Selling Your Soul

The above cartoon appeared in the newspaper the same day we started discussing Goethe's Faust in my class. We have not reached his deal with Mephistopheles yet, but will next time. I usually get students to discuss what, if anything, they would sell their soul for – or, if they are not comfortable with that scenario, then what they would wish for if they had one wish.

Despite what Hemant Mehta famously did, I do not believe you can really sell your soul on eBay – with or without SoulPal. Nowadays, we use the metaphor to indicate a fundamental compromise of one's values. And that is actually something that we discussed in today's class. Frequently, people set out to earn lots of money saying it is to provide for their families, or to help others, and yet what started as a means to an end turns into an end in itself. Many have found that the saying about Mammon and serving two masters does not apply only to God.

It is a real privilege to teach texts like this in a freshman seminar class. Students are often pursuing wealth, or happiness, even though on some level they know that actually pursuit of happiness is self-defeating.

The translation of Faust that we have been reading is really wonderful.