The Counselor and Goethe's Faust

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  • 12 Nov 2013 at 10:45 am #4581


    It’s been over 10 years ago since I read Goethe’s Faust, so I’m not entirely confident in this post, but below, to the best of my recollection, our some similarities between The Counselor and Faust.

    Both Gretchen and Laura are innocents. Clearly, Lauren is much older and more worldly than Gretchen; nevertheless, the Counselor is a corrupting influence on her. Laura says to the Counselor, “You’ve ruined me.” The counselor responds, “I hope so.”

    Both Faust and the Counselor seduce their lovers with the gift of jewelry. In both cases it’s a deal with the Devil that makes the purchase of the jewelry possible.

    Both Gretchen and Laura are beheaded. I suppose it could be argued that both women died for the sins of their lovers.

    They are obvious similarities between Mephistopheles and Westray. Both profess a philosophy of nihilism (“I’ve pretty much seen it all, Counselor. And it’s all shit.”). Both are also pushers of drugs and alcohol. Like Sherrif Bell says in NCFOM, “I think if you were Satan and you were settin around tryin to think up somethin that would just bring the human race to its knees what you would probably come up with is narcotics.” (The Counselor actually does end up on his knees in his final scene).

    In Faust, Mephistopheles makes his first appearance in the form of a dog. There are several dogs in The Counselor. If I remember correctly, the dogs are all eating, perhaps representations of the ceaselessness of animal appetite. (Likewise, Malkina is never satisfied: “I’m starving.” “I’m famished.”)

    The fact that Westray is killed in The Counselor is a bit of a joke on McCarthy’s part, I suspect. Even the devil is doomed in the narcotics trade.

    I’m not sure what to make of the parallels between the two works. Goethe’s vision of the cosmos is much more optimistic than McCarthy’s. Westray quotes the first line of the final stanza of Faust:

    All that is perishable is but a likeness;
    the imperfect, which cannot be realized,
    here makes itself reality;
    that which cannot be described,
    here finally completes itself.
    It is the eternal feminine,
    always attracting us to the higher.”

    Does McCarthy believe in the possibility of the Eternal Feminine leading us higher? Mostly likely, the Counselor will not become a poet like Machado, but his love for an earthly woman is, possibly,the catalyst for a deeper understanding of spiritual matters.

    The opening scene of The Counselor reminds me of the following lines from NCFOM.

    “I’ll wake Loretta up just bein awake myself. Be layin there and she’ll say my name. Like askin me if I’m there. Sometimes I’ll go in the kitchen and get her a ginger ale and we’ll set there in the dark. I wish I had her ease about things. The world I’ve seen has not made me a spiritual person. Not like her. She worries about me, too. I see it. I reckon that she would learn from me and in many respects she has. But I know where the debt lies.”

    • This topic was modified 4 years, 2 months ago by  travis.
    12 Nov 2013 at 12:53 pm #4583

    Richard L.

    Good stuff. Perhaps there is more Faustian stuff to be found.

    I kinda wish you had posted this in THE COUNSELOR SCREENPLAY THREAD, instead of a new one on the Faust connection itself (which you argue very well). It’s the logistics of the new forum (and was of the old incarnations of this forum as well) and probably there is no cure for it. Information gets spread out, the relevant mixed with other topical stuff.

    Eventually, as with all previous forums, there will have to be a purge of data, and those threads being seen as duplicating topics will be merged or purged, and perhaps valuable insights or historical data will vanish into the void.

    Case in point: There once were several “Historical Basis for BLOOD MERIDIAN” threads. Some posters came into the forum who were doubtlessly well-versed in certain areas, and some new inroads were made beyond what John Sepich gives in his landmark NOTES ON BLOOD MERIDIAN. Like the rest of us, they mostly went by pen names or sobriquets of their real names. These threads were deleted when the data got too formidable, causing crashes, and I realize that the hardworking and selfless staff here did the best that they could to preserve what was useful. But some valuable historical stuff was lost when the forum crashed and was reborn.

    I’m not talking about the latest forum trek of rebirth, but of a Cormac McCarthy forum incarnation long ago and now far away. When the old forum threads are restored, those older and valuable threads of which I speak will remain in the void. They were purposely if mistakenly deleted, and there is no bringing them back.

    I’ve long suspected that the person doing research on John Glanton–who went by some sobriquet here, who discovered in the local records that John Glanton had a son who survived him among other things not generally known–was historian Dale L. Walker, one of the early McCarthy enthusiasts, who early on collected McCarthy’s works.

    I see that Dale L. Walker has donated some of his papers to the Wittliff Collections where McCarthy’s papers are housed. Among them are some printouts of some “Cormac McCarthy Home Pages” which scholars doing historical research might want to peruse. The link to the index is here:

    Like I say, I don’t think there is any cure for such loss. Everything is temporary, and one day this forum too will vanish into the ether. We should be grateful for what we have now, and I certainly am thankful for this day.

    FAUST and THE COUNSELOR have value as cautionary tales.

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