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To shoot after Faust with a shotgun

There is a lot of light, sound and timely embrace of #metoo in We Must Talk About Faust. But less Faust.


Caused by National Theater's setup by Thorleifur Örn Arnarsson and Mikael Torfason's piece We need to talk about Faust, which premiered Saturday 26. January, we received our sixth translation by Johann Wolfgang von Goethes Faust. The first part of the tragedy (1808). Elisabeth Beanca Halvorsen's translation is thus in line with the two gentlemen's eclectic spin-off from Goethe's classic.

I pass the test in the evening on Wednesday 23. January, and I've read the new translation. Director Arnarsson made it clear to the around thirty spectators that the play was far from finished and that from the beginning we would only see parts of the entry after the break. The beginning was underway as I entered the auditorium with the rest of the audiences. Young girls scattered across the hall hummed a theme as an introduction to a tram gang (with almost only girls) backed by text posters projected onto the stage launching a manifesto for a feminist rereading of Goethe's Faust. The play is said to be typical of a male epic tradition where only men are real people, and women are referred to as attributes, desires, and scenes. Very grotesque, the Gretchen character of the Faust drama is interpreted to be; a 14-year-old girl who is seduced by Faust (Mefisto makes this possible) – and who then becomes desperate and kills her own child.

Mephisto (Nader Khademi)
Mefisto (Nader Khademi) and his car.

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe: Faust. The first part of the tragedy
Translated into Norwegian and with preface by Elisabeth Beanca Halvorsen 220 pages Gyldendal, 2019.

Thorleifur Örn Arnarsson and Mikael Torfason: We need to talk about Faust, Based on Goethe's Faust Part 1 og Faust Part 2, Screenplay 5.3 (January 24, 2019)


Criticism of Goethe's women's characters has been common since the late 60s – in Germany, well noticeable. Here in Norway we do not know Faust like our own pants pocket – Peer Gynt it has our place with us. This criticism has little to do with Norwegian academics or the public, and it therefore appears as a rabid news when Arnarsson and Torfason fillerists Faust to transform Gretchen from a flat to a circular character (to use EM Forster's terminology).

It seems rabid news when Arnarsson and Torfason fillerists Faust to transform Gretchen from a flat to a circular character.

The National Theater describes this as a deconstruction of Faust, but it is not. A deconstruction has no goal. In this piece, the goal is to develop and recreate a truly Gretchen of the naive victim in Goethe's piece.

However, Arnarsson and Torfason do not go into the above criticism of Goethe's female figures; rather, they tend to take hold MeToo movement. As translator Halvorsen writes in his preface: “[E] n privileged white, middle-aged man is taking advantage of his position and having sex with a girl who has barely reached the age of fourteen (the sexual age of the age at the time). In the wake of the MeToo movement, Faust stood up to them as the worst male harasser of our time and a representative of a patriarchy that must be demolished. "

Feminist as a garnish

Here are many questions that remain unanswered. What is the relevance of Faust being white and middle-aged? In what sense can Faust be said to exploit his position to seduce Gretchen as Mefisto manipulates him into it? What does fictional Heinrich Faust have with the real phenomenon metoo 210 years later to do? Arnarsson and Torfason paint with a broad brush in their purported feminist battle piece against patriarchy, but it may seem like this is just an ad-hoc identification to make a playful pastiche of Goethe's famous drama. For example, the extremist feminist is quoted Andrea Dworkin several times of the tram gang, and her name is projected on the wall behind. Except that Dworkin's name is consistently misspelled "Andrea Dworking". I don't think Arnarsson and Torfason wake up and fall asleep with Dworkin's fanatical view of the world, men and porn, rather I think they've slammed on this radical feminist as a garnish on their fluoridating Faust show. There is always fun with sirens and flashing lights, and if you can even make it appear as women's liberation, you can become today's hero. Then banal spelling mistakes become so small, so small.


National: We need to talk about Faust
By Thorleifur Örn Arnarsson and Mikael Torfason Based on Goethes Faust Part 1 and Faust Part 2 Director: Thorleifur Örn Arnarsson Evening test January 23 (three days before the premiere)

Elvis and Priscilla

Gretchen (and other roles) is played by several actors. Petronella Barker is one of them, and she also embodies Priscilla Presley and her mother. 24-year-old Elvis Presley met Priscilla when she was 14, and her mother did not intervene in the courtesy. Priscilla is interviewed by Mefisto in dramaturgy on American celebrity-filled TV series like Pimp My Ride og mtv cribs. The contrast between naive Priscilla's account of how she experienced Elvis, and the surroundings, including the sleazy interviewer, is meant to work grotesque, but becomes more ridiculous than scary. Faust himself in Mads Ousdal's form stands further behind the stage and struggles with a standing bass.

What does fictional Heinrich Faust have with the real phenomenon metoo 210 years later to do?

Sloten Faust (Mads Ousdal)
Sloten Faust (Mads Ousdal).

It is not easy to understand why translator Halvorsen thinks you have to "read the original" in order to live in this 2019 piece. In her preface she argues back and forth as to why she has maintained rhymes in some places, others not; why Faust speaks conservatively and others don't. This temper tantrum seems incomprehensible since the Faust we are talking about has very little in common with the protagonist in Goethe's piece, a man who represents the human dilemma in the face of advancement's ability to act both good and evil. For unlike the Renaissance Faust figure, which sought only wisdom, Goethe's Faust has absorbed the Faust of the Enlightenment, which was consistently a warning against human hybris, and he coined the Faust of romance in alignment with the figure whose thoughts dominated both British and German romance, namely Jean-Jacques Rousseau. His Emile – or about upbringing (1762) begins as follows: “Man [wants] nothing the way nature has created it, not even man himself. It should be dressed like a circus horse; it shall be twisted and carried after his head, like a tree in his garden. // Without this, everything would have been even worse, and the human race does not want to be formed halfway. Such are the conditions now, a man who, from birth, was left to himself, would be the most aggravated of all. "

Extreme distress
So simple it can be said.

Man is thus left to change himself and his surroundings. In this way we have made all nature into culture. Goethe saw no incompatibility in this. As long as man strives to do good, the Lord promises to bring it to clarity, even if it acts wrong and destroys along the way. It is only when man no longer strives to be better that his soul is transferred to the devil.

Faust is to a small extent a portrait of the individual Faust – it is one of the latest dramas that resists the psychological. Faust is largely a tragedy of development: It is about man's conflicting relationship with modernity. When Thorleifur Örn Arnarsson and Mikael Torfason treat Faust as a patriarchal Ibsen figure, they shoot at him with a shotgun. And booms.

Also read: Surrealistic self-making, interview with Ginka Steinwachs who used Faust in his surrealistic poetry.

Kjetil Korslund
Kjetil Korslund
Historian of ideas and critic.

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