On Selling One’s Soul: A WLL Symposium on the Faust Tradition

Saturday, April 13, 2019
BU School of Theology B23-24
745 Commonwealth Avenue
Boston MA 02215

The story of Doctor Faust – a legendary crystallization of medieval motifs of a man selling his soul to the Devil in exchange for knowledge, power and sex – has been many things to many people, from the playwrights Christopher Marlowe and Johann Wolfgang von Goethe to Mikhail Bulgakov, Thomas Mann and Vacláv Havel. Alongside Don Quixote, Don Juan, and Robinson Crusoe, the Faust story has been called one of the major “myths of modern individualism” (Ian Watt). It has functioned as a way of figuring cultural anxiety about technologies including nuclear weaponry, gene cloning, physics, paper currency, the printing press, and cinema. It has also been used to assess the spiritual toll of various kinds of ethical and political compromise; its central motif of selling one’s soul to the Devil resonates powerfully with contemporary cultural and political concerns.

ON SELLING ONE’S SOUL, a day of cross-disciplinary conversation on the vicissitudes of the Faust legend and the third in the Department of World Languages & Literatures’ BIG FAT BOOKS series on major works of world literature.

8:30 – Coffee

8:50 – Welcome – Peter Schwartz

9:00-9:55 – Panel I, Moderator: Margaret Litvin
C. Allen Speight, The ‘Absolute Philosophical Tragedy’: Goethe’s Faust and its Idealist Readers
Kyna Hamill, Dance and the Burlesquing of Hell in two Temptation of St. Anthony Prints by Jacques Callot (1592-1635)

9:55-10:10 – Short Break

10:10-11:15 – Keynote Address: Jane K. Brown, University of Washington
                        Irrlichtelieren: Knowledge in Faust and in Goethe’s Theory of Color

11:15-11:30 – Short Break

11:30-12:45 – Panel II, Moderator: Catherine Yeh
Christopher Ricks, Mephisto and Faustulus: “somewhat rashly”
Maria Gapotchenko, Faustian Bargains and Literature under Late Socialism: A Case Study
James Schmidt, Four Fausts in Hollywood, 1941-1948

12:45-1:45 – Lunch

1:45-3:00 – Panel III, Moderator: J. Keith Vincent
Catherine Yeh, Goethe’s Faust in China: Mephistopheles Worshiped
Margaret Litvin, Why Mephistopheles Never Became Egyptian
Roberta Micallef, A Tale of Two Cities: Turkish Fausts in Cologne and Istanbul

3:00-3:30 – Coffee Break

3:30-4:45 – Panel IV Moderator: Ines Garcia de la Puente
James Uden, Gothic Faust
Yuri Corrigan, Dostoevsky’s Faust; or, Selling Your Soul in Practice
Peter J. Schwartz, Faust as Cyborg; or, Living in Truth

4:45-5:00 – Short Break

5:00-6:15 – Panel V, Student Panel

6:15-7:15 – Reception to follow at  745 Commonwealth Avenue, Room 625


The symposium was preceded, on Friday, April 12, by two performances at the Boston Playwrights’ Theater of the traditional Czech Faust puppet play by the Czechoslovak-American Marionette Theater of New York:

JOHANNES DOKCHTOR FAUST, a Petrifying Puppet Comedye

With Multiple Interventions of Otherworld Apparitions and an even more Un-believable finale in which Wretched Faust is carryed to his untymelye End through a substantial Perforation in the Seeling amydst Terripific Firewerk and Dread-full Thunder.


Sponsored by the Boston University Center for the Humanities, Boston University Arts Initiative, Boston University Center for the Study of Europe, Core Curriculum, NEH Humanities Professorship, and the Departments of World Languages and Literatures, Romance Studies, English, Classics, Religion, and Philosophy