For millions I shall open regions to dwell, now safe, in free and active legions.
Green are the meadows, fertile; and in mirth
Both men and herds live on this newest earth,
settled along the edges of a hill
That has been raised by bold men's zealous will.
A veritable paradise inside,
Then let the dams be licked by raging tide;
And as it nibbles to rush in with force,
A common will fills gaps and checks its course.
This is the highest wisdom that I own,
The best that mankind ever knew:
Freedom and life are earned by those alone
Who conquer them each day anew (Goethe, 1963: 469-470).
Marshall Berman's reading of Faust is organized around the thesis that Goethe's Faust expressed the "modern world-system coming into being" (1982: 39). Alienated from a world defined and bounded by tradition, religion, and superstition, Faust sells his soul for a life of experience. Over the years his quest to experience a multitude of sensations is transformed into the desire for social development. He wants to create a modern utopia in the form of a city. Faust realizes personal meaning and purpose are anchored in the social project of human liberation. He turned the knowledge that he attained from his experiences into a project to benefit humanity. Faust commenced to build a city.
The Faustian developer is a forerunner of the bourgeois entrepreneur. However, Berman looks at Faust as post-capitalist. His power is not derived from economic rewards put from the pleasure of god-like creation. "Thus Goethe sees the modernization of the material world as a sublime spiritual achievement." Nature is no match for the Faustian impulse; it is there to be mastered and controlled and transformed into an urban utopia. Moreover, while Faustian fantasies of power are manifested in the form of transformations of nature, the real enemy is the way in which nature is constructed and sustained by traditional paradigms. The real tragedy in Faust is the murder of the old couple who live by the sea to make way for his utopian city. For Berman, Faust represents an imposition of the modern over the traditional. "Goethe's Faust is the first, and still the best, tragedy of development" (1982: 40). And, while this narrative of development is flawed, it mythically underwrites Western society's conceptions of progress. Narratives of development and progress weave through the advertisements of global capital. Here capital and technology bring the benefits of modernity to the traditional world, but unlike Faust these corporate narratives absent the contradictions of development. Tragedy has been purged from the narratives of corporate capital about corporate capital. In these ads the acting subject speaking about itself is a corporation, an organization of Capital seeking to maximize its return on itself.
Perhaps this is the greatest difference between the Faust myth and the myth of global capital -- not only is Nature conquered, so too Tragedy has been conquered in the narratives of Caterpillar, Merrill Lynch, Monsanto, DuPont, GE, et al. Indeed, even irony has been banished from these ads - perhaps out of fear that irony might be misconstrued as anxiety, and even a hint of self-doubt is the kiss of death in the world of corporate legitimation.