Monday, October 11, 2010

CBC Radio, le Carré, Faust and Mephistopheles

Faust: As soon as I stagnate, a slave am I,
   And whether yours or whose, why should I ask?

So, over the lovely Thanksgiving weekend back at home, as I was driving around and running some errands I was able to listen to the greater part of an excellent Eleanor Wachtel interview (on Writer's and Company) with John le Carré (The Spy Who Came in From the Cold), primarily discussed his new book, My Kind of Traitor, but in very general character sketch terms. Often the interview was brought back to Carré's (Cornwell's) personal experience in the spy trade, writing books, and growing up, and particularly his memories told in stories of his con-man father who significantly influenced John's life and writings, even to the point of being a character in the later.

At one point, near the end, the interview goes.. 

John: ... the ambiguity of love, and taking a moral stand, against a person who is visibly seducing others, taking money off them and that kind of stuff, and I couldn't handle that really. I mean, I had a terrible rouse with him (his father); I felt like a prig, so it was very difficult. And so these things go on working in one's mind, they don't go away. With age actually you think much more about what you did when you were young, and...  the yeast goes on rising and turning*, .. it's great..

Eleanor: .. I mean, when you go back and reliving it some more, you relive the pain too, though...

John: It's a bit like when Mephistopheles comes to Faust, he offers him all these pleasures, and Faust says, "I'm not talking about pleasure."

* Relistening to this passage I'm reminded that I'm in the market for a bread maker. I've basically narrowed it down to one of these two, but if anyone has some suggestions, please feel encouraged to let me know!

Great Faust throw in there buddy!... (really a fantastic interview all-round). I couldn't really find a direct quote in the poem**, but I'm really just looking at/for the general idea, which of course is fantastic. The journey not the goal, sort of thing. The good with the bad, the easy with the hard, and the right with the wrong. That's where the pleasure in life is really. The moral judgements you have to make, the difficult decisions eventually influencing every aspect of your life, consistent with the forks in the road. Fantastic. One of my father's favourite "jokes" to his patients when they come to him with pain is, "Well at least you know you're still alive."

** maybe this.. :
'Tis from this earth my pleasure springs,
    And this sun shines upon my sufferings;
Anyway, for those unfamiliar with Johann W. Goethe text, Faust, as I was for the most part, here's a great free translation of the poem here. It is a pretty witty read.

Spottily, from Wiki:

Faust is the protagonist of a classic German legend. Though a highly successful scholar, he is unsatisfied, and makes a deal with the devil, exchanging his soul for unlimited knowledge and worldly pleasures. Faust's tale is the basis for many literary, artistic, cinematic, and musical works. Faust, and the adjective Faustian, are often used to describe an arrangement in which an ambitious person surrenders moral integrity in order to achieve power and success: the proverbial "deal with the devil." The terms can also refer to an unquenchable thirst for knowledge.

Interestingly: The character in Polish folklore named Pan Twardowski presents similarities with Faust, and this legend seems to have originated at roughly the same time. It is unclear whether the two tales have a common origin or influenced each other. Pan Twardowski may be based on a 16th-century German emigrant to the then-capital of Poland, Kraków, or possibly John Dee or Edward Kelley. According to the theologian Philip Melanchthon, the historic Johann Faust had studied in Kraków, as well.


Also, from the Mephistopheles wiki: 

is a demon featured in German folklore. He originally appeared in literature as the demon in the Faust legend, and he has since appeared in other works as a stock character version of the Devil himself.

Greek elements may have played a part in the coining of the name, including Greek "not", phōs "light" and philos "lover", suggesting "not a lover of light" in parody of Lucifer ("light-bearer", a common epithet of Satan); in that case, the change from the presumed original mephoto- to mephist- may be due to a suggestion of the Latin mephitis ("a noxious exhalation from the ground; malaria").

Another possibility is a combination of the Hebrew words mephiz ("liar") and tophel ("destroyer").

Shakespeare mentions "Mephistophilus" in the Merry Wives of Windsor (Act1, Sc1, line 128), and by the 17th century, the name had begun to lead an existence independent of the Faust legend. Burton Russell finds, "That the name is a purely modern invention of uncertain origins makes it an elegant symbol of the modern Devil with his many novel and diverse forms."

Mephistopheles is also mentioned in two songs written and produced by Tran-Siberian Orchestra, while Power Metal band Kamelot have a song called "The March of Mephisto" and have based two of their albums on the Faustian legend.

Mephistopheles. Pray
    Don't let yourself be vexed beyond due measure.
    What good is it to reap immediate pleasure?
    The joy's not near so great, I say,
    As if you first prepare the ground
    With every sort of idle folly,
    Knead and make ready your pretty dolly,
    As many Romance tales expound.
Faust. I've appetite without that too.
Mephistopheles. Now jests aside, no more ado.
    With that good, lovely child, indeed,
    I tell you once for all, we can't use speed.
    There's nothing here to take by storm;
    To strategy we must conform.
Anyway, great read, listen, and weekend!