Ekbert Faas pursued his studies in Munich, Paris, Madrid, Stockholm, Rome, and London. A full professor of English Literature after completing two Ph.Ds (Dr. phil. and Dr. habil.) in Germany, he left Europe to restart his career under a grant from the American Council of Learned Societies in New York. A biographer, novelist, and critic, he has had a lifelong interest in art theory, especially in evolving a new aesthetics based on the cognitive and evolutionary sciences finally systematized in the first publication listed below. Early results of these endeavours include, Tragedy and After: Euripides, Shakespeare, Goethe (McGill-Queen’s), Shakespeare’s Poetics (Cambridge), Retreat into the Mind. Victorian Poetry and the Rise of Psychiatry (Princeton), and The Genealogy of Aesthetics (Cambridge). Since his highly acclaimed Woyzeck’s Head, he has also continued his work as a novelist, most recently with Terrorists, featuring early Communist agitators/theoreticians Marx, Bakunin, and Nechaev, Colón · Aguilar · Cortés, highlighting Cortez’ interpreter Gerónimo de Aguilar, and In Search of Dante: Gemma and Boccaccio. Faas’ major scholarly endeavour over recent years, Under Dante’s Shadow: Boccaccio, Chaucer, and the Alternative Tradition, will be published in 2022.
Major publications with critical summaries and appraisals
Art theorists, both traditional and Darwinist, tend to speak in omnibus nutshell formulas such as “significant form” or “aesthetic instinct.” Faas instead offers an unprecedented theory of art and aesthetics organized around five comprehensive categories (the appetitive, sexual, perceptual, cognitive, and cultural) derived from the evolutionary and cognitive sciences. He also draws on prior works like his The Genealogy of Aesthetics, Shakespeare’s Poetics (both Cambridge) and Retreat into the Mind, a study of Victorian psychiatry and poetry (Princeton).
Motile micro-organisms from which we evolved respond “aesthetically” to their surroundings as either life-enhancing (“beautiful”) or averse (“ugly”), a process that is nearly as old as life. Human representational art, by contrast, is incomparably younger, beginning less than 50,000 years ago. But whatever it depicts, still arouses in us more primitive (appetitive and sexual) responses (e.g., a painted apple making you want to eat it or a beautiful human being prompting feelings of attraction), before the “cultural” accomplishments of the artistic representation appeal to the connoisseur.
Supported by numerous illustrations, Faas’ arguments focus on animal and human play; art in relation to artifacts (from bowerbird nests to human stone tool production and architecture); the paintings and sculptures in Stone Age caves like Chauvet; early forms of religion appearing in ancient burial sites; children’s art; the emergence of syntactical language, and so on. They also explore artworks from different civilizations: overtly sexual in medieval India; joyful and life-affirming among the Minoans; holding the middle-ground between being obsessed with death and celebrating life in ancient Egypt; or prioritizing torture, the horrific, and revolting among Mayans, Aztecs, and medieval/Renaissance Christians. Faas’ theoretical framework thus allows him to evolve a typology of characteristics which render the arts of different civilizations so remarkably and, as it seems, unalterably distinct from each other.
Another by-product of Faas’ theoretical endeavours is his revaluation of modernist art. To vilify the latter as “ugly, baffling, and insulting” (Steven Pinker) has become common among Darwinians, sometimes because of its alleged maladaptiveness, but really because these critics misinterpret modernist art as just more Art in a continuingly idealistic sense. Viewed less simplistically, modernism was born out of a rebellion against and deliberate destruction of Western aesthetic norms with their hyper-ethereal and puritanical mandates – a watershed development prompted by the breakdown of the powerful human artist/Divine Artificer trope. It started with Goethe, Coleridge, and Baudelaire, reached a ne plus ultra in minimalist art, and began to search for the radically new with Cezanne and van Gogh as well as their cubist and expressionist successors. The distinction also marks a more general divide in so far as artists who render what they represent more than naturally “striking” (Ellen Dissanayake), do so in an either attenuating (Cézanne) or exaggerating (van Gogh) mode.
Faas takes issue with Hegel’s still fashionable prophecy of the inevitable death of art for allegedly being tainted by an inalienably “sensuous element.” Art as an amalgam, not just of cultural, but also of its more natural elements, cannot die as long as humans survive – except when misused for cultural, e.g., religious or political propaganda. To use Richard Dawkins’ popular neologism, this is because deleterious memes (like the end-of-art prophecy itself) differ from harmful genes in that, if maladaptive, they are not necessarily weeded out by natural selection. Instead, they can survive such extinction by being protected, for instance, under a pernicious social and/or ideological status quo they help support.
In sum, Faas’ attempt to naturalize art and aesthetics might not only help improve their limited understanding, but also promote a truly post-modernist art more life-affirming (or call it adaptive) than what went before. Readers skeptical of the study’s scope might consider that it has been in the making for over fifteen years, and that without counting its above-mentioned predecessors like The Genealogy of Aesthetics.
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The Survival of Beauty and Art develops a new theory of aesthetics and art. Art is embedded in what is called “the artifactual,” i.e., things (like beehives and churches) created by some of nature’s organisms, rather than by nature itself. Aesthetics, by contrast, is rooted in primordial susceptibilities like those of unicellular amoebas at the dawn of life, going in pursuit of what is nutritive or trying to avoid what is aversive. In their over three billion years of evolutionary development, these primitive, aesthetic impulses were enriched by further natural, and finally cultural ones.
From its first chapter, Survival attempts to show how artworks, instead of removing themselves into ever more rarefied spheres of the cultural, for the most part continue to draw on its more natural roots. Wherever appropriate, it fleshes out theories by interpreting individual artworks, backed up by illustrations. In this, Faas draws not just on evolutionary and neuroscientific insights, but on the full arsenal (familiar to him from previous publications) of older interpretive, iconographic, psychological, and art historical approaches. Thus, his new theory of aesthetics/art, although grounded in the life sciences, fully incorporates whatever can be salvaged from traditional humanities disciplines. Hence, Survival should be of interest to readers looking for the unprecedented and unfamiliar as well as to those continuing to cherish the old.
Cognitive scientist John Paulus, practices magical conjurations in order to bring about the death of his wife, Claire. After Claire dies in a house fire set on by someone else, Paulus is convicted of murder and jailed, first in a high security penitentiary, then in Penetanguishene’s notorious facility for the criminally insane. However, thanks to the condemned man’s son, Sasha, hope is in sight towards the end. Shades of Marlowe’s Dr. Faustus, Paulus’s pact with the devil, re-told through National Weekly News releases, provides the black-humour framework to this otherwise starkly realistic tale of a miscarriage of justice.
An adventure story set in 1969-72 North and South America, Mengele’s Friend? narrates Kurt’s search for a father known for his war heroics and literary achievements, but also for befriending human monsters like Mengele and Eichmann. At a deeper level, the novel explores the nature of evil with Kurt, in his obsession with his suspected Nazi war-criminal father, unwittingly getting enmeshed in a different kind of horror – that of the Argentinian and Brazilian torture regimes of the time. Kurt’s father, both in his writings and appearance, is modeled on the controversial writer Ernst Jünger, literary genius and highly decorated war hero.
On the run from his Nazi friends, Kurt’s father, alias “Mengele’s Friend” (or MF), lures his son, along with his traveling companion, narrator Joel Niemand, into a vortex of ever-more lurid horrors. Like an invisible puppeteer, MF has his son and companion meet former friends, enemies, and a mistress; has them read his diaries and fragments of a new novel satirizing his Nazi-colony associates; and unwittingly causes them to tangle with ex-Nazi henchmen running the São Paolo Gestapo. However, as for MF himself and his most deeply-held convictions, they remain a mystery to the end.
Illustrations of some of the novel’s authentic geographical locales and historical personages, along with their captions, provide this story with a parallel text of sorts.
“This is a thoroughly documented compendium of Shakespeare’s implied views on his own art … genuinely illuminating comparisons with Montaigne and Bacon …” (Year’s Work in English Studies, 67, 1986)
“Prof. Faas has provided a scholarly and fascinating piece of research. As he admits, the task he has set himself is a near-impossible one – but it is nonetheless well worth the effort of research and study. His approach is threefold: Each of the characters’ statements is interpreted: ‘1. within the context of the work in which it occurs, 2. within the context of the Shakespeare’s oeuvre in general, and 3. against the background of comparable non-Shakespearean writing of the period.’” The author places Shakespeare’s thought in the context of contemporary philosophy and criticism, especially that of Bacon and Montaigne. His analysis will interest both Shakespeare scholars and students of literary creativity.” (Margaret Hallissy, Book Review, 1986)
“Mr Faas’s work is the first full-length study of Shakespeare’s poetics and its scope is comprehensive … Mr Faas shows that Shakespeare’s small agreement with the common traditional Renaissance critical theories is the product of his affinity whether or not he knew their writings directly with ideas propounded by Bacon and Montaigne. Their ‘radical new view of life’ (p. 80) which Shakespeare shared may be called ‘anti-essentialism’ … In short, even though Mr Faas does not describe it in these terms, Shakespeare’s poetic was radical, subversive, and existentialist. In subsequent persuasive pages we learn of ‘Shakespeare’s inverted Platonism’ (p. 126) and discover that Shakespeare’s ‘fine frenzy’ was crucially different from the traditional furor poeticus (p. 139). Finally, in a discussion of the comprehensive theme of art and nature based on The Winter’s Tale, Mr Faas concludes that ‘to the anti-essentialist … there is only one nature, the world of flux and cyclical return, of which human artistic endeavour is as much a part as any ‘natural process’ (p. 196). Mr Faas’s learned, humane book should be read and re-read by everyone interested in poetics, Shakespeare, or the Renaissance.” (T.H. Howard-Hill, Review of English Studies, 38, 151, 1987, 386-87)
“The book is learned, clearly written, with many references, footnotes and an extensive bibliography. It has many fascinating insights into other writers as well as into some major Shakespeare texts. It is probably not for the general reader but is of very special interest to anyone concerned with drama and poetry or anyone who studies Renaissance thought in general.” (Margaret Penman, Toronto Star, October 1986)
“Faas demonstrates that Shakespeare, like Montaigne and Bacon, espouses an anti-essentialist poetic, rejecting the orthodoxies of his day and dissolving the traditional dichotomy between art and nature. For Shakespeare, Faas argues, imagination dictates to reason throughout the creative process, celebrating not the truth behind things, but the final, mysterious reality of a nature forever in flux … thoroughly researched, massively documented and painstakingly indexed … serious students (i.e.: graduate and upper division undergraduate) will want to review the evidence Faas amasses.” (D.O. Dickerson, Choice, November 1986)
“[Shakespeare] refuses the rigid categories of Renaissance theoreticians, being willing to use whatever ideas suit his needs of the moment. This is because, counter to the usual assumptions of contemporary criticism and practice, he has a high regard for the imaginative powers of his audience; he consistently disrupts the stage illusion while trying to make his spectators lose themselves in the spectacle…Shakespeare’s Poetics is very thorough in examining everything that can be used in reconstructing a Shakespearian poetic theory.” (Peter Hyland, Theatre Research International, 12, Summer 1987, 171-72)
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Predictably, this Nietzschean critique of idealist Western aesthetics has met with both praise and rebuttal. Professor Dabney Townsend, Director General of the American Society of Aesthetics, after reviewing Genealogy in the European Journal of Philosophy, April 2004, 12, 1,152-56) and calling its thesis “clearly and forcefully presented,” later evolved an “anti-Genealogy of Aesthetics,” and presented his findings at a 2010 seminar, The Genealogy of Aesthetics: An Attack, held at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Montreal.
“Interesting and farsighted. I do indeed agree the direction that you and a still small number of scholars have taken in theory will win in time, and probably sooner than later.” (University Research Professor E.O. Wilson, The Agassiz Museum, Harvard University, personal correspondence)
“With its overview of the new kinds of aesthetic–neuroscientific–evolutionary approaches, it is a must for those interested in these interdisciplinary ventures that are no doubt before us. For instance, there exists for the first time now a real possibility for an aesthetics of the ‘lower’ senses that have been excluded for so long from almost any aesthetic conceptual thinking …This extensively researched and outspoken book by Ekbert Faas gives aesthetic theory a decisive push in its move from the head into the body, as it were, and in so doing opens aesthetics to a wide array of new approaches from the direction, broadly speaking, of the life sciences and neuroscience … Against this master narrative of de-sensualized beauty, Faas highlights the small number of thinkers who historically stressed the importance of the body and the senses in conceptualizing the beautiful. In doing so he prepares the ground for those who recently have begun to call for an aesthetic reorientation capable of integrating findings in the neurosciences that point toward the concept of ‘embodied mind.’
Within the history of aesthetics itself, Nietzsche has been an unwavering advocate of a ‘physiological aesthetics’ of this kind … The Renaissance brings some changes through secularization in the arts and the rise of artists such as Dürer, but the contemporaneous emergence of the new academies tightens, if anything, the reign of the existing aesthetic paradigms. Nevertheless, time and again the prescribed patterns are challenged and satirized by individual great thinkers: Montaigne’s unabashed claims made for pleasure; Bacon’s historical sense of an original inversion in aesthetic values; Hobbes’s empiricism; Shakespeare’s satire of academic values through explicitly sexualized language, and other cases. This countertradition carries with Feuerbach and Marx into the modern age. The latter, in turning Hegel’s aesthetics from its head back onto its feet, has his own ‘Nietzschean moment’ (chapter 13) in stressing the physical and sensory in aesthetics … In Faas’s discussion of postmodernism, which takes up a good third of the book, his analysis becomes more involved and detailed, more linguistic and philosophical, less historical and summarizing in an effort to reveal the continued, in fact intensified, drive of aesthetics into a non-sensory and transcendental direction.
The postmodern orthodoxy, represented in thinkers such as Heidegger, Derrida, Lyotard, de Man, and others, is entirely grounded in, and carries on, the grand ascetic-transcendentalist tradition of aesthetic thinking, wholly wrapped up in linguistics instead of the senses. While occasionally disagreeing sharply with the postmoderns, Faas presents their case fairly and only toward the end does he train his guns fully on what the reader has understood to be the object of his criticism all along: the exclusive transcendentalist positing of aesthetic value, the repression of hedonism and pleasure that has dominated the field for over 2,000 years and has been, if anything, reinforced in the recent past by the verbal gymnastics of postmodernism and aesthetics as a form of ethico-teleology … Faas, ever circumspect and astute, offers a warning that a purely physiological aesthetics would be ‘no substitute for studying the beautiful, creativity, and the arts from sociopolitical, feminist, genre-theoretic and other “cultural” perspectives’ and contexts (301).’ Clearly, he opts for a balanced and integrated approach.” (H. J. Rindisbacher, European Legacy, 10, 5, 2005, 543-45)
“Well written, polemical, and thought-provoking, this engaged examination of the mainstream of western thinking about art and beauty deserves thoughtful readers.” (Karsten Harries, Review of Metaphysics, 61, 2, December 2007, 412-13)
“The basic opposition between materialism and idealism is well presented, and guides the reader all through the book. Furthermore, the author uses numerous examples coming from the art scene, and these examples help to contrast theory with the actual artistic productions. The Genealogy of Aesthetics presents many diverse reflections about art and beauty.” (Frederic Morneau, Gnosis, 7, 1, 2003)
As Graham Robb put it, “readers of poètes maudits often identify with the poets themselves, [whereas] critics and biographers tend to identify with the parents.” Like Robb’s biography of Rimbaud, Faas’s Robert Creeley counts among the rare exceptions to this rule. As Eric Miller writes: “Out of an unsavoury pulp of booze, bruises and tears arose Robert Creeley’s admirable poems. Faas plausibly prefers the work Creeley wrote before he was institutionalized, that is, in the bland – rather than psychiatric – sense. Faas’s discussion of the poet’s later work is somewhat cursory, somewhat mocking; perhaps the intended effect of such mockery is to revive the fire in the indignant ageing poet. Derision as a stimulus to growth occasionally works … Ekbert Faas’s account of Creeley’s life is immensely readable, phrased in something of the accelerated, demotic style – half scholarly, half journalistic – practised by Greil Marcus in Lipstick Traces. Under the transient influence of this racy style, the reader may miss a time when university programmes did not entirely throttle the world of imaginative writing.” (Canadian Review of Books, 31, 2, 2002, 20-22)
“Ekbert Faas, one of the foremost scholars of contemporary American poetry, began working on this biography 20 years ago, when Creeley authorized the project … In it, he focuses on Creeley’s first 40 years, utilizing interviews with and writings by Creeley’s friends and associates, especially the journals and memories of Creeley’s first wife, Ann McKinnon.” (Globe and Mail, October 27, 2001, 23)
“Briefly stated, Faas admires the younger Robert Creeley for the raw-edged, nerve-screeching quality of his life and work, but he has little respect for what he became from the early 1960s forward, once fame and money were his for the taking … Faas gives a credible portrait of the artist and those closest to him.” (Mark Melnicove, “A Life Half Told,” Ruminator Review, Winter 2001-2002, 55)
“Ekbert Faas has chosen an audacious style for the first biography of one of the greatest American poets … Faas mimics Creeley’s language and his rhetorical shifts, often to hallucinatory effect. The biography’s appendix, which consists of the reminiscences of Ann MacKinnon, Creeley’s first wife, heightens this effect, for in important particulars her view does not square with that of his letters. Still, if Faas is correct, the facts are disturbing, whatever they are … the biography is mesmerizing.” (David Andrews, Review of Contemporary Fiction, 22, 2, 2005, 250)
“In this biography, the biographer turns into the biographee, ‘impersonating voices, senses of humour, ironies, sarcasms, hypocrisies.’ The result is remarkable, and one easily forgets that Faas’s intense book is in fact based on a rather simple and familiar premise – namely that, at least in the case of the poet, a wild life generates better works. Le style est l’homme même, and the nicer the man the duller the poetry. For Faas, the philandering, boozing, drug-abusing and wife-beating Creeley, while personally none too appealing, was a more interesting writer than the older, wiser but also wearier sage mumbling ‘post middle-age’ platitudes about life and death … Such ventriloquizing is not limited to the book’s protagonist; Faas easily slips into the minds, or holds the pens, of Creeley’s friends and disciples (‘How would a man whose writing could cause such turmoil in your brain affect you in person?’) and troubled wives (‘Would she have to give him shots?’) … I enjoyed this book, as I would a well-written novel, realizing at the same time that Robert Creeley, in method and intent, takes us back to the olden days, when anxious biographers stayed clear of any discussions of their subject’s works while literary critics, as Walter Jackson Bate once lamented, shrank from ‘the rich and embarrassing complexities of what it meant to be a living person.’” (Christoph Irmscher, “Lovely Damn Things,” Canadian Literature, 180, Spring 2004, 129-30)
“This is the first book-length biography of one of the world’s preeminent poets, covering the first 40 years of his life … well-written, well-researched.” (L. Berk, Choice, 39, 8, 2002)
“Ekbert Faas, the author of this new biography, had earlier edited Creeley’s correspondence with the Canadian poet Irving Layton, as well as an anthology of essays and interviews … in which Creeley plays a prominent part.” (Marjorie Perloff, “A Survivor,” Times Literary Supplement, April 26 2002, 5-6).
Also see E. Faas’s reply, particularly to Professor Perloff’s claim, that he gave a “lurid portrait of the artist”: “Personally, I couldn’t think of a higher tribute to the younger poet than my comparing him to Rimbaud. But if I’d guessed that anyone might glumly misconstrue my upbeat portrait of him to this effect into that of a ‘drunk, a heavy drug-user and a reckless womanizer,’ I might have added that his so-called ‘iniquities’ along these lines strike me as rather dilettantish at worst. Also, there was no need for my allegedly scurrying around in search of ‘new and spicy bits’ for my ‘lurid portrait.’ Plenty of such ‘bits,’ which we deliberately suppressed, remain in my possession.” (TLS, June 7, 2002, 17)
“Creeley must be valued for his poetry – or scrapped for it. I confess that at the time of For Love (1962) and Words (1967) I had a high regard for him as the heir to William Carlos Williams’s minimalist aesthetic and the author of such zeitgeistful poems as “The Dishonest Mailmen” … But rereading Creeley’s poetry in connection with Faas’s biography I have become skeptical. I begin to think that the ones who benefit most from a policy of scrupulous minimalism are those who don’t know how to decorate: Paint the walls white, strip the floor, furnish the bare space with futons and pine-plank bookcases – and maintain an enigmatic silence by which one may come in time to have a reputation for depth.” (Thomas M. Disch, “Creeley in His Time,” Weekly Standard, 7, 8, 2001, 34-36)
“The angriest bohemian, who nurtured so many avant-garde careers with his small magazines while pulling The Island and For Love out of his bag of tricks, gets unvarnished but admiring treatment here … Despite late-career reservations, the account of Creeley’s first 40 years embraces the writer like a comfortable old jacket, and this biography feels a good fit.” (Kirkus Book Reviews, Nov. 2001)
“Returning to Robert Creeley’s work, with Ekbert Faas’s extraordinary biography, I am struck not only by the limitations the poet has imposed on himself, but also by how distinctly he now seems to belong to a particular cultural moment, in which stress was laid on ‘process’ in art, as often as not as a substitute for content … fascinating.” (James Campbell, “Was That a Real Poem?,” Threepenny Review, 90, Summer 2002, 15-16)
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When Ekbert Faas’ novel, along with Douglas Copeland’s Generation X and Rohinton Mistry’s Such a Long Journey, was shortlisted for the Smith Books First Novel Award, Woyzeck’s Head was called the “most philosophically ambitious and dense of all the novels here. If it weren’t for the utterly persuasive and eerie portrayal of Woyzeck, ‘veteran’ of the Napoleonic Wars, murderer, and, ostensibly, the first modern psychiatric patient, one could call this a novel of ideas. Faas, however, dramatizes the ideas through incident and characters who emerge as real people – however distant and historical – engaged in scientific and moral speculation.” (Evaluator Kenneth Radu, Books in Canada, April 1992, 11-15),
Poet and novelist Michael Holmes called Woyzeck’s Head the “most important piece of Can. Lit. I’ve read in a long time;” former British Poet Laureate Ted Hughes found the novel “fascinating – really gripping. Full of the real diabolical glee. And so canny.” (Personal correspondence.)
“A maniacally masterful mind game disguised as a novel … The novel begins smack in the middle of an account by a young man named Hans Martens as he risks his life to smuggle ‘the Woyzeck Papers’ out of Nazi Germany. This singular cache contains the other two narratives that make up the whole, which opens as slowly and as tantalizingly as a Russian matryoshka doll.
“Faas’s Rosencrantz and/or Guildernstern is one Dr. Adam Bergk, an early 19th-century alienist, occultist, proto-Freudian and opponent of the death penalty. Bergk is a genuine historical figure, but is of no consequence in the Büchner play. In Woyzeck’s Head, he is the X at the centre of the game … The epistolary relationship between Bergk and Schopenauer forms the second of the three narratives. The third, as can be expected, is Woyzeck’s own. In the strangely lucid ramblings he produces at Bergk’s urging, he tells of the frightful religiosity of his childhood, his blood-chilling expriences as an unwilling soldier in the Napoleonic wars, his need and hatred of women, his dreams, his nightmares and his visions … Faas, writing in English, is mannerly toward his non-German audience. In fastidious footnotes, he provides translations of the German, French and Latin phrases that dot the text, as well as bibliographical information and explanations of allusions. But are the footnotes an academic nicety, or a wink from the author to encourage you into the game? By now the game should be obvious: is history fact or fiction? This ambitious, exhilarating novel is the most intellectual fun I’ve had since Julian Barnes’s Flaubert’s Parrot. It operates on so many levels: literary, historical and philosophical.” (Eve Drobot, Globe and Mail, 1991/9/28)
“Since its beginnings the novel has always masqueraded as something else – memoir, biography or exchange of letters. In our own day, one of the cleverest disguises was adopted by Vladimir Nabokov whose novel, Pale Fire, is buried in pseudo-academic notes appended to an epic poem. Now … Faas has cast his novel, Woyzeck’s Head, in the form of newly-discovered documents relating to the celebrated case of Johann Woyzeck, the subject of Büchner’s famous play, later turned into an opera by Alban Berg … In literary jargon, this is called a post-modernist novel. Actually, it’s just a very good one … The pleasure afforded by following the play of ideas in this tale makes one hope it won’t be his last.” (H. Werner, Toronto Star, 1991/11/16)
“Reminiscent of Grimmelshausen’s great picaresque novel, Simplicissimus … a literary puzzle studded with succulent obscenities throughout.” (George Lang, Edmonton Journal, 1992/1/12)
“A tantalizingly tangled web of history, philosophy, psychology and fiction … a work of intellectual intrigue along the lines of Umberto Eco … a fascinating tale, written in simple but evocative terms.” (James Muretich, Calgary Herald, 1991/11/23)
“Ekbert Faas employs the story of a psychopathic killer in 19th-century Leipzig to construct a fictional investigation of evil and free will. Do humans choose the things they do, or are they simply pawns of the powerful forces which control them? The brutal story has been used before, notably in the play Woyzeck (c.1835) by Georg Büchner, often called the precursor of the Theatre of the Absurd, and in Alban Berg’s opera Wozzeck, which caused riots when it was first performed (1925), but it is now standard repertoire. Faas’s difficult novel is unlikely to supplant either of those versions in popularity, but it presents an interesting perspective … Faas’s novel has levels of significance layered on top of one another, and we are kept guessing as to who are the innocent and who the villains. This vital complexity is the novel’s best achievement. It forces us to think, and judge for ourselves, constantly risking that we might put ourselves in the same camp as Adolf Hitler, or the mad scientists of Nazism, or else (as so many Germans under Hitler are accused of doing) simply try to evade the issue by deliberate insouciance – what Faas calls ‘inner emigration.’ In order to render this dialectic in a literary rather than a philosophical form, Faas uses dramatic structure rather like a morality play, which quite suits the pre-Freudian story. The object of the novel is ‘to unriddle the mind’s secret script.’ In contention is the soul/heart/mind of Woyzeck the psychopath; and fighting to cure or manipulate him are various good and bad angels of proto-psychiatry, mesmerism, religion, phrenology, and misanthropy. Schopenhauer himself plays a role, as does Goethe. Several other historical characters appear, complete with portraits and documentation … This is an important book … Faas powerfully evokes the sadism of a culture that uses violence to regiment its dissenters and individualists. But bleak and unrelenting as is the Schopenhauerian vision pervading the novel, there are several surprisingly humane moments: we see Woyzeck as a pawn of military powers in the Napoleonic theatre – yet one who survives, for a time at least, unspeakable suffering. Lingering in my mind is the image of spent soldiers in a devastated European city, crawling to hide in caves and graves, huddling for warmth with other survivors wearing tattered uniforms of the opposite side.” (Bill Schermbrucker, “Hidden Jews and Other German Secrets,” Event, 21, 2, Summer 1992, 123-25)
“At the heart … is a terrible, radiating chill.” (Maxine Ruvinsky, Winnipeg Sun, 1991/12)
“A thoroughly creditable first novel. Woyzeck’s Head … is a complex postmodern retelling of the story of the 19th-century murderer Woyzeck, whose defender tried to save him from execution by arguing that, being insane, he was not responsible for his crime. Faas focuses on the sinister motives of a doctor, who insists on retrials and delays so that he can conduct psychological experiments on the hapless Woyzeck. But Woyzeck’s Head goes far beyond the Georg Büchner and Alban Berg versions of the story, and beyond the historical documents, to suggest that the doctor, with his friend the philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer, paved the way for both Freud and Hitler.
Woyzeck’s Head is not an easy book to read. It takes place in at least three different times: Woyzeck’s lifetime, ending in 1824; the youth of Hans Martens and his friends, the “Woyzeck Circle,” in pre-Second World War Salzwedel; and Hans Martens’s later search for all the Woyzeck papers, in his desperation to prove his theory about the connection between that case and present world calamities. … In each of these time frames, the events of the time before become problematic, until the reader is forced to see history as valid only because of its resonances in the present. To tangle matters even more, actual people mingle with fictional people, and no one but a historian of the period could say for sure which characters lived in the world and which live only in this book.” (Laurel Boone, “Stepping Out of Time”, Books in Canada, 105)
“On August 27, 1824, Johann Christian Woyzeck was publicly executed for having murdered his lover. Two reports on Woyzeck’s mental health served as the source for Georg Büchner’s drama-fragment Woyzeck. Ekbert Faas’s novel Woyzeck’s Head pretends to give access to a series of other documents and fictional accounts of the same murder case. These papers argue that Woyzeck is the perfect specimen to illustrate the very nihilism that ultimately bred the repressive regimes of Hitler and Ulbricht/Honecker. While in Büchner’s Woyzeck the focus is on the human being who is driven to madness by the social condition in which he is living, in Woyzeck’s Head the focus is on the nihilism of the existential condition and its consequences.” (Stefan Haag, “Speech Acts,” Canadian Literature, 136, 1993 Spring, 143-45)
“In his superbly crafted first novel, Faas not only plays Hamlet with Woyzeck’s Head, he also performs a kind of literary legerdemain in fictitiously recreating certain quasi-historical events in early 19th-century Germany. The tragic story of Woyzeck has an almost Faustian status in German literature … This hapless character was the subject of an unfinished play by Georg Büchner and an opera by Alban Berg. Using the framework of Büchner’s pre-expressionist drama, Faas has ingeniously fashioned a story within the original story, that of a spiritually dispossessed man who murders his mistress in a jealous, drunken rage. What makes Faas’s novel so gripping is the imaginative juxtaposition of chronological episodes – from the Romantic age and Napoleonic wars to the Herrenvolk of Nazi Germany. In Woyzeck’s Head, the figures of Goethe, Schopenhauer and Hitler appear in and out of time, and the reader never quite knows when fiction ends and truth begins. Both are cleverly mixed and equally strange. … Although Faas’s novel is so devilishly clever in construction as to be almost Mephistophelian in intent, it is Woyzeck’s doomed humanity that ultimately cries out for acknowledgement and understanding. In having Woyzeck recount the story of his sordid and amoral life, Faas has achieved what few novelists ever grasp: to expose every aspect of his imagined world, and thereby defy such familiar and useful distinctions as that between comic and tragic modes. The theme of this novel is universal. It presents us with a vision of an outraged and baffled man who is committed yet ambivalent toward his terrible world. He knows, too, that his efforts to understand both his world and his failure must forever remain imperfect. Ekbert Faas’s poignant retelling of the Woyzeck saga easily surpasses the original version.” (Leonard Gasparini, Vancouver Sun, 1991/12/28)
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“The day has been slow in coming, but at last the scholars of post-war Canadian literature have emerged and begun production … A noteworthy example is the recently published correspondence of Irving Layton and Robert Creeley, edited by Ekbert Faas and Sabrina Reed … The editors have done an admirable job of scholarship. They provide a hefty and wise introduction, amazingly thorough notes, a very clean index and 30 photographs from the period. The book makes a significant contribution to the historical and critical study of Canadian and American poetry.” (George Bowering, Globe and Mail, 1990/9/1)
“This is in many ways a very important and oddly central book for anyone who is interested in the emergence of Robert Creeley as one (if not the) major poet in American English in the last half of the twentieth century.” (Harry Lewis, American Book Review, October/November 1991, 1-2)
“Faas and Reed have done a great deal of … historical work, and its burdens must not be minimized, or its rewards for the reader. The index is similarly detailed, accurate, and useful … The letters themselves make stimulating enough reading … This volume provides an important documentary source for Creeley and Layton scholars, and will continue to be referred to.” (Brian Trehearne, Essays on Canadian Writing, 47, Fall 1992, 82-89)
“The more interesting passages in the correspondence of Layton and Creeley, which has now been made available in an edition by Ekbert Faas and Sabrina Reed … help us to realize that writing can be a way of life.” (Christoph Irmscher, “Building Lives,” Canadian Literature, 134, 138-140)
“From the start of this collection, diligently edited by Ekbert Faas and Sabrina Reed, it’s clear that Layton and Creeley didn’t have a lot in common. Where Layton was reckless and emotional, Creeley was cool and precise.” (Joel Yanofsky, “Irving Layton and Robert Creeley,” Toronto Star, 1990/10/6)
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“Now Faas has turned to Victorian psychiatry and poetry, an intersection that narrows the distance between literature and medicine, demonstrating how each anticipates the other. Retreat into the Mind is a splendid book worthy of praise and congratulation, not only because it has dealt so judiciously with its subject, but also because it continues the pattern of searching out significant projects at a time when so much of what passes for scholarship replays old recordings. … Excellent.” (G.S. Rousseau, Isis, 83, 3, 1991, 581-82)
“The cumulative effect of the evidence Faas brings is persuasive in demonstrating the historical and theoretical points of intersection between poetry and mental pathology … For Faas, the chief precursors of the psychological content and dramatic form of the monologue were, on one hand, Wordsworth, with his ‘rigorous inquisition’ of the mind and his definition of poetry as ‘the history or science of feelings’; and, on the other, Shakespeare, whose ability to probe and to represent dramatically (especially in his soliloquies) the whole range of human thoughts and feelings was rediscovered and celebrated in the 19th-century. If Shakespeare provided dramatic models of pathological behaviour – as J.C. Bucknill and other alienists thought he did – then Wordworth (and Coleridge) pointed the way toward new possibilities for psychological poetry through the ‘greater Romantic lyric’ and the conversation poem … Perhaps most interesting from a psychoanalytic viewpoint, however, is Faas’ suggestion that the actual or implied ‘listener’ in dramatic monologues ‘tends to assume the role of the modern psychoanalyst toward his patient’ (p.151) … ‘The poets were there before me,’ Freud said, but Faas shows that poetry and 19th-century mental science also went hand-in-hand part of the way.” (J.Douglas Kneale, Psychoanalytic Books: A Quarterly Journal of Reviews, 2, 2, 1991, 239-243)
“In researching the book Professor Faas has scrutinized the works of some four hundred Romantic and Victorian poets, the reviews of their works in the nineteenth-century journals available at the British Library, and all the relevant critical writings of a more general nature. Additionally, he has read extensively in the books and journals of the period devoted to mental science and to the treatment of the insane. This breadth of study is reflected not only in the closely argued text, but also in the fifty pages of references and thirty-two pages of bibliography … his book is primarily written for students of English Literature, indeed he seems to have mapped out a rich seam for Ph.D studies. However, it is also of considerable interest to everyone interested in the history of ideas and to the student of the history of psychiatry.” (K.L.K. Trick, History of Psychiatry, 1,4, 1990, 434-435)
“Retreat into the Mind … is an attempt … to study the new psychological poetry of the nineteenth century – the greater Romantic lyric and the dramatic monologue – in its relationship to contemporary mental science. As Faas correctly notes, the development of early mental science, the role of the alienists (the mental physicians), and the relationship of each to the formation of nineteenth-century thought (artistic, religious, and social) has not previously been systematically studied. His approach is exhaustive … a major concern here was to obtain a sense of what Wordsworth’s and Browning’s contemporaries thought of this new psychological poetry and how they defined its diverse forms and techniques’ … The roots of the Victorian school are traced in the lives and works of the early Tennyson and Browning; to explore the full genealogy of the phenomenon Faas then works back through the Romantic ‘science of feeling’ and Shakespeare. The second half of the book is concerned with Arnold’s antipathy to psychology and his desire, particularly evidenced in the 1853 ‘Preface,’ for objectivity, and an analysis of the primary characteristics of the form and content of the dramatic monologue. It concludes with a chapter on Swinburne, whose Poems and Ballads is seen by Faas as marking the ‘beginning disintegration of the dramatic monologue as conceived by Victorian poets and critics’ (p. 120). Given the range of materials that Faas covers, Retreat into the Mind is a considerable achievement. He has quite literally mined contemporary commentary, and uses it extensively throughout his work to illuminate the nature and development of mental science and its complex relationship to psychological poetry.” (Thomas J. Collins, Victorian Studies, 33,4, 1990, 677-679)
“In this volume the author … takes a close look at the inter-relationship between poetry and mental science, in the Victorian era.” (Psychological Medicine, 20, 1990, 234)
“Retreat into the Mind is based on the careful scrutiny of ‘some four hundred Romantic and Victorian poets’ (5), plotting a line of continuity from Wordsworth and Coleridge, both of whom ‘had shown an increasing interest in mad monks, mad mothers, and idiot boys’ (177). The book expounds Browning’s penchant for pathological states of mind, and Tennyson’s interest in madness, dreams and visions, disease and abnormality: “If ever a poet had reason to worry about his sanity, it was Tennyson’ (53). The argument is extended to Morris’s depiction of necrophilia and homicidal fantasy (directions uncommon in previous dramatic monologues’ (180), and ends with Swinburne’s ‘Dramatisations of the Perverse’ (186).” (Kenneth Millard, Notes and Queries, March 1990,106-108)
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“This is a compendium of Shakespeare’s implied views on his own art … comparisons with Montaigne and Bacon …” (Year’s Work in English Studies, 67, 1986)
“Prof. Faas has provided a scholarly and fascinating piece of research. As he admits, the task he has set himself is a near-impossible one – but it is nonetheless well worth the effort of research and study.
His approach is threefold: Each of the characters’ statements is interpreted: ‘1. within the context of the work in which it occurs, 2. within the context of the Shakespeare’s oeuvre in general, and 3. against the background of comparable non-Shakespearean writing of the period.’”
The author places Shakespeare’s thought in the context of contemporary philosophy and criticism, especially that of Bacon and Montaigne. His analysis will interest both Shakespeare scholars and students of literary creativity.” (Margaret Hallissy, Book Review, 1986)
“Mr Faas’s work is the first full-length study of Shakespeare’s poetics and its scope is comprehensive … Mr Faas shows that Shakespeare’s small agreement with the common traditional Renaissance critical theories is the product of his affinity whether or not he knew their writings directly with ideas propounded by Bacon and Montaigne. Their ‘radical new view of life’ (p. 80) which Shakespeare shared may be called ‘antiessentialism’ … In short, even though Mr Faas does not describe it in these terms, Shakespeare’s poetic was radical, subversive, and existentialist. In subsequent persuasive pages we learn of ‘Shakespeare’s inverted Platonism’ (p. 126) and discover that Shakespeare’s ‘fine frenzy’ was crucially different from the traditional furor poeticus (p. 139). Finally, in a discussion of the comprehensive theme of art and nature based on The Winter’s Tale, Mr Faas concludes that ‘to the antiessentialist . . . there is only one nature, the world of flux and cyclical return, of which human artistic endeavour is as much a part as any ‘natural process’ (p. 196). Mr Faas’s learned, humane book should be read and re-read by everyone interested in poetics, Shakespeare, or the Renaissance.” (T.H. Howard-Hill, Review of English Studies, 38, 151, 1987, 386-87)
“The book is learned, clearly written, with many references, footnotes and an extensive bibliography. It has many fascinating insights into other writers as well as into some major Shakespeare texts. It is probably not for the general reader but is of very special interest to anyone concerned with drama and poetry or anyone who studies Renaissance thought in general.” (Margaret Penman, Toronto Star, October 1986)
“Faas demonstrates that Shakespeare, like Montaigne and Bacon, espouses an antiessentialist poetic, rejecting the orthodoxies of his day and dissolving the traditional dichotomy between art and nature. For Shakespeare, Faas argues, imagination dictates to reason throughout the creative process, celebrating not the truth behind things, but the final, mysterious reality of a nature forever in flux … thoroughly researched, massively documented and painstakingly indexed … serious students (i.e.: graduate and upper division undergraduate) will want to review the evidence Faas amasses.” (D.O. Dickerson, Choice, November 1986)
“[Shakespeare] refuses the rigid categories of Renaissance theoreticians, being willing to use whatever ideas suit his needs of the moment. This is because, counter to the usual assumptions of contemporary criticism and practice, he has a high regard for the imaginative powers of his audience; he consistently disrupts the stage illusion while trying to make his spectators lose themselves in the spectacle… Shakespeare’s Poetics is very thorough in examining everything that can be used in reconstructing a Shakespearian poetic theory.” (Peter Hyland, Theatre Research International, 12, Summer 1987, 171-72)
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According to George Steiner’s The Death of Tragedy of 1961, tragedy was bound to die out with the waning of transcendentalism after the seventeenth century. “Tragedy and After believes that such a process is also – or rather – to be seen in the individual careers of certain dramatists at crucial periods in history, and notably Euripides, Shakespeare, and Goethe. Each of these came to find the tragic world-view unsatisfying. In each there was with advancing years – though in Euripides with intermittent reversions – a movement, it may be via ‘anti-tragedy’ (in which the supposed redemptive value or meaningfulness is denied and the suffering seen as ‘absurd’), towards ‘post-tragedy,’ in which the suffering leads through to some kind of new life, spiritual rebirth, or cyclical on-goingness. Euripides, after an anti-tragic Electra, reached post-tragedy in his Heracles and Orestes, the Bacchae being a reversion to the anti-tragic. Shakespeare’s Lear, Hamlet, and Troilus, superficially tragic, can be more profoundly interpreted as anti-tragic, but an advance to the post-tragic vision of romance was to give us Pericles, Cymbeline, and ultimately The Winter’s Tale and The Tempest. Goethe, influenced by Sanskrit drama, passed beyond tragedy in his shift of aim and verdict as between the first and second parts of Faust.” (Charles Garton, Modern Language Review, 82, 1, 1987, 158-59)
“Addressing the widely held notion that supports the death of tragedy, Faas points out that tragedy in Aristotelian terms dies ‘in the works of Euripides less than half a century after the genre was created by Aeschylus.’ What really happened, Faas argues, is the recurring death of the belief that human suffering serves some teleological or ennobling purpose. Drawing his illustrations from Euripides, Shakespeare, Goethe, and contemporary dramatists, Faas finds the ‘Anti-Tragic’ in dramas that locate the cause of suffering in situational or psychological particularities and the ‘Post-Tragic’ in works that escape tragic necessity through the employment of alternative hypotheses, from magic to bioenergetics. Tragedy and After is a penetrating study of a genre still widely read. Indexed and fully documented, it merits the attention of scholars and readers of tragedy and inclusion among undergraduate and graduate collections devoted to dramatic theory.” (W.W. Waring, Choice, January 1985, 124)
“Ekbert Faas … argues that the common assumptions that tragedy is dead and that its demise must be linked to modern thought, are deceptive. Concentrating on the later plays of Euripides, Shakespeare and Goethe, Faas … demonstrates that the rules governing the structure and characterization of tragedy were parodied and repudiated long before modern times. Moreover, he states that although this anti-tragic and post-tragic transcendence of tragedy is overwhelmingly evident in the modern times, especially in the theatre of cruelty and the theatre of the absurd, tragedy is by no means dead. It survives in such heralded modern works as Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman and Luigi Pirandello’s Six Characters in Search of an Author. Both essayists [i.e., E. Faas and Harry Levin in Playboys and Killjoys. An Essay on the Theory and Practise of Comedy] are erudite and authoritative. With much scholarly flair they provoke thought by challenging widely accepted literary theory. Both essays should be required reading for students of dramatic criticism.” (Gregory Peterson, The Globe and Mail, 25 April 1987)
“The main argument of this book is well summed up in Faas’s concluding chapter: ‘Too much speculation has encouraged the rather simplistic notion that tragedy, alive for some two thousand years, has gradually died in our time’ … Faas means plays like Pirandello’s Six Characters in Search of an Author and Miller’s Death of a Salesman in which the anagnorisis requires … the revelation of material long repressed in the protagonist’s mind. Such texts have strong Freudian elements, though Faas shrewdly observes that just as Hegel’s view of history seems to reflect the process dramatized in Aeschylus’s Oresteia, so Freud’s theories may be more indebted than Freud realized to Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex. The ‘anti-tragic’ tradition which Faas postulates consists of works that are locked in a dialectical relationship with traditional, relatively affirmative, tragic texts, they resemble sons who quarrel bitterly with the father on whom they depend. Thus ‘Euripides, then, for large parts of his Electra, seems to follow either Aeschylus or Sophocles. But he does so only in order to crush the expectations such parallels have aroused’ (p 50). Similarly, ‘King Lear, like Troilus and Cressida, inverts the mainly classical paradigms of tragedy more directly embodied in Romeo and Juliet. The suffering which in Romeo and Juliet leads to the reconciliation of two families is shown in Lear to be neither purposeful nor ennobling’ (p 109) … Tragedy and After offers a clear … thesis; the textual analyses are concise and generally functional. Its postulation of a dialectical relationship between relatively predictable tragedies and jarring works like King Lear and Troilus and Cressida seems sound.” (Cedric Watts, British Journal of Aesthetics, 26, 2, January 1986, 177-178)
Faas argues that “we cannot have tragedy if we do not believe in a higher purpose to human life that makes sense of and justifies what is otherwise undeserved and meaningless suffering … when faith in divine purpose fails, one response is anti-tragedy … insist[ing] on the pointlessness of everything. For those who attain a more detached view, post-tragedy expresses their feelings about man’s place in the world. This form Faas finds in Shakespeare’s romances and in the second part of Goethe’s Faust. Anti-tragedy he discovers in Euripides’s Hecuba, Hercules Furens, and Orestes, and in Hamlet, Lear, and Troilus and Cressida.” (M.W. Dickie, Shakespeare Quarterly, 38, 2, Summer, 1987, 261-262)
Faas “analyzes the manifestations of anti-tragedic elements found in Euripides and Shakespeare and the nature of post-tragedy represented by Shakespeare and Goethe, as well as by the modern theatre of cruelty and theatre of the absurd and asserts that tragedy is far from defunct today and survives in psychoanalytic variants in plays by dramatists including Pirandello and Miller.” (1984, 36)
“In Tragedy and After … Faas champions those works with a purposive, as opposed to a pessimistic view of life, coupling this with the belief that the genre improperly practiced is self-destructive. He also asks if modern writers were really the first to whom tragedy, as narrowly understood, seemed ‘limited’ or even ‘erroneous.’ Nietzsche, to be sure, echoes in the background. Romeo and Juliet in this reading is a conventional tragedy where plot, in Aristotle’s sense, takes precedence over character. Faas is after the affirmative element that great tragedies contain, and so he applauds Troilus and Cressida for its ‘relativist spirit’ (p.102), and Lear since in frustrating all our expectations it moves beyond a constrictive tragic pattern and hence a negative view of life. Hamlet, both character and play, doesn’t come off well here, for Faas sees the Prince as a negative, self-righteous man, incapable of that growth celebrated in the Romances, a genre he finds to be the proper extension of … tragedies like Lear. … I appreciate the observation that in The Winter’s Tale rebirth occurs in this life, and not in some dramatist’s heaven.” (Sidney Homan, Shakespeare Survey, 1985, 470)
“Of critical discussions of Hamlet, my major discovery since writing this book is Ekbert Faas’s groundbreaking essay … This essay explicitly develops a ‘Nietzschean reading of Hamlet’ that closely parallels mine, especially on such issues as Hamlet’s suicidal impulses and the impact of the afterlife on his thinking.” (Paul Cantor, Shakespeare: Hamlet, Cambridge University Press, 2004, 100)
“Faas has written a provocative book, challenging the familiar literary and philosophical theories of tragedy from Aristotle onwards. His judicious use of Nietzchean insights both stimulates and compels assent. Exuberant scholarship from first page to last.” (Canadian Poet Irving Layton, personal correspondence)
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“Ekbert Faas … has a hawk’s eye for significant projects. His early books identified the tragic dramatic monologue as a subgenre whose richness required exploration, whose full range would never be tapped until the cultural dynamics that shaped it had also been retrieved. These books were followed by criticism on contemporary American poetry, most notably a courageous study of Robert Duncan, one of our most talented poets. Young Robert Duncan … penetrated the world of the homosexual predicament, and the artist’s role in it, before it was fashionable to do so.” (G.S. Rousseau, Isis, 82, 3 Sep., 1991, 581-582)
“Duncan’s “first thirty-two years churn with adventure. Faas is to be commended for not trying to squeeze these years into one Procrustean theory. Quotes from Duncan’s letters, notebooks, poems, stories, reviews and unpublished novel constitute the biography’s best moments.” (Steve Abbott, Poetry Flash, 134, May 1984, 1)
“Bartlett: What do you think of the Ekbert Faas biography, Young Robert Duncan? Everson: Terrific. I thought I knew Robert, but I found I hardly knew the first thing about him. His incredible early life carries the account. You find yourself marveling that he survived at all, then that he emerged with intelligence intact. Some of my friends were put off by the fact that English is not Faas’s first language, but in my reading that proved a plus. The Europeans bring a more historical and objective biographical perspective to the individual life, which effects a kind of cultural canonization that Robert’s heroic courage, intrepid eccentricity, and aesthetic integrity can sustain. The stiff, rather formal diction, detachedly unshockable, puts its painful burden in benign perspective. I predict the book will prove to be one of the cardinal elements in Duncan’s posthumous literary reputation. Bartlett: How did Duncan regard it? Everson: When I finished reading it I sat down and wrote Robert a letter intensely reaffirming all our friendship had meant to me. He told me later that the letter arrived at a decisive moment for him. The book itself had depressed him, and he tended to fault the author for that. But after my letter he took heart, and I know that in his next reading at U.C. Davis he brought the book along for sale with his poetry texts. I rank it among the top two or three literary biographies I have read.” (Lee Bartlett, “On Robert Duncan: A Talk with William Everson,” Modern American Poetry, March 1988)
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“Ekbert Faas published an interview with Ted Hughes in the London Magazine (January 1971) which has since become a fruitful point of entry for those wishing to be initiated into Hughes’s later poetry … The book which Dr Faas has now put together develops out of this: it contains the texts of two interviews (1970-1977) and a number of valuable excerpts from Hughes’s critical writings, as well as Dr Faas’s own account of the poet’s life and work. Dr Faas is well aware of the dangers of the intentional fallacy, but he has nevertheless chosen to steer very close to Hughes’s own life and ideas, alluding not only to his reading and the development of his thought but also to the circumstances of his life and the effect of private events on his poetry. In this Dr Faas is justified, and is consistently successful: his description of Hughes’s reading, and his charting of Hughes’s development, is illuminating and helpful … intelligent and helpful.” (J.R. Watson, Yearbook of English Studies, 13, 1983, 363-364)
“Readers and scholars will welcome this critical account of Hughes’s growth and development. Faas believes that Hughes’s poetry celebrates a ‘radical primitivism’ that begins in moments of ‘flash-vision creativity.’ Faas treats the early books in great detail, but he places major emphasis on Crow, Gaudette, and on Hughes’s long ‘mythic play,’ Orghast. … Faas appends an excellent bibliography and two long interviews he conducted with Hughes. Libraries will want to acquire this book because it helps to point up ‘the living and individual element’ in a poet who is becoming more famous on both sides of the Atlantic.” (Daniel L. Guillory, Library Journal, 1980)
“ ‘Our first three-hour discussion in March 1970 was enough to turn me from an admirer of his poetry into a witness of an interior saga whose gradual unfolding in his writing has held my interest ever since.’ So writes … Faas in the ‘Personal Pre-Preface’ of his recently published book Ted Hughes: The Unaccommodated Universe.
The personal contacts with English poet Ted Hughes came about while Prof. Faas was in London working on a second doctorate in English literature; he approached the poet after completing an article about him for a volume on English poets. Many hours of ‘very intense and private conversations’ ensued.
‘He struck me as a genius … someone operating in a different dimension … like a man talking in a dream … he gave me a sort of dream account of what his poetry was about.’ …The 215-page semi-biographical and psychoanalytic book retraces Hughes’s poetic development from its beginnings and includes excerpts from his critical writings and two interviews conducted by Prof. Faas.” (York University Gazette, 1980)
“The broadest critical coverage of Hughes’s work yet. … a cogent study of Hughes’s poetic growth … Faas writes well … Highly recommended.” (Choice, 1980, 30)
Posted inbooks|Comments Off on Ted Hughes: The Unaccommodated Universe, with Selected Critical Writings by Ted Hughes and Two Interviews (230pp) Black Sparrow Press, 1980
“A book that should become the standard text on the subject in universities across the nation.” (Novelist Joyce Carol Oates, personal correspondence)
“Undoubtedly the best contribution [to scholarly involvement with the poetry of the last three decades] comes from an, as it were, migrant scholar, now teaching at a Canadian university. Ekbert Faas’s Towards a New American Poetics … is a unique combination of interpretation and dialogue between poets and their interviewer-interpreter. Poets presented comprise Charles Olson, Robert Duncan, Gary Snyder, Robert Creeley, Robert Bly, and Allen Ginsberg. While the late Olson could have only an essay dedicated to him and Duncan is represented only in an interview, both forms are available to the reader in the other parts of this fascinating volume. Such a union of forces as that of John Martin, a devoted West Coast private press owner and publisher, with a brilliant younger German scholar is a rare and most gratifying event.” (H. Galinsky, American Literary Scholarship, 1980, 460)
“Faas’ book seems destined to become a central document for anyone interested in the nature and direction of modern poetry.” (Booklist, Oct.1, 1978)
“The collection is essential to an understanding of contemporary poetic visions and the politics of poetry, as practised by almost all those dealt with here and their sometime rivals, particularly James Dickey. An excellent addition to a shelf of contemporary poetry.” (Los Angeles Times, Dec. 6, 1978)
“I’m intrigued by many of the ideas behind the new poetics, sometimes even convinced. The human animal has assumed a reckless domination of all life that threatens that life. Primitive societies have proved wiser in many ways than the civilizations that have all but swept them away. I can even agree that it is harder to write well in closed forms than it was a hundred years ago … Faas’ book … shows on every page how much labor of thought and perception has gone into this anti-rationalist poetics.” (Roger Mitchell, Minnesota Review, Spring 1979, 101-104)
“An important addition to your library … Holding advanced degrees from European universities, his highly abstract approach is often original … Even the poets often find an amusing difference in the way his mind works from the way theirs do.
So it’s not an easy book to describe, and it’s a book to be pondered, not skimmed, but I found the time I devoted to it highly rewarding, especially, perhaps, the Creeley section. … indispensible.” (Independent, Mar. 6, 1981)
“An important study of six poets who should be read as individuals but who are nonetheless relevant to this overwhelming context … Faas has written an introduction and an essay on Charles Olson, there is an interview with Robert Duncan, and then both an essay on and interviews with Gary Snyder, Robert Creeley, Robert Bly, and Allen Ginsberg. Faas is a good scholar, and thus he is not looking for a thesis to ride, but all six of the poets selected believe that poetry should be birthed from the primal self.” (Max Westbrook, Western American Literature, 14, 2, 165-170)
(Translation from the Dutch): “With diligent thoroughness, Faas has built a platform from which inspirations can take flight. … Faas describes this collection as an open-ended sequel to the study of the new art form as ‘no longer of “mimesis but of kinesis” … it attempts to graph several further evolutions of the new art by focusing on some of its major practioners amongst American poets.’ The essay on Olson serves as a map, and the preamble as a guide through a rich forest of ideas, images and speculations by some of the best known names in American poetry. It is almost impossible to see, in any age, the aesthetic and poetic forest, for the individual trees, and in the current flowering of pluralism, it is even more difficult. This is a spectacular first step, however, and if for no other reason than its galaxy of stars, the book is bound to become a classic.” (Small Press Review, 10-11, 69-70, Oct.-Nov. 1978)
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(Translated from the German): “The phenomenon of ‘open form’ has played a crucial role in the emergence of a new aesthetics, and in literature and the fine arts no less than in music. At the end of his complex and penetrating study the author has to confess that the question as to how to define ‘open form’ can only be answered in terms of the various artistic and philosophical theories offered by the artists discussed in his book. This is not said in a spirit of resignation, however, but in the conviction that the new aesthetics resists facile rationalist categorization and that it is still too early to try to systematize its basic assumptions … The high standards of this important study are reflected in the care and attention which the author devoted to his scholarly references and indices.” (Siegfried Borris, Musik und Bildung, 1977)
Posted inbooks|Comments Off on Offene Formen. Zur Entstehung einer neuen Ästhetik (Open Forms: About the Emergence of a New Aesthetics) (197pp) Munich, Goldmann Verlag, 1975.
(Translated from the German): “The study is presented lucidly and appropriately with regard to the subject. … [it] closes a big gap in English literary criticism. It is the first comprehensive and systematic exploration of a so far uncharted area. The author unfolds a gigantic, hitherto for the most part uninvestigated mass of material. Apart from the main practitioners of the dramatic monologue such as Browning and Tennyson as well as otherwise well known poets like Rossetti, Morris and Kipling, he surveys some 300 poetae minores like Robert Buchanan, Augusta Webster and John Davidson. In addition to all this, Faas has unearthed a lot of contemporary Victorian criticism, innumerable reviews and other writings in the areas of psychology, philosophy, and historiography. He demonstrates in an amazing manner the degree to which Victorian criticism and the numerous contemporary reviews can still provide important insights for our understanding of the genre. The dense and concise presentation achieved despite the wealth of all this material is a model [of scholarship]. … excellent.” (W.G. Müller, Germanisch-Romanische Monatsschrift, 1978, 360-63)
“the study tries to map the stylistic, structural and thematic characteristics of the dramatic monologue in relation to the Romantic “poetry of experience” (Robert Langbaum), from which it originated … Dramatic monologues have been variously defined as the “poetry of situations” (Walter Pater), of character portrayal (Park Honan), or of empathy on the part of their authors (Robert Langbaum). By contrast, Victorian reviewers, in agreement with poets such as Tennyson, Browning, or Buchanan, had long recognized that the depiction and analysis of psychological phenomena are far more central to the genres form and content. They heralded Browning and Tennyson as the poets of “mental science,” labelling their poems “portraits in mental photography,” “dramas of the interior” or simply “psychological monologues” long before the present designation became the generally accepted one.” (English and American Studies in German, 1975, 100-102)
Posted inbooks|Comments Off on Poesie als Psychogramm. Die dramatisch-monologische Versdichtung im viktorianischen Zeitalter (The Dramatic Monologue in the Victorian Era) (228pp) Munich, Fink Verlag, 1974
Posted inbooks|Comments Off on Der Gedankenfuchs (The Thought Fox), translations of selected poems by Ted Hughes, by Ekbert Faas with Martin Seletsky, ed. W. Hollerer (69pp) Berlin, LCB editionen, 1971.
Ekbert Faas has also published numerous essays, small monographs, and scholarly articles on subjects such as composer Karlheinz Stockhausen, Hindu literary classic Shakuntala by K?lid?sa, and Goethe’s Faust in diverse journals like Comparative Literature, Boundary 2, Interface (Amsterdam), London Magazine, Anglia et al.
Under Dante’s Shadow: Boccaccio, Chaucer, and the Alternative Tradition is a critical study of Catholicism’s poetadivino, largely from the perspective of minor and major fellow poets who disagreed with or parodied his works, as in Cecco d’Ascoli’s L’Acerba, Boccaccio’s Amorous Vision, and Chaucer’s Book of Fame.
In Search of Dante: Gemma and Boccacciois about Italy’s sommo poeta, his wife Gemma, and his first biographer, poet, and author of the world-famous Decameron. Like Faas’ previous “historical novels” (Woyzeck’s Head and Mengele’s Friend?), it is painstakingly researched, particularly in its use of medieval historical and other documents.
Terrorists is another historical novel featuring Marx, Engels, Mikhail Bakunin, and other nineteenth-century revolutionaries, focusing on the 1870 Franco-Prussian War and the Paris Commune.
Colón · Aguilar · Cortés takes the form of a fictional autobiography by Cortés’ Maya language interpreter Gerónimo de Aguilar, here also featured as a companion to Columbus’ fourth voyage. Otherwise, this novel carefully follows the era’s original writings by way of invoking major events and dramatis personae involved in the discovery of the Americas and the conquest of Moctezuma’s Mexico.