Jean-François Peyret, Jean-Didier Vincent

Faust A Natural History Publication date : March 1, 2000

It all began in July 1995, when theatre director Jean-François Peyret met with biologist Jean-Didier Vincent, in the latter’s lab. The intellectual exchange and friendship that developed from that meeting resulted, several years later, in a theatrical production based on a free adaptation of Goethe’s Faust, until then deemed unperformable. In Faust, Goethe developed a powerful myth of knowledge and immortality — at the cost of a pact with the devil. Although rejected by the scientific community during his lifetime, Goethe nevertheless had an inkling of the realisation that scientists have since reached: that life is governed by its own laws and that it constructs itself by a process that has no equivalent in the world of physics. The main concern of Peyret and Vincent was not so much to create a theatrical production about biology in our time, but to test their own activities, choices, and subjects of inspiration. In this book, they look back on their production of Faust, and take stock of their experience. Their book can be regarded as a novel, a dialogue, a confession, a reinterpretation of Faust, or simply a mind game. Quietly and without ostentation, Peyret offers the reader a brilliant examination of the theatre today, and Vincent upholds his views more freely and strongly than ever before.

A teacher and a man of the theatre, Jean-François Peyret is regarded as one of the most creative and original directors working in the French theatre today. Among his most highly acclaimed productions is the series of plays known as “Treatise of the Passions”, which he directed for MC93 de Bobigny, a theatre near Paris. His most recent work is about Alan Turing and Hannah Arendt. It was produced in Rennes in February, and in Bobigny in March.

Jean-Didier Vincent, a neurobiologist, is the director of the Institut Alfred Fessard at the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique at Gif-sur-Yvette, near Paris. He also teaches at the Institut Universitaire de France. He is the author of La Chair et le Diable, which has been reissued in paperback this month, and Biologie des passions. He is the co-author, with Luc Ferry, of Qu’est-ce que l’Homme?