a decision is. Is it wrong? I don’t think so. There are bad decisions, but the concept of decision-making is not wrong and should not be dissed.

So now we come to the real point of this long journal entry: the idea that there are no absolutely original ideas. It’s disheartening at first, but then I realized, well… He’s right. You can’t make something out of nothing. New matter and new energy are not created or destroyed, simply converted into something else.

That’s one huge point of the debate over God’s existence – that matter wasn’t always around, was it? Didn’t something put it there? God, of course, would have to be something out of nothing, too, but I, personally, would take an eternal God over an eternal universe. Think on this: if the universe has existed infinitely, then an infinite amount of time would have passed before now – that is, the world has been around for an eternity before now. Since stars have a finite lifespan, all the stars would have burned out in the eternity that it took to get to now.

Anyway, you can’t create something out of nothing. That, I think, is why so many people get writer’s block or spend years trying to come up with a completely original idea, as I did – it’s the ultimate dream, to create something out of nothing, but it’s just not possible. Psychologists know this, too. Creativity is measured not by the ability to make something out of nothing, but by the ability to look at things differently, to think differently. Creative people are outside the box. They’re different. They’re weirdos, too, but hey, if everyone looked at things the same way, the world would stagnate like, well, beer I guess, and it wouldn’t taste good at all.

Creativity, eh. I’m a unique person, and the experiences I’ve had are unique. All of that goes into the things I make. My creations are not something completely different from me that just popped into my head and out onto paper; they are things that have developed inside of me and now are expressed openly, and they are beautiful. Creativity, too, is the ability to look at things differently – “wow, I never thought of it that way before, but I guess it is.”

The real answer, then, is to develop myself and express myself, rather than wait for something magical to happen. I’m really proud of something when I’ve put everything I have into it. No completely original ideas? Bah, bah to that I say, that is only because people -have- to put a part of themselves into everything they make. It is no tragedy. It is beauty. Because of that, men express themselves – who they are, what they have learned and seen and heard – and that is what communication is.


A Song of Myself

December 19, 2002


A song of myself?
It is quite a task to ask me for one on this night,
Having so recently failed to achieve what I wanted to achieve,
In school, in music, in sports, in service,
But I suppose it must be sung,
A battle-song as well as a sweet, introspective tune,
A question of what could be,
A hope for the future.

But hark! You, sweet reader, have heard enough dirges, I’m certain,
As the funeral march is the most popular song going in these grey, still days of December,
So I will turn instead to the window,
And, opening it, you can see what is inside my mind.
I wish you could have come some other time,
When my soul was not in the slow turmoil it is now,
My personality ground away by the world I have given myself and the work I have done,
But alas, here is a work in progress.

I will do my best, then, to rearrange the furniture, dust off the cabinet, and fix you a drink.
This mind is big enough for two, my friend, and if I have plied my trade well enough,
This window I have written will be easily large enough to let you come inside.
You are my honored guest, and I pray thee will enjoy my company on this warm winter’s night.


Two men meet at the top of a mountain.
The mountain is a sanctuary for men.
It shadows the vast forest, which blankets this part of the earth,
It displays the Sea of Eden, God’s gift to men, on the other side.

“Hallo!” says one. “How about that climb?
It was definitely something, up and up and up,
Never knowing how much farther and how much longer,
Jumping between jetties and hanging on to the mountainside for dear life,
Rocks and men crumbling and dropping back down to the ground,
Vowing never to look back at the mountain for the rest of their lives,
But it is finished! And I feel wonderful about it.
Throwing everything I had into the effort,
Willing myself farther than I ever thought I could go,
Emerging a far better and stronger man than I was.
And you, dear friend, how was your route?
Are you, too, glad for the effort?”

“I wouldn’t know,” says the other man.
“There was a rope elevator in the back,
So I had a free and easy ride to the top.
Congratulations to you, though.”

The first man, still winded from his journey,
Turns away and swallows the air in disgust.
“Congratulations to you, though,” he mutters.
“And here we are on the top of the same mountain,
Looking at the same beautiful sea.”
Then a thought strikes him,
He smiles, and he speaks:
“Well, we may be on top of the same mountain,
But I have the better view.”


When I was in kindergarten at Peter Rabbit,
And that was a great many years ago,
My best friend was a boy named Bobby.
He was not a pothead then (and – psst – he only pretends to be now),
A boy with shiny black hair and dark skin,
A particularly imaginative boy if not a particularly large one.
As far as children go, we were friends among men.

I remember once I had a strange illness,
And though I do not remember the name or the symptoms,
I do know that I was not, not, not, under any circumstances,
To eat a peanut buttery and jelly sandwich,
So, of course, my mother packed me the forbidden sandwich, and I ate it.

That afternoon, I went to Bobby’s house and we played his Atari,
A truly classic invention and the grandfather of game systems,
And we sat on a newly clean carpet, which Bobby’s mother had installed.
In the midst of a particularly exciting racing game,
The kind that is so invigorating that it makes your stomach churn and drives you into the throes of competition,
Willing yourself to best the other man’s effort and wagering your heart and your manly honor on every turn,
Yes, my friend, during one of these races I felt the excitement deep in the body’s smoke alarm,
That part of the chest where, when you feel something pushing upward on it,
You think in red flashing lights and realize your throat is just a fabric door-flap,
It cannot surging fury of a stomach that has had enough peanut butter and jelly,
That soon the great flood will flatten the town and you had best run to the exit sign.
Alas, alas, I did not reach the water closet soon enough to control the flood damage.

O peanut butter sandwich! O my soul!
Thou didst do me a great wrong, O my soul,
For there, in a Jackson Pollock spray of color,
Was my own sickness painted all over a fresh new canvas.
“And I just paid to clean this carpet,” I recall Mrs. Burns saying,
Sitting next to her friend and appraising my work.
I offered to clean it, but she refused.

(It would not be the last time I ruined a new carpet,
For some years later I would make the same error in a man’s new car,
Spitting up Cherry Coke and much, much more after hearing that classic joke of boyhood,
“What do toilet paper and the Enterprise have in common?”
“They both orbit around Uranus picking up Klingons!”
Ah ha ha! A grandly sophomoric joke, indeed.)

Thus, thus, gentle reader, as you can clearly see,
I have been in debt to Bobby Burns all my life.
While I have not been back to his house in eight years now,
I have certainly made sure than a token if me is always there,
Somewhere, in some molecules sticking to that carpet.

I suppose that the moral of this story,
(And by God, if I can derive a moral from throwing up all over my friend’s game room,
Then I am certainly a brilliant man!)
Is this: Do not pretend to be well, when you really are ill,
Watch what comes out of your mouth at friends’ houses,
Do not question Doctor Mom,
And never, ever give your children food and then tell them not to eat it.
A true man could never pass up a good sandwich.


Whew! It is a grand thing, but I am still at it,
And even now in better humor.
Here, let me tell you why I was so sad at this song’s beginning –
Today I learned that my honors physics teacher,
That champion of the grades-don’t-matter philosophy, Mr. Thomas,
Today gave me news that my semester grade will be an A-,
(My grade by percentages would be 94.5%, but Mr. Thomas deals only with 12-point scale – leaving me an 11.25 – and now pithy percentages,)
And this being the only A- of my high school career so far, it is hard news,
Having spent two years striving perfection, and now coming up short.
One day, my friend – one day changes all,
In one day, kingdoms rise and fall,
Millions of people enter the world, and millions leave it,
Somewhere, perhaps, a small occurrence, a smile or a laugh or a phone call, alters a life or saves it,
And this person, given a new lease on humanity, goes and changes other lives, and so love multiplies and humanity is better for it.
What a miracle it is, this desert life!
Even when we seem isolated and insignificant to the world as we know it,
There is always some chance that one person, one student, will find us inspiring,
And they will be happy because of us,
And they will change the world because of us.
There is this hope, and for me, there is another thing,
And it calls to me day and night, I toss and I turn and I wonder – is this true, is this a cry for attention, a futile dream? What is it?
And this is what I hear –
I am going to change the world.


Once upon a time, we were riding in the car,
…rrrrrrrrRRRRRRRRRRrrrrrrrr, I hear it now…
My little brother’s stomach was making the same noise,
So on that afternoon he became an activist.
“We want Burger King! We want Burger King! We want Burger King!”
Then he paused, as if a massive wave of profundity had driven him into the sand.
Seconds later, he picked himself up off the beach, dusted himself off, and began anew.
“I want Burger King! I want Burger King!”

If only the world’s revolutionaries were so honest!


“Mark the power of words!” said the great man to his audience.
“You have no idea of them sometimes, you laugh, even,
But truly, the expression of thought in writing can make all the difference in life.
A few weeks ago, I was prosecuting the case of a man in Marion County,
A man who had wheeled around a bend and shot a pursuing policeman,
And it was my great duty to bring him to justice in the court of law.
The defense said the man had fired behind himself and randomly hit a policeman,
That the trial should be for manslaughter, not death-penalty murder.
Here, though, I rediscovered the power of words, my students,
And in doing so I delivered justice to my community.
Using the forensics as evidence, I built the surging tide of my case,
Then I flattened the criminal with a torrent of English.
The man clearly had murderous intents, I said, due to his spray of bullets:
He created a ‘field of fire,’ a ‘leaden rain,’ a ‘kill zone.’
And then the conviction was mine, my brothers,
And another thug was pulled off the streets by the diction given to me by my alma mater, Princeton University.”
All were impressed save I, and no matter how I turned it over I could not reconcile myself with this dread truth:
“You have used your power of words to send a man to his death!”
But alas, none heard me, and our culture of death lurched onwards on celluloid wheels.
Poetic justice, they say, is neither cruel nor unusual punishment, but I say it is vengeance.


These are simple gifts, these warm, humid nights,
Especially when winter is banging on the door behind them.
Have you ever walked in the woods at night?
I have, I believe, but it was long ago.
I live in an open, empty place now, a converted cornfield transformed into an upscale neighborhood.
There was once a forest down the street, the last, dignified bastion of nature within two miles,
But all the life was shaved off the earth there,
The neighborhood will be called “The Woods.”

Still, though, I have fond memories of this place,
Of walking in the heavy rain and feeling the hand of God smash against me,
Of bending over and pulling clumps of wet leaves out of the sewer so the water could flow into it,
Of reluctantly walking in after my mother opened the door and shouted,
“James! Get inside before you get struck by lightning!”

Thank you, mother, but I suppose I never told you where I was one night last year,
Walking into a hot summer storm, stripping off my shirt, wandering up, down, up, down the street,
Drinking the rain, feeling life flow through my veins as never before, and knowing it,
Saying nothing, but wondering in the back of my mind, “Well, I will have to put this into writing some day.
This is what writers do, or at least what they should do.”
Then, having finished my communion with nature, I walked inside and took a warm shower.
I remember looking just under the showerhead, seeing the white panels on the wall, then the memory ends.

Nay, mother knows not of that time, or of the fog,
Waking up early, stepping outside into the darkness and going for a run,
Circling around the hills in the thickest fog of the year,
The world asleep, a tomb and as cold as one,
The lampposts of the fire station lighting my way through the mud,
Along with the occasional swimmer mother’s van slipping down the street.
The only sound in that blanket was my footsteps, wump, bump, wump, bump,
Echoing across the earth and disappearing in it,
Just as the earth envelops everything eventually.
Few are the men who see things in the low tide,
That vulnerable time in the morning when everything seems dead but is really on the verge of waking,
The soul’s midnight, as a man far wiser than I once said,
That time when all seems lost but the way out of the darkness is just around the corner.
How many have thrown their lives away at this time?
How many would if they knew these early morning hours?
Would we still have these with us if they knew it happened to everyone and was nothing to be ashamed of?
The weak people deserve our attention as much as the rest,
Every man who strikes a killing blow against himself strikes one against all of humanity,
As another great person, a new and completely unique package of thoughts and gifts and talents, is buried in the ground and never shown to the master again.

This nature, have I been trained to love it, or did I train myself?
Often I cannot tell where the books end and I begin.
Certainly my love of nature came not from my family:
My father, the lawyer, who started his own businesses at the age of 12,
My mother, born and raised in Long Island, New York,
And certainly not my grandmother, the strongest woman I have yet met.
Once, when my grandmother was driving with my little brother,
A squirrel hopped in front of my grandmother’s car, daring her to hit it,
And she had no second thoughts, plowing right through it with her Sport Utility Vehicle.
“Grandma! You just killed a squirrel?”
“Ahh, that’s OK. There’s a million of’em.”
Yes, if anyone taught me to love nature, it was definitely the Boy Scouts.
My family has not spent much time with it recently.

I once dreamed of walks in the woods,
Indeed, the dream of it was the hope of my summer not so long ago.
In my dream, I would walk in the woods with a girl,
A young woman with beautiful brown hair and a face sprinkled with freckles, like cinnamon on French toast,
A smile that would melt me like butter, a cute blue sweater and jeans,
Good sense (a thing I lack), good humor (which I do not lack, I hope), and a true friend.
A walk in the woods with the ideal woman, quite a thing,
But though the picture of my ideal life and my ideal relationship is always changing,
And sometimes it entirely disappears from view,
I think I will be quite all right, and things will come around my way in the end.
For now, I love nature and I love the woods.
In the woods there are no men, and in the woods, to me, there is peace.


Now I sit, nothing else pressing on my soul,
Thinking of the song I have just sung.
My heart is in the woods now, gentle reader, and we are walking together in them.
I veer off the forest path now, seeing a tree in front of me,
I see a branch hanging off the tree, and I pull it down to my level.
The tree swishes and leans forward in response,
The branch offers some resistance, but it is young and supple,
It bends but it does not break, as a good branch should.

Truly a woman is much like a plant in this,
Her flexibility only increases her strength.
She has this as long as she is alive, for women and trees both grow for many years,
They stay strong through countless pains and countless seasons,
And in the end they are the most respected of all in the things in the forest,
As were Elizabeth and Victoria of England, Hester and O-lan and my grandmother,
And above all, Mother Mary, who has been a source of strength to men and women for two millennia now.

I bend the branch now and look at the leaves,
Each is fresh and green and unique in a way all its own:
Water shivering and dancing on a hot stove,
An ice sculpture, as beautiful as life itself and just as fragile, immortal in its mortality,
Speaking to a group of people about service to others and calling it the “popcorn of the soul.”

My life is less than a quarter gone,
These thoughts are only the beginning.
In a year, or even a week, I will look at this song,
And I will say to myself, “Holy cow! Did I write this?
The thinking, so elementary! The style, so rough!
I am glad that my writing has improved as much as it has,
Or else I would be in truly dire straits.”
Then, a year later, I will look at the improved writing of a year ago,
And I will say exactly the same thing.
But then, is this not life? I embrace thee, life, and I love thee!

Truly there are no Chosen Ones in the world.
I used to wish people could look in my eyes,
And the mere sight of me would resonate deep within their soul and they’d say, “He’s the One!
There is the man who would save the world.”
I always imagined that they said these things to Whitman,
That all the “great men” sparkled and crinkled like aluminum foil wherever they went,
And people could always hear them coming and hope they’d make it into the story somewhere.
I think, though, that I was just playing too many video games.
In video games, the hero can walk into people’s houses and take their stuff and it’s perfectly all right,
Everyone magically knows the name of the hero wherever he goes,
And if the hero changes his name, everyone is alerted of the new one,
As if everyone has invisible telephone receptors in their heads,
The media giving public service announcements of people’s names everywhere they go.
Then again, monsters that live in the wilderness carry money and gold rings in video games, too,
So perhaps they’re not the most accurate judges of what humanity is like.

How odd, too, that I always come back to this thing, this dream of greatness in writing.
Is it a delusion, a desire to be accepted as intelligent and useful?
Or is it a calling? You cannot tell me, gentle reader,
Indeed, only the Father can, and I’ve always been somewhat afraid of his judgments.
Catholic I am, but also human.

To be a priest? This question forever nags at me:
I do not think I am suited for the job,
So perhaps it is just a reminder to serve God, but I know not.

To be a teacher? This too has occurred to me,
An English teacher, even, though you laugh,
But I would not know if I loved it until I tried it.

Then I wonder again, perhaps by always coming up short,
A 3.99 GPA, the fastest non-letter winner on the cross-country team, a perpetual 2nd chair in music,
God is showing me that high school is not truly my life.
I think there is something inside of me, but I am scared to death about what it is.
What do you think, my friend?
Is this the right way, or should I look elsewhere?
This much I know: I must do what I love,
And not concern myself with miracles.
Walking on water is easy until the first step off the boat.


Now it is twelve hours to seeing you again, gentle reader,
And while I would love to continue, it is simply not a wise proposition.
There are things left for me to do.
There are papers left for me to write,
Tests left for me to study for,
Sleep left for me to get, somewhere.

There is still much left for you to do, as well,
Songs of others you have yet to hear, and these from other troubadours,
All the songs beautiful and unique, and most of them less verbose, I am certain!

I hope, though, that you found this a great song,
And if you found the memory somewhat familiar,
Or at some time felt you had sung the same song before, perhaps in a different key,
This, this would be the greatest compliment to me of all.

Oh, and I do hope I did not fail the assignment.

Now I close the book on the semester,
And you and I, gentle reader, we walk out of the forest and back to my car,
And as we drive back to my house, look!
There is the mountain, the great peak that we all must climb some day.
Some day, when our earthly work is finished, we will see the top of it, you and I,
And then we will dive off it into the Sea of Eden and in the water we will return to it,
The world before the fall! And then we will see true beauty, for all here is but shadows and dust of what is to come,
And what is to come is not yet here.
So I open the window again and let thee out of my mind, and as you leave I call to thee, gentle reader, good friend, noble companion,

“Good night! Good night! A thousand good nights.”

The Wrong Way (Doctor Faustus)

December 5, 2002

In Ray Bradbury’s Something Wicked This Way Comes, the carnival workers are all people who enslaved themselves to Mr. Dark so he would grant them their inmost desires.  This concept is the heart of the story of Doctor Faustus.  The legend of Doctor Faustus is about a man who sold his soul to the devil for earthly gain; he finds that bargaining with evil and compromising his identity lead only to misery.

The source of the Faustus fable is Johannes Faustus, an ignominious German astrologer of the early 1500s (SparkNotes).  Most historical information about Faustus stems from personal accounts of the period, including those of Melanchthon, a noted theologian of the Protestant Reformation and a friend of Martin Luther (Goethe Garden 16; Shepherd).  Faust was apparently born in Knittlingen, Württemberg, in 1480.  He studied magic at Poland’s University of Cracow and then claimed that he could reproduce any one of Jesus’s miracles whenever he wished.  Some, like Martin Luther and Melanchthon, despised Faustus, but others invited him to become a schoolteacher.  His first tenure was disastrous, however; he molested the boys in his care and had to flee the town after he was discovered (Goethe Garden 16).

Faustus later surfaced in Erfurt, where he once lectured on Homer and then summoned the bard’s heroes for the amusement of his students.  Konrad Klinge, a Franciscan monk, rebuked Faustus’s godlessness; the doctor replied that he had made an eternal agreement with Satan and could never return to the right: “The devil has kept faithfully what he promised me; so I, too, want to keep faithfully what I have promised and pledged to him” (Goethe Garden 17).  The monk expelled him from the university.  According to legend, Faust also rode out of Auerbach’s Keller in Leipzig on a barrel; Johann Wolfgang von Goethe was later a patron of the same bar (Hi Potentials).  Before sailing for Venezuela in 1535, German adventurer Philip von Hutten asked Faustus for an oracle; he later wrote to his brother that everything Faustus predicted had come true (Tewflik; Goethe Garden 17).  Some observers, including Melanchthon, said the devil accompanied Faustus in the form of a black dog.  Faust reportedly died in Staufen im Breisgau in 1540 (Goethe Garden 17).

The story of Faust spread quickly.  In 1587, the anonymous work Historia von D. Iohan Fausten was published in Germany, and the English translation surfaced five years later.  The work inspired Christopher Marlowe’s classic play, Doctor Faustus, first written in 1592 and published in 1604.  The legend also inspired Goethe’s masterpiece, the epic poem Faust (SparkNotes).

Faust is now a part of the popular consciousness.  Richard Wagner made it a symphony (Wagner), while Gounod and Berlioz wrote Faustian operas (Gounod; SparkNotes).  Faust’s entertainment of nobles with visions of the past and future formed the premise of Herman Hesse’s “An Evening With Doctor Faustus,” a short story about the terrors of the industrialization and commercialization of Germany (Hesse).  Hollywood embraced the story with the romantic comedy “Bedazzled” (Erickson).  According to legend, blues guitarist Robert Johnson sold his soul to the devil for otherworldly guitar skills; he died at age 28 after a jealous husband poisoned Johnson for making advances on the man’s wife.  In his final hours, Johnson purportedly pranced about like a dog and foamed at the mouth.  His last words were “I pray that my redeemer will come and take me from my grave” (Koda).  One episode of The Twilight Zone, “Escape Clause,” tells the story of a hypochondriac who sells his soul to the devil for immortality.  The man grows tired with life and murders his wife to get the death penalty; he is instead sentenced to life imprisonment and thus activates the contract’s escape clause, dying of a heart attack and yielding his soul to Satan (Cregg).

While the Historia provided a blueprint for the Faust tale, Marlowe and Goethe truly fleshed out the character and story.  At the beginning of the tale, Doctor Faustus is a great scholar who is unsatisfied with his life (Marlowe 2-3; Goethe New 20).  In Marlowe’s version, he desires power and pleasure beyond his wildest dreams; he and his friends Valdes and Cornelius want to “make all the nations canonize us. / As Indian Moors obey their Spanish lords / So shall the subjects of every element / Be always serviceable to us three” (Marlowe 7).  Marlowe’s Faust agrees to twenty-four years of earthly luxury in exchange for Mephistopheles’s services and signs the contract in blood (12-14, 22-23).  Goethe’s Faust, on the other hand, says, “Understand, once for all – pleasure is not the question! / To poignant joy and tumult I long to yield, / To exhilarating rage, enamored hate; / Nor shall my heart, from thirst of knowledge healed, / Henceforth to any sorrow bar the gate” (Garden 60).  Loneliness and the desire to really experience life motivate this Faust.  His blood pact with Mephistopheles includes the stipulation that Faust will forfeit his life the moment he is completely satisfied with it (56-59).

The devil is more than faithful to his end of the agreement.  All manners of men are impressed by Faust’s trickery, from emperors and dukes (Marlowe 42-44, 50-51; Goethe Garden 34-36) to fellow scholars (Marlowe 52-55) to tavern drunks (Goethe New 74, 80-82).  He woos the seamstress Margarethe, called Gretchen, with the grudging aid of his faithful servant, Mephistopheles, who much prefers a polygamous lifestyle (Goethe New 94-96, 99, 112, 125-126, 134-136; Marlowe 24).  Faust’s final paramour is Helen of Troy, “the face that launched a thousand ships” (Marlowe 52-55; Goethe Garden 39-41).  Mephistopheles grants Faust everything he desires, including a world tour (Marlowe 42), a youth formula (Goethe New 83-84, 89-90, 93), the martial aid of the Three Mighty Ones of the Hebrew King David (Goethe Garden 42), the destruction of other men’s property to sate Faust’s jealousy (435-437, 443-447, 453), and the construction of palaces and the drainage and landscaping of swamps (463-469).

Faust attains much through his partnership with Mephistopheles, but he finds to his dismay that any blessing the devil gives men twists into a curse.  Two young boys steal one of Faust’s books and call Mephistopheles to do their bidding, and he turns them into a dog and an ape for their trouble (Marlowe 38-42).  Mephistopheles grants tavern men every wine they desire, but every spilled drop bursts into flames (Goethe New 80-82).  When Faust asks Mephistopheles and the Mighty Ones to destroy an old couple’s trees but move the people to a different location, the Mighty Ones kill and ransack everything (Goethe Garden 453).  After Margarethe’s affair with Faust, Faust kills her brother Valentine; as Valentine is dying, he denounces Margarethe as a whore (Goethe New 144-146).  Gretchen gives birth to Faust’s child, then kills it and receives an execution sentence.  When Faust arrives to save her, she is almost totally insane and refuses to leave the prison and certain death (176-181).  Faust’s relationship with Helen of Troy also meets a tragic end; after the death of her child with Faust, she is overcome with grief and perishes (Goethe Garden 39-41).

Though the price of Mephistopheles’s work is Faust’s soul, Faust initially believes himself immune to the supernatural consequences of his actions (Marlowe 23-24).  When Mephistopheles warns him that every day of eternal separation from God is a living hell, Faust rebukes him: “What, is great Mephistopheles so passionate for being deprived of the joys of heaven? / Learn thou of Faustus manly fortitude / And scorn those joys thou never shalt possess” (14).  “The beyond fills me with small concern, / If you dash this world to fragments first, / The other may arise in turn,” he echoes in Goethe’s version (New 57).

Despite this bravado, Faustus is a weak man who cringes when confronted with the full brunt of his actions.  In Marlowe’s play, Faust repeatedly fears for his soul but decides to keep things the way they are and remain miserable (Marlowe 18-19, 26, 29, 54-61).  In Goethe’s tale, Faust summons the Earth Spirit, but when the Spirit appears, Faust is terrified by him and cringes in a corner.  “Thou who dost encompass the wide world, / Creative Spirit, how similar we are!” stammers Faust.  The Earth Spirit responds, “Thou resemblest the spirit thou canst understand / Not me!” (New 18-19).

Heaven and hell grapple for control of Faust throughout his life.  God and Mephistopheles wager for his soul (Goethe New 12), and a choir of angels saves Faust from an attempted suicide (26-28).  A good angel and a bad angel are the doctor’s constant companions, arriving whenever he is in conflict and making cases for their own sides (Marlowe 18-19, 26, 29).  The host of Hell, including Lucifer and the Seven Deadly Sins, visit Faust to ensure his loyalty (29-32).  A mysterious Old Man rebukes Faustus to choose the path of righteousness and prays for his salvation (53-56).

The conflict between good and evil culminates at the end of Faust’s life.  In Marlowe’s story, Faust believes he is too weak and flawed for God’s forgiveness, and he is carried away by devils at the end of twenty-four years (57-61).  In Goethe’s, Faust is finally satisfied when he learns to accept and appreciate himself and his life, learns to be happy with every day as it is, and starts working to improve the lives of others (Goethe Garden 457, 463-9).  When Mephistopheles and his devils crouch around Faust’s body, preparing to snatch his soul, angels arrive and defeat the demons with the piercing power of love (479-487).  Faust is carried up into heaven and reunited with Margarethe for eternity (493-503).

When Doctor Faustus sold his soul to the devil, he received earthly power and pleasure, but the consequences of giving up his self to the forces of evil left him miserable and unhappy.  The theme of the story is stated early in Goethe’s book when Faust asks Mephistopheles what he should be if the devil couldn’t make him a god.  Mephistopheles replies, “You will be in the end just what you are! / Get yourself a wig with curls a score, / Get yourself stilts a yard high or more, / You will be in the end – just what you are!” (New 61).  Faustus, just like Bradbury’s carnival workers, trades in his identity for his wishes and finds himself unhappy with the bargain in the end.  He does not become happy until he accepts life, love, and himself and devotes himself to the service of others.  Doctor Faustus is an account of a German doctor of the 1500s, but it is also a tale of man’s dealings with good and evil and his appreciation of himself and the world.

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