In a previous article, I described Goethe as a Renaissance man. I said he was both a proponent of individualism and a student of esotericism. I compared him to Pico della Mirandola and Leonardo da Vinci. One thing I failed to mention is that Goethe was also a skilled scientist, as was da Vinci and other Renaissance intellectuals. The interesting thing about it, however, is that Goethe’s scientific methodology was quite different than what we call the “scientific method” today. I am of the opinion that his methodology can be harmonized with his esoteric interests.
Returning to Faust, the opening scene called Night has Faust seated at his desk, restless and troubled. He is a great intellectual; he has studied philosophy, medicine, jurisprudence, etc., but has not found what he is looking for. He has realized that systematic knowledge, the product of discursive thinking, is not satisfying his hunger for truth. He must transcend this type of thinking, he must get to the inner core of knowledge. Faust seeks a different way of perceiving the outside world. I believe he is seeking an unmediated perception of Nature. Faust desires to stand beside the archangels in the Prologue in Heaven. He longs to share their experience of the Ineffable, which is probably more akin to The One of Neoplatonism. He says,
So I’ll discover what it is that binds
The world together, so that I’ll find
The forces stirring in the seed,
And from spinning, empty words be freed.
Faust believes that the perception of truth, which he is longing for, is not to be found in a personal deity, as in Christianity. Rather, truth lies in Nature itself, in the “forces stirring in the seed.” He desires to know what “binds the world together.” So, even though we have already seen many allusions to a world of conflicting opposites, still there is a unity, and there is a something that brings about this unity. The words of discursive thinkers are “spinning, empty,” but in this One (for want of a better word to describe “that which unites”) there is a path to truth as it is in itself. This, obviously, is a form of pantheism. Perhaps Faust’s vision of the moon suggests the nature of the alternative form of perception he is seeking. It begins with images of light, a motif we have already seen in the sun-symbolism of the Prologue:
O glowing moon . . .
Faust believes that in the macrocosm one can discover truth concerning the microcosm. Hence, when one attempts to sense Nature as it is in itself, one gains self-knowledge, which, in my opinion, is what Faust (and Goethe) really wants. Faust believes that Nature and man are one, thus allowing man to learn about himself through Nature. Nature is not to be studied so that we can stuff computer hard-drives full of scientific data, analyze it, sift through it, and catalog it. Rather, Goethe believes that Nature should be studied so we may gain self-knowledge.
Furthermore, the basis of Faust’s frustration stems from his inability to derive self-knowledge from discursive reasoning alone. I believe Goethe is telling us that we need to transcend discursive reasoning, not jettison it altogether, and to unite it with a higher order of perception, which comes when we truly attempt to see Nature as it is.
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