Germanic Studies chair David Wellbery described Faust as a romantic-age pioneer, a modern vagabond, and a protean source of artistic inspiration at the Humanities Day keynote address Saturday. Wellbery’s lecture, “Who Is Faust?”, packed Mandel Hall.
Now in its 31st year, the mission of Humanities Day is to make scholars and their research accessible to the general public. According to Wellbery, Faust was the perfect subject for the address because the character appears in so many adaptations, and connects to every aspect of the humanities.
“Faust belongs to no one work, genre, or medium. It exists through all art forms,” he said.
Faust, who according to German legend made a deal with the devil in return for knowledge, has been portrayed in works by Beethoven, Mahler, Marlowe, and Mann, and has been described as one the greatest figures of the Romantic age.
Goethe, one of Germany’s most important authors, published the first part of his account, called Faust, in the early 1800s. It took Goethe 30 years to complete the tale.
According to Wellbery, the story of Faust should be seen as the modern version of the Homeric epic or the Divine Comedy.
Wellbery compared Faust to his literary counter-part, Don Juan. While Don Juan loves fighting and women, Wellbery said, Faust stands separated by one degree from experience: He loves the love of women and the idea of fighting.
For Faust, Wellbery said, “to have an experience for the sake of that experience is not an experience at all.”