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Kulturmensch

Faust Arantza de Areilza [1]

(Click here for this post in Spanish) [2]

I have always been fascinated by Faust [3]‘s legend which has its roots in the Middle Ages and to which successive generations have added their interpretations.  It is, perhaps, the idea of individual duality which underlies this Faustian legend: the complex relationships between good and evil, the man who is simultaneously good and evil, the fight between demons and gods in the heart of critical reason, the idea of the "elective affinities," as Goethe said, of ethics as a personal choice between conflicting values.

This Faustian myth underlines the Goethian idea that the study of humanity is man.  Faust speaks of the anxiety of wisdom and of its limits.  Faust longs for another soul, a limitless wisdom and search for the infinite saying "Remember that the devil is old, grow old, to understand him".

As Jose Maria González García [4] described in his great work "Las Huellas de Fausto" (The Footprints of Faust), the laws of elective affinity determine the relationships between men and impregnate the whole creation of the human spirit.  Elective affinities are these "forces of attraction and repulsion that move human sympathies, the contraposition between liberty and passion and the destruction of stable bonds by the interruption of a new element".  Elective affinities are, by definition, the fight between duty and disposition.

Goethe’s Faust sold his soul to the devil in return for learning and experimentation in his insatiable and unsatisfied search for freedom, in a historic context, in which man stopped being a man of culture, and chose to be a man of specialization, in an economy which, for the first time, divided work.  From the renunciation of the Faustian universality of the man indebted to work specialization, the Universal Man embodied by Goethe, died, immersed in destiny.

Like him, I believe that destiny is not a divine imposition, but rather a product of the daemon, "this interior demon which moves the thread of his own life and whose power is impossible to steal", in the words of García González.

But: How does our society present men and women who aspire to be Men of Culture?  What has been lost with the disappearance of the Universal Man?  Should we reclaim the Kulturmensch?