Faustian Culture

A brief look at Spengler’s culture names. Same sources as in the previous post, I really ought to do better at linking my sources again. Uncited quotes are all from Decline of the West.

 

“A man sees in the world what he carries in his heart.”

-Goethe

 

Spengler’s sense of the essences of different cultures is interesting. I’m also inclined to like it for paralleling my own thoughts about how older cultures are smart like us but are not actually like us. 

Classical culture was referred to as Apollonian. Form, matter, and the body, clearly delineated, are their focus. Their religion, architecture, and art honed on this topic. The local and the present, the static and the immutable were sacred. In their long winter, their final sentiment was calm stoicism.

Arabic culture was referred to as Magian. It is the birth culture of our monotheistic world religions. The Magian world is focused on the concept of the cavern, where light and darkness fight each other. Their architecture features broad domes and windows whose main purpose is flooding focused streams of light in. Religion and politics are intertwined, and individual will is secondary to the will of the divine. In their winter they developed a resigned fatalism. The idea of “essence” drove their search through science and technology. But the most interesting thing about Magian culture was that it was distorted by the strong influence of older cultures. Aggressive Islamic expansionism was a reaction to this distress. More on that later.

Western culture was referred to as Faustian. The Faustian world is focused on “the infinitely wide and profound space, the yearning towards distance and infinity.” We (“Faustian man”) dealt with infinity and the very un-classical concept of the abstract “point”. Early Faustian architecture, before we could mathematically express it, was the sky-reaching Gothic architecture. We invented the flying buttress and the telescope. We conceived windows as architecture, “In it can be felt the will to emerge from the interior into the boundless.”

If, in fine, we look at the whole picture – the expansion of the Copernican world into that aspect of stellar space that we possess today; the development of Columbus’s discovery into a world-wide command of the earth’s surface by the West; the perspective of oil-painting and the theater; the sublimation of the idea of home; the passion of our civilization for swift transit, the conquest of the air, the exploration of the Polar regions and the climbing of almost impossible mountain-peaks – we see, emerging everywhere, the prime symbol of the Faustian soul, Limitless Space. And those specially Western creations of the soul-myth called “Will,” “Force” and “Deed” must be regarded as derivative of this prime symbol.

Faustian culture is driven to reach as far as it can in all directions, almost as a virtue in itself. It sees itself as built atop all previous cultures. It dreams of global dominance, and has many senses achieved that but it is unsatisfied. The climb of perpetual progress is an important story to the Faustian man.

Towards that end, Faustian man sold his soul to technology. From a stub about Spengler’s Man and Technology:

The principle idea in [Man and Technology] is that many of the Western world’s great achievements may soon become spectacles for our descendants to marvel at, as we do with the pyramids of Egypt or the baths of Rome. In Spengler’s mind, our culture will be destroyed from within by materialism, and destroyed by others through economic competition and warfare.

Faustian characters differ from Faustian as Spengler uses it in one major way, though: the fictional Faustian characters generally get a shot at redemption.

Next post: Pseudomorphosis.