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(May 2 , 2002, Gazette)

Creativity in a scientific world
Applying Faust to our time

Dr. Richard Ilgner

There is often a wide gap between the arts and the sciences, but Dr. Richard Ilgner, Department of German and Russian, is aiming to bridge that gap. He hopes that the follow-up to his first book, Die Ketzermythologie in Goethe’s Faust, will assist in understanding how creativity develops in a scientifically-based culture.

Prior to arriving at Memorial, Dr. Ilgner taught at Dalhousie University. When developing a course on world literature, he decided to focus on the Faust theme; that is, the idea of someone making a pact with the devil for greater knowledge. He saw this as a central human theme concerning good and evil, something that all students could relate to. When Dr. Ilgner moved to Memorial in 1981, he brought that course with him and it became popular here. It was at this time that Dr. Ilgner decided to pursue more in-depth research on Goethe and the Faust theme, which he sees as an important part of the last 200 years of German history.

Goethe, a prolific writer, completed 143 volumes in his lifetime, and Dr. Ilgner was instrumental in ensuring that Memorial acquired the entire collection. He concentrated on Faust, a drama that has been the focus of many previous works. While pouring through those texts, Dr. Ilgner noticed that no previous scholars had examined the second part of Faust as a mythological code, coherently structured and dealing with Goethe’s central concept of “Praegnanz”, or thick description. In examining the drama, Dr. Ilgner interpreted this poetic mythology and subtext as a way for Goethe to communicate his very controversial ideas in a rigid and hierarchal world, to challenge the dominant scientific discourses that were integral to the emerging modern paradigm of his time. It is from this vantage that Dr. Ilgner wrote his first book, which focuses on the implicit coding found in Faust.

His next book, envisioned as a second volume to Die Ketzermythologie in Goethe’s Faust, will examine Goethe’s ideas as a proto-ecologist and a proto-feminist. Furthermore, Dr. Ilgner asserts that Goethe likely coded his ideas because of his critical attitude towards the Church, which was so powerful at the time that it was dangerous for an individual to be outspoken. Dr. Ilgner feels that much of Goethe’s ecological and feminist attitudes were related to his critique of the Church as well. This second volume will also link Goethe with artists in the twentieth century, not only in Germany, but in America and to Canada’s Group of Seven as well. He intends to show how, in the twentieth century, the ideas in the subtext of Faust play out. He will deal with the artistic/technological interface, as artists take a critical stance towards the scientific mainstream culture, as Goethe himself had observed and objected to a privileging of science over culture in his own time.

While this work will centre on Goethe, Dr. Ilgner feels that his work is applicable to our contemporary world, as we still tend to privilege science in today’s society, even though artists make large contributions to how culture and society function as a whole. By looking at what makes a person creative and innovative, Dr. Ilgner hopes his research will have wide appeal.