Today, we will carry on our look at tracklocross thinkers with a name that people in the UK have huge issues pronouncing. Johann Wolfgang von Goethe is an inspirational person. A man who accomplished more in his life than many of us would accomplish in ten lives. Geothe was a true polymath, and today we will look at his poem, “Faust”, a work which is considered the magnum opus of German literature.
The simplest way to look at Goethe’s Faust is as a poem teaching us about humankind’s alienation from the natural world we are living in. Heinrich Faust is a scholar who calls upon the Earth Spirit as he yearns to use his knowledge to make himself a god. The Earth Spirit, upset by Faust’s arrogance, vanishes. Faust now realises he is no longer fulfilled by academia and despairs that he will no longer overcome his limitations. Faust plans to kill himself, but the noises of an Easter celebration reinforce his will to live.
Faust goes for a walk with his assistant, and a poodle starts to follow them. When Faust arrives home, with the poodle still following him, he incants a spell, and the poodle shows its true form. It is Mephistopheles. Over time, Faust and Mephistopheles make a pact. Mephistopheles will serve Faust in life, and Faust will serve Mephistopheles in the afterlife. As part of the pact, Faust places a wager. Suppose that Mephistopheles can bring Faust a moment of transcendence on Earth, a moment so beautiful that Faust will want to stay in that moment forever. In that case, he will immediately die and begin serving in hell.
The Faustian Pact
Now, we could go into depth here about what happens in Faust, but in reality, I write a blog about tracklocross and not academia. You should go and read the text or see a play or an opera based on it; there will be one playing near you soon, that can almost be guaranteed.
I want to talk about a Faustian pact. Selling your soul to the devil has long been thought about in stories as old as time. Faust agrees to serve in hell in return for unlimited knowledge, but he also stipulates a wager. His wager is essentially that he invites Mephistopheles to show him all of human life and that he will not find it satisfying. If he is wrong and finds satisfaction, he will then surrender his life. There are no bigger bets you can make in life.
The pact Faust is making is for his soul for unlimited knowledge; in other versions of the tale, it is for power or riches. I am sure you have often encountered many stories based on these ideas. The quick summarisation here is that Mephistopheles and Faust have a road trip (sort of) that ends with Faust having a relationship with Gretchen. The relationship, in no way, can be described as a healthy one. It leads to the murder of their illegitimate child and Gretchen’s mother and brother. These are all caused by Mephistopheles’ deceptions and Faust’s desires. At the end of part one of the poem, Gretchen is executed for the child’s death, but her soul is sent to heaven because she is an innocent party and has been corrupted by Faust and Mephistopheles. Faust is now grieving,
The poem’s second part is an allegorical text that carries on their road trip. It can almost be described as Faust’s redemptive arc, and I have just described it that way.
Deception and desire in cycling
As a cyclist, you will have particular desires. The cycling media also has certain desires, and through marketing, it will try and use deception to tell you these desires can be met. You may go through a similar path to Faust; instead of Mephistopheles guiding you, it will probably be GCN on YouTube. The medium may have changed, but the game has not.
We should also talk about Faust’s self-deception. Faust does not take much convincing from Mephistopheles. Faust allows simple illusions that he himself has created to guide him repeatedly. As a person, Faust does not feel complete and that he needs to be better; he has a higher calling. Because of this, Faust can never truly see how good he actually is, and it allows him to be easily led by Mephistopheles.
I’m sure you can see a Bill Hicks’s hatred of advertising starting to come through here. Most of us cycling need a simple bike that works. The bike trade and the cycling media do not want us to be happy there. They want us to feel as incomplete as Faust and allow adverts to give us the illusion that buying this product will take us closer to our goals. Many of us, like Faust, will take simple illusions if they comfort our beliefs.
People will make pacts with advertising, as they feel this is a quicker and more achievable way to make their goals. Buying a new bike doesn’t make them faster; purchasing a new helmet doesn’t make them faster, yet people feel it will. When people start spending, they spend more to get these magical gains. Eventually, they realise it will never happen and then leave cycling (fall to hell) or reach redemption and start to cycle for themselves and not care about advertising.
When we are free to enjoy cycling, away from artificial worries of consumerism and sporting excellence, we are no longer alienated from our pastime. This is because when we allow advertising and media to direct our desires, we lose control of our destiny; we no longer direct our lives, even if we believe we are fully autonomous.
Cycling media has had a problem for years, although in some ways, it is now trying to use bikepacking as a bandaid. It has always been about buying something new as you will be faster or stronger. If you buy this new model, you will crush your local roads; singletrack will tremble before you. It is about subjugation; you are a master and will control your local environment.
Here is another form of alienation, one which Goethe may better understand. You are being alienated from the natural world. You are no longer part of the natural world; you control it. In essence, you are the god that Faust wanted to be. We can see from Faust that this can never really work out. You can create illusions that these adverts are correct, but ultimately, you get faster by cycling. You can believe you are a master by conquering nature, but your mental health will prefer you not to be alienated by nature but to be immersed in it.
Enjoy cycling because you love it and for the experiences it brings you; don’t taint and destroy that love by believing what advertising tells you.