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This review is taken from PN Review 67, Volume 15 Number 5, May - June 1989.

ACTION MAN J.W. von Goethe, Faust, Part One, translated by David Luke (Oxford University Press) £15, £2.50 pb

Faust himself is a translator. Early in Goethe's play he struggles to find an equivalent for the Greek text of St John. Like most translators he is not satisfied with his first attempt (which seems to have satisfied everyone else): 'In the beginning was the Word.' No, he says, he cannot value the Word so highly. He tries other versions of logos and finally writes: 'In the beginning was the Deed!'

Now he is satisfied. So he should be, because the whole of the rest of the play of Faust springs from these words. The deed is not only in the beginning, it is always and everywhere; movement is fundamental to life, energy is the moulder of matter. Through affirming the central importance of activity, Faust has released more than he knows. It works like an incantation. The words are hardly out of his mouth when Mephistopheles emerges, transformed from the black poodle.

In his effort to conjure up the secret of life, Faust has conjured up the Devil. What is the difference? The personality of Mephistopheles is one human interpretation of the facts around us. Our exposure to experience invites him, the representative of confusion. The Devil is an opinion, and it has long been held that man has nothing properly his own but the use of his opinions. Faust, in the act of translation, has entered the stream of experience through which he must go, however hostile it may seem.

In ...


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