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Faust: The PASEF Seminars for Spring 2011

January 11, 2011, Volume 57, No. 17

The Penn Association of Senior and Emeritus Faculty seminar series is led by senior or emeritus faculty who present topics within their area of expertise. We are fortunate in having a great many highly distinguished members who are willing to share aspects of their intellectual life in these seminars. For the Spring 2011 term, the four seminars will address a common theme. While each seminar arises from the particular discipline of the seminar leader, they will all discuss the legend of Faust from the perspective of that discipline.

Our fascination with the Faustian legend arises from the fact that it captures so much of what is a central part of Western culture. The pursuit of knowledge without limits and without restrictions, its application for the acquisition of power, wealth, and personal satisfaction, the desire for complete mastery over the natural world; these are all marks of Faust that we could recognize as our own. The four PASEF seminars for Spring show how the Faustian theme arises in all aspects of our culture.

It is appropriate that the series starts with Gino Segre. He is a world renowned theoretical physicist whose historical account of the development of quantum mechanics and the birth of nuclear physics has been widely acclaimed. In it, Dr. Segre writes, “In their pursuit of knowledge they (the scientists) had uncovered a truth with implicit powers for both good and evil.” His book foreshadows the first atomic bomb explosion, a time when these same scientists would know they were in the midst of one of the great Faustian bargains.

Marlowe’s “Doctor Faustus” is the greatest literary description of the Faustian bargain that ends in damnation, without hope of redemption. The motivations, from knowledge, to power, to material satisfaction are dramatically depicted in this remarkable work. Rebecca Bushnell, a distinguished Renaissance scholar, will guide us through an understanding of this compelling work and also explore the deeper question of the ends and purposes of the knowledge so passionately pursued.

Simon Richter’s scholarly work spans a wide range from 18th-century literature and gender studies, to film studies, and Dutch culture. He also teaches a course on the history of pacts with the devil with Goethe’s Faust as the centerpiece. For the PASEF seminar, he will focus on a discussion of the 1941 film adaptation of Stephen Vincent Benet’s story “The Devil and Daniel Webster” by German émigré director Wilhelm Dieterle, an interesting fusion of old and new world issues against the backdrop of the expanding war in Europe.

Richard Wernick, a renowned composer, will complete the Spring PASEF seminar series with a discussion on the Faustian bargain in the arts. At their best, the arts carry us to the finest possibilities of being human. They transcend the merely personal and go beyond the ordinary desires for material wealth, comfort and status. Professor Wernick will discuss the Faustian bargain as a real world phenomenon that vitiates this transcendence.

Collectively, these presentations promise to be an exciting intellectual event. All are welcome to attend.

The titles, seminar leaders and dates of the seminars are:

Faust in Copenhagen—A 1932 Meeting at Niels Bohr’s Institute for Theoretical Physics; Gino Segre, Professor of Physics; January 27, 2011

Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus: The End(s) of Knowledge; Rebecca Bushnell, Professor of English and Dean of the School of Arts and Sciences; February 18, 2011

The Devil and Daniel Webster; Simon Richter, Professor of Germanic Languages and Literatures; March 24, 2011

Diabolus in Musica: The Faustian Bargain in the Arts; Richard Wernick, Professor Emeritus of Music; April 28, 2011

They will be held at 11:45 a.m. in the University Club; the first two will be in the Hourglass Room.

More details about these seminars can be found at the PASEF website: www.upenn.edu/emeritus

Louis A. Girifalco, PASEF Program Chair


Almanac - January 11, 2011, Volume 57, No. 17