Ideas dispersas sobre Fausto / José Antonio Ramos Sucre

Scattered Ideas on Faust

Where was his legend born? No one can say with precision. In Germany there are various popular Fausts different from Goethe’s. In England there exists Marlowe’s, the Prodigious Magician in Spain; and lastly, the candid and fierce souls of the Middle Ages entertained themselves with narratives whose protagonists were the now anachronistic devil, ingeniously fooled by an individual who had made a deal with him. The best thing would be to respond to the previous question: Supposing humanity is essentially the same everywhere, the legend was born wherever men felt a thirst for wisdom, a longing for pleasures, a nostalgia for youth.
     Due to this uniformity in feeling among the human race it occurs that the genius does not create the matter of the masterpiece that immortalizes him and whose characters are permanent and cosmopolitan types. More than one book could be written about Dante’s precursors; the plot of Paradise Lost is from an Italian comedy whose performance Milton attended; some of Shakespeare’s dramas were inspired by novelistic or tragic narratives circulating in his time. This lack of originality far from diminishing the glory of genius increases it, making more visible the distance that separates it from the multitude. Moreover, the style of those superior beings is generally dark: their thoughts are surrounded by a cloud like the pagan gods.
     The majority of masterpieces are such by darkness and reading them usually does not increase the notion we had gleaned from hearing about them. It is natural for the teachings of geniuses to be enigmas; no one finds it strange that the volume of water fallen onto the earth from very high, wounds it deeply and shrouds it in evanescent mist. No wonder someone has said that what is clear is generally vulgar or that the beautiful presents itself clothed in a darkness and mystery that for some people causes anxiety, and for others respect.
     This different result for the unknown depends on each person’s temperament. One philosophy began with the notion that for man mystery is a torment; and Bacon on the other hand thought that when facing the unknown man would give in to a great degree, diminishing the audacity of his research.
     This difference in feeling should be imputed to the fact that writers attribute their opinions to humanity, because they hardly ever dare talk about themselves and instead of the frank and odious I employ the vague and impersonal one.
     In literature the darkness of style contributes to increasing the number of unconscious admirers who repeat and consecrate with fury the opinion of a few chosen figures with the gift of discernment or audacity. Among men of scarce talent the famous authors find their most determined supporters. It is known that when the human spirit fell ill with that divine fever of antiquity, the rhetoricians who interpreted the ancient authors attributed to them in their ignorant enthusiasm, ideas they had never held and beauty they had never thought.
     All these reflections are suggested by reading Goethe’s masterpiece, reflections of general and variable application. Misunderstood allusions, indecipherable scenes, grant it the mystery that gives prestige to famous temples, religions, ancient philosophies. In the book I found myself lost as in a labyrinth of discrete voices, fearful shadows, quiet steps, when I was served as a guide by the French poet Nerval, who was altered by the sacred madness of the Pythians and reached the same disappointing destiny as Lucretius. The gold of an immense beauty passed through my spirit, fleeting gold that turned in one of the scenes of the book into butterflies and fatuous flames when it was taken up by the spectators surrounding Pluto’s chariot, who was passing by scattering false riches.

First published in the magazine El Cojo Ilustrado, No. 488, Caracas, April 1913.

{ José Antonio Ramos Sucre, Obra completa, Caracas: Biblioteca Ayacucho, 1989 }

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