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  • Print publication year: 2013
  • Online publication date: March 2014

7 - Shipwreck with Spectators: Ideologies of Observation in Goethe's Faust II

from Part II - The Ghost That Keeps on Giving


Hans Blumenberg's early historical examination of the metaphorology of the shipwreck, Schiffbruch mit Zuschauer (Shipwreck with spectator), lays out the existential import this image held for Western thought from antiquity through to philosophical modernism. For Blumenberg, the metaphor of the ocean voyage assumes a place along-side that of air flight and the Promethean theft of fire as one of the staple concretizations of human arrogance in its attempts to challenge and tame the laws of nature (14–15). The sea voyage in particular encapsulates, according to Blumenberg, a paradigmatic moment of human blasphemy, codified in the attempt to transgress those natural conditions that bind human existence to terra firma, and to venture out into that element that paradigmatically embodies the forces of incalculability, lawlessness, and total lack of orientation: the infinitely vast and wholly unpredictable ocean (10). Blumenberg identifies precisely that liminal space between terra firma and the immeasurable expanse of the ocean as the place that embodies and symbolically invokes this constant human drive toward transgression of its existential limitations. Blumenberg's language points immediately to the relevance this model holds specifically for Faust in part 2 of Goethe's drama: “Daß hier, an der Grenze vom festen Land zum Meer, zwar nicht der Sündenfall, aber doch der Verfehlungsschritt ins Ungemäße und Maßlose zuerst getan wurde, ist von der Anschaulichkeit, die dauerhafte Topoi trägt” (11; The fact that this border between firm land and the sea marks the place where, to be sure, not the fall from grace per se, but the first transgressive step into inexpedience and immoderation was taken, has the vividness that only lasting topoi possess).