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The Presence of the Sign in Goethe's Faust

Neil M. Flax
PMLA
Vol. 98, No. 2 (Mar., 1983), pp. 183-203
DOI: 10.2307/462045
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/462045
Page Count: 21
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The Presence of the Sign in Goethe's Faust
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Abstract

Recent studies in the early history of semiotics allow us to trace an open concern with the problem of language in Goethe's Faust. The protagonist appears as a quest hero in search of a revelatory sign, whether verbal or pictorial, that will release him from the world of mediating representations. The folly of the quest is consistently satirized from the viewpoint of Romantic aesthetics and its theory of the symbol. For the Romantics, the aesthetic symbol is a sign that paradoxically effects a revelation by affirming its own semiotic nature. But in elevating semiotic phenomena to the status of epiphanies, Goethean symbolism in Faust confronts the same impasses that beset the hero as he seeks to escape the rule of signs. The recurring quandaries arise when the Romantic text responds to the initial challenge of semiotics by attempting to reconcile semiotics and theology.

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