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The Scholar-Image in Goethe’s Faust:A Pre-Modern Illustration of “Modernity without Restraint”

Gu Yu

The protagonist of Goethe’s Faust, Eine Tragödie, a scholar and intellectual, was reshaped by Goethe himself as the writing developed. In the first period (about 1770’s), Goethe was so inspirited by the traditional scholar satires of the late medieval and early modern times, that he ironically portrayed the scholastic pedantry and pride; in his second creation stage (around 1800), Goethe devoted every effort to the depiction of the image of a scholar who, relying on his knowledge, betrayed God and made a pact with the Devil for the realization of his inflated ambition; in the last writing stage, Goethe’s protagonist became a scientist and even Pope of the academic world who arrogated the order of creation by conducting experiments of homunculus. Through the characteristic development of scholar Faust, Goethe visualized the whole course of human being who, deviating from the guide of “supreme good”, deprived of his practical reason, and driven by passions and desires, put his unrestrained will into practice in the unlimited seizing of power, which leads to the transformation of the nature and the destruction of the traditional orders. By presenting a scholar as an instance of human reason and intellect, Goethe traced the “modernity without restraint” back to the pre-modern time.