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Faust: The Seduction of Doubt

ByLeonardo F. Lisi

Perhaps the most striking aspect of Kierkegaard’s engagement with the figure of Faust is that it covers such a short span of time. The great majority of Kierkegaard’s statements on the topic stem from the earliest part of his authorship, the notebooks and journals from 1835 to 1837, a fact which has led previous scholarship to speculate that Kierkegaard was planning a larger work on Faust during this period. We know, for example, that Kierkegaard in these years closely studied not only Johann Wolfgang Goethe’s (1749-1832) famous work,1 but also a number of other versions of the myth, from popular accounts,2 through Gotthold Ephraim Lessing’s (1729-81) fragment3 and the novels of Maximilian Klinger (1752-1831),4 to the nineteenth-century plays by Christian Grabbe (1801-36)5 and Nicolaus Lenau (1802-50).6 Similarly, Kierkegaard took extensive notes to scholarly literature on the topic7 and compiled a long

1 See, for example, SKS 27, 146-7, Papir 180 / JP 5, 5160. Kierkegaard owned several editions of Goethe’s work: Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Werke, Vollständige Ausgabe letzter Hand, vols. 1-55, Stuttgart and Tübingen: Cotta 1828-33 (ASKB 1641-1668); Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Faust: Eine Tragödie, Stuttgart and Tübingen: Cotta 1834 (ASKB 1669). 2 SKS 17, 91, BB:9 / KJN 1, 84. See also Die Geschichte des Dr. Faust, die Abenteuer des Spiegelschwaben, nebst vielen andern erbaulichen und ergötzlichen Historien, in Ein Volksbüchlein, vols. 1-2, ed. by Ludwig Aurbacher, Munich: Literarisch-artistische Anstalt 1839, vol. 2 (ASKB 1461); and Johann Friedrich Köhler, Historisch-kritische Untersuchung über das Leben und die Thaten des als Schwarzkünstler verschrieenen Landfahrer Doctor Johann Fausts, des Cagliostro seiner Zeiten, Leipzig: Dykische Buchhandlung 1791 (ASKB 1463). 3 SKS 17, 90-1, BB:8 / KJN 1, 83-4. 4 SKS 27, 181, Papir 252:1 / JP 5, 5077; SKS 27, 185-3, Papir 252:4 / JP 5, 5080. Kierkegaard owned Klinger’s complete works: F.M. Klinger, Sämmtliche Werke, vols. 1-12, Stuttgart: Cotta 1842 (ASKB 1735-1738). 5 Christian Grabbe, Don Juan und Faust. Eine Tragödie, Frankfurt am Main: Hermannsche Buchhandlung 1829 (ASKB 1670). 6 See, for example, SKS 17, 244, DD:69 / KJN 1, 235; SKS 18, 83, FF:38 / KJN 2, 76. 7 See, for example, SKS 17, 104-6, BB:14 / KJN 1, 96-9; SKS 19, 90, Not2:2 / KJN 3, 86. See also August Koberstein, Über das wahrscheinliche Alter und die Bedeutung des Gedichtes vom Wartburger Kriege, Nuremberg: A.G. Bürger 1823 (ASKB 1742); Friedrich August Rauch, Vorlesungen über Goethe’s Faust, Büdingen: Hellerschen Hofbuchdrukerei

working on at this time remains unknown, but it seems likely that its abrupt end has to do with the appearance of a longer essay on the same topic by Hans Lassen Martensen (1808-84) in 1837.10 The only afterlife Kierkegaard’s early Faust-studies had is found in shorter discussions in two of his first books, Either/Or and Fear and Trembling, both from 1843, after which the figure all but disappears from his writings.11