– The Tragedy of Doctor Faustus, Christopher Marlowe
On the evening of Friday, July 29th 2016, I was walking on Mackenzie Avenue in downtown Ottawa, directly in front of a Tudor-Gothic monstrosity called the Connaught Building, which houses the Canadian Revenue Agency. This part of the city is currently riddled with construction in preparation for the celebration of Canada’s 150th anniversary in 2017 (incidentally, 2017 is also the 150th anniversary of the publication of Das Kapital).
Doing my best to block out the impending Phête Pnationale and its attendant busyness, and walking, as I do in crowded zones, with my head bowed in chthonic reverie, I did not fail to notice the appearance of a gentleman of the early-modern era in profile – manifesting himself in the dirt and pebbles of the construction site:
I am sure I knew it was Doctor Faustus as soon as I saw him – the black eyes of a renegade scholar, the sardonic grin (as in a gruesome pact just made), and a bearing of nobility prepared to undergo the most frenetic debauches that unfettered nercomancy could offer…
“‘What’s that general Cromwell said?’, Kelly asked.
‘To hell or to Connaught!’, Faustus replied.”
This at least establishes a nominalist connection between the location in question, the good Doctor, and the depths of the Underworld. Perhaps he had found a portal from Hell, and wished to communicate his discovery? It was only a few weeks previous that a great sinkhole had manifested itself very close by…
I am, at any rate, quite appreciative of the Chicago Surrealist Group’s frequent citation of the Tex Avery cartoon Wild and Wolfy in which a cowboy gunfight between Droopy and the wolf results in the chance carving, via bullets shot into boulders, of classical sculpture. Why shouldn’t the master of energy and deal-making, the contract breaker extraordinaire, appear before the fortress of Canadian phynances as the result of a messy sidewalk renovation?
Posting this picture online with no commentary besides the title, the response was immediate. Marc Labelle responded with the quotation a Goethe’s Faust Part I that seemed to uncannily presage this specific occurrence of objective chance: “A man sees in the world what he carries in his heart.”
Dale Houstman suggested the face resembled Mephistopheles more so than Faustus, but agreeing that they might very well reflect or incarnate one another, and even switch place. Stuart Inman then proposed that people attempt to draw the pareidolic profile that they saw in the the dirt and the pebbles, and then to post their results, without seeing each other’s interpretations ahead of time.
What Was Seen:
Dale Houstman (who saw Mephistopheles instead of Faustus)
Laura Lake (whose family pronounced the word “fusty” as “Fausty”)
Maria Brothers (who, along with Dale Houstman, saw Mephistopheles: “Not long ago, I had a Faust related dream, and this picture reminded me of it. Glancing at your picture once again this is the result I got, I saw Mephistopheles instead of Faust.”
Eugène Delacroix, 1828 – Mephistopheles Appears Before Faust (detail)