Backstory to “The Faustian Infinite”
As I wrote in my backstory to “Oswald Spengler and the Morphology of Cultures,” Spengler’s insights, and the imaginative range of his mind, captivated me as I was searching for ideas that would unify my approach to teaching and writing about the humanities. His designation of Western Culture as Faustian seemed especially striking: an entire civilization based on the acquisition of power-knowledge for survival and conquest.
Of special interest to me was his willingness to consider, not just the humanities, but all forms of cultural expression as manifestations of a Culture’s Prime Symbol — that central unifying idea that gave ultimate meaning to all high endeavors of science, art and thought.
So I set about writing my own version of Western culture as expressed in art, music and mathematics. It was a difficult self-assignment, and more than once I had to dismantle my entire essay and start over. But I completed the work at last, and sent it off to The Western Humanities Review. The essay was published and, to my astonishment and delight, was given the Fels Award for Non-Fiction in 1976. The award carried with it a monetary prize of $500 — a great deal of money at that time for a college professor. At my wife’s suggestion I used the moneyFels to purchase a rosewood desk, where I have done much of my subsequent work over the years.
Here is an evocative poem about Faust's journey through time in Western Culture: