On Faust, Black Magic, and the Singularity:

‘It is the theme of black magic through which Goethe’s Faust is linked, in almost a sixteenth-century fashion, with Goethe’s morality of knowledge. What, we may well ask, can black magic mean to Goethe’s sophisticated mind? The black magic of Faust is the poetically fantastic rendering of Goethe’s belief that evil arises from any knowing and doing of man that is in excess of his “being.” Man aspiring to a freedom of the mind fatally beyond the grasp of his “Concrete imagination,” seeking power over life through actions that overreach the reaches of his soul, acquiring a virtuosity inappropriately superior to his “virtue” – this was Goethe’s idea of hubris, his divination of the meaning of black magic. Absolute activity, activity  unrestrained by the condition of humanity, he once said, leads to bankruptcy, and “everything that sets our mind free without giving us mastery over ourselves is pernicious.” He saw something spiritually mischievous, something akin to black magic, in every form of knowledge or technique that “unnaturally” raises mans’ power above the substance of his being. In his Faust black magic almost always works the perverse miracle of such “de-substantiation.” Whether Faust conjures up the very spirit of Nature and Life, the Erdgeist, only to realize in distracted impotence that he cannot endure him; whether the body politic is being corrupted by insubstantial paper assuming the credit that would only be due to substantial gold; whether Homunculus, a synthetic midget of great intellectual alacrity, is produced in the laboratory’s test tube, a brain more splendidly equipped for thinking than the brains that have thought it out: the creature capable of enslaving his creators; or whether Faust begets with Helena, magically called back from her mythological past, the ethereal child Euphorion, who, not made for life on earth, is undone by his yearning for sublimity – throughout the adventures of his Faust, Goethe’s imagination is fascinated, entralled, and terrified by the spectacle of man’s mind rising above the reality of his being and destroying it in such dark transcendence. This, then, is black magic for Goethe: the awful art that cultivates the disparity between knowledge and being, power and substance, virtuosity and character; the abysmal craft bringing forth the machinery of fabrication and destruction that passed understanding.’ – Erich Heller, “Faust’s Damnation” in The Artist’s Journey into the Interior and Other Essays.

[“BLA and GB Gabbler” (really just a pen name) are the Editor and Narrator behind THE AUTOMATION, vol. 1 of the Circo del Herrero series. They are on facebook, twitter, tumblr, and goodreads.]

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