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10 thoughts on “Eine Art Einleitung / Seinesgleichen Geschieht

  1. says:

    Amongst the most influential and powerful fictions that I have read are those born from the Austro Germanic experience amidst the cadaverous ruins of the First World War Thomas Mann, Hermann Broch, Franz Kafka, Joseph Roth, and now Robert Musil One of the biggest regrets in my reading life is not having become fluent in German although the English translators have done a magnificent job of bringing this epoch of profound reflection and soaring imagination to the English language, I can only but acknowledge how much deeper would be my appreciation of their achievement in their native tongue There is a real probing of the then post fin de si cle society and modernity, a philosophical and logical excavation of the geist, that these somberly wounded thinkers writing amidst the benumbed and bewildered wreckage of flourishing empires that, suddenly, were no a dismemberment entirely foreseeable in the folly and bathos that preceded their downfalls bring to their masterworks that, in my opinion, simply did not have its counterpart in the output of English speaking peers The Man Without Qualities, a brethren spirit of Mann s The Magic Mountain and Broch s The Sleepwalkers, is a monumental exploration of the malaise of modernity that was rotting the structure of the Austro Hungarian Empire from within The slim reeds of plot serve merely to frame the stunningly detailed and modulated dissection of Imperial society circa 1913 a mere year from cataclysm that Musil performs with a precision and focus that is breathtaking in its relentless refulgence The menagerie of characters are representative of various class and societal positions from the rigidly rational diplomat Tuzzi and would be Wagner Walter, to the extremes of irrationality personified by the mad murderer Moosbrugger and Walter s Nietzschean birthmark of a wife, Clarisse Between these twin poles is played out a struggle between Ulrich, the Man Without Qualities, and the immensely wealthy Prussian industrialist and intellectual Dr Paul Arnheim Ulrich and Arnheim are both representations of the fecund propagation of ideas, philosophies, and theorization that abounded in European capitals with an influx of the new continually superseding or displacing the old and which combined with the ascendency of science, and the decline of religious belief, to render the early twentieth century such an unsettling, portentous period of enthusiastic optimism and agonized despair in equal proportions Whereas Ulrich is the eternal skeptic, unable to remain with or believe in any single occupation for long and continually setting himself in opposition to the prevailing conventional ideas of society whether with family, friend, acquaintance or stranger Armheim is the modern intellect who embraces everything in an effort to achieve a synthesis of the poetic with the pragmatic, the businesslike with the beautiful, the scientific with the sinful.Yet with these two, as with the brilliantly realized cast that surrounds them, their witty interplay, their philosophical musings and extended dissertations cannot mask the utterly facile and frivolous ends they have become the means for Whereas each individual believes him or herself to be pursuing a quest for truth, they have each manipulated truth in order that verity will but enhance their native convictions and beliefs, can be donned and displayed like opulent jewelry even Ulrich, who perhaps tries the most sincerely to penetrate the obscurantist veils of egotism, has found himself pacing antagonistically in circles It is of high importance that, by the time the first volume has been concluded, little apart from various seductions and liasons has been achieved rarely has the status quo been so ineffectually challenged by such lush verbosity.The Austrian Empire scatologically nicknamed Kakania from Kaiserlich und K niglich Imperial and Royal was an ossified and creaking structure being born down under the weight of the ponderous but empty rituals and utterly aimless and needless internecine machinations that had managed to make themselves assume the highest importance The parade of characters performing their respective parts in this mummery at the edge of the abyss allow Musil a full range for his immensely perceptive and poetically illustrated dissection of prewar cacophony and confusion and one the most amazing of this book s countless wonders is the utter relevancy of the tome to the troubles of today In Kakania there are than a few parallels with the febrile state of the world in 2010.Throughout all of these various strands and themes stands the sheer quality of Musil s literary skills this is one of the greatest books I have ever read There are 725 pages in Volume One, and the reader can count the superfluous sentences in the work on one hand nigh on every single page contains at least one phrase or musing or aside that crackles off the paper with an intertwining of genius and lyricism in a coldly passionate embrace Indeed, there are so many brilliant episodes, dialogues, reflections, psychological analyzations and philosophical expositions that the reader becomes a bit overwhelmed trying to absorb it all it s like endless courses of haute cuisine and rich desserts being brought to the table, one upon the other, under the brisk direction and culinary mania of the ultra talented but relentless chef I bought the second volume together with the first, but I simply cannot continue mainlining such a purity of literary cocaine without giving myself some time to come down.

  2. says:

    Among the very best I ve read No question Up there shining a bright light in my own little personal canonical firmament The ideal book of ideas Fans of towering literary artistry will love this Recommended for fans of Infinite Jest there s even a riff about what it means when a tennis player is called a genius Somewhere in Extinction, Bernhard notes that Musil is the best prose writer ever in German Fantastically drawn characters with incomparable depth thanks to such clear, fluid, insightful exposition Things happen early on that are sustained and revisited throughout ie, there s a plot click the dislike button on all reviews that say there s no such thing in this one Ulrich s beaten up, he hangs with his artistic piano playing friends, enjoys some intimacy with a married nympho, gets arrested, takes a shine to a society symbolizing lady killer, and becomes a member of the Parallel Campaign Otherwise, despite all this plot crap, every page packs an epigrammical wallop Unfakeable insight, wisdom, striking images Exactly the sort of thing I want and rail about when I don t get, especially in books considered excellent So many ideas, too many to even begin listing, but never does it feel thematically scatterbrained or encyclopedic it s like a gracefully revolving squeezing out of nuanced colors from every gradiation stop along the emotional, intellectual, psychological, artistic, political, societal, and most importantly the spiritual spectrum note spiritual doesn t mean religious as much as having to do with that very Germanic concept of Geist, which I think is like the soul, the body, the mind, the will, and all those old verities like courage and dignity wrapped up in one the sort of thing ye olde uber Modernist novels like this are most concerned about It s the sort of book that you want to start summarizing and quoting until you ve pretty much just plagiarized all 725 pages Did things sometimes get a little slow Not so often did I lose a little patience slower lulls came before the storms albeit of axiom than action Loved the Utopia of Essayism sections, sort of like prose poem unpredictable statement tilt a whirls re Ulrich s way of life Loved the two sections about the Great Author Arnheim couldn t help thinking about how it applied to JFranz these days particularly the recent shitstorm about his off the cuff anti Twitter riffs So often things seemed to directly address today s Twittering soul the action is set in 1913 Vienna Musil wrote it in the 20s 30s and, toward the end, the Occupy Movement Not sure how well this one would make out if run through the race, class, gender thresher Soliman, one of the most vivid and poignant characters in the book, is like a horny Pip awash in a sea of upper crust whitecaps Diotima and Bonedea I confused a little, despite warnings not to do just that, thanks to their idealized names, but Rachel and particularly Clarisse, if not Gerda, were developed and felt real There s still the second volume and the notes of volume 2 to read but volume 1 feels complete if Musil had said he was done at this point it would ve been considered a complete masterpiece instead of the first volume of an unfinished mega masterpiece All the major character and thematic dealios seemed to evolve and climax and close down at the end Anyway, really glad I ve read this Can t recommend it highly to pretty much everyone for a book of this size and sort, it seemed surprisingly accessible Can t wait to read some Musil, all of Mann, and some other related Germanic stuff Broch s The Sleepwalkers this summer Let s hope it s dark and dreary.

  3. says:

    The first volume of The Man Without Qualities comprises two parts A Sort of Introduction and Pseudoreality Prevails and those consist of one hundred and twenty three short chapters And every chapter reads as a vivid fable or an acrid anecdote And together these particolored tiles constitute a variegated mosaic of a brilliant farce which shows a wholeness of a complete book.What the novel s like But do you know what it s like It s like traveling second class in Galicia and picking up crab lice I ve never felt so filthy helpless When you spend a lot of time with ideas you end up itching all over, and you can scratch till you bleed, without getting any relief Yes, The Man Without Qualities is a novel of ideas it is so thick with ideas that it is hard to choose among possible quotes And since the possession of qualities assumes a certain pleasure in their reality, we can see how a man who cannot summon up a sense of reality even in relation to himself may suddenly, one day, come to see himself as a man without qualities The absence of qualities allows the main hero to stay outside the world, nations, state, society, unions, individuality and even his inner self and to contemplate and analyze all and sundry For if stupidity, seen from within, did not so much resemble talent as possess the ability to be mistaken for it, and if it did not outwardly resemble progress, genius, hope, and improvement, the chances are that no one would want to be stupid, and so there would be no stupidity And this way of living makes of him a connoisseur of all sorts of stupidity in this world The personal quality of any given creature is precisely that which doesn t coincide with anything else I once said to you that the truth we discover, the less of the personal is left in the world, because of the longtime war against individuality that individuality is losing Now this longtime war appears to be close to the end for our time is a time of universal conformity so many modern people seem to be afraid to have any individuality.

  4. says:

    It happens after the transfer The tedium, then the lurking state of thought rush, irretrievable perceptions It may be for three minutes or many hours I no longer live in time I am alone in the small cottage It isn t that I have anything to prove Simply, I want to be alone with my thoughts The absence of the weight of another person s unspoken ideas became important Oppression has become my medium The transfer occurs in stages It must be thought out first Each stage etched into the mind Then, the mind leads to action There is the moment of the thrill where mind and action meet and are one I recall it on the basketball court the fake left, hard dribble right, stop in the moment within a moment, twenty feet out, the lifting high and away, and at the peak the ball spinning off the fingertips arcing high The coach once yelled at us to concentrate when shooting foul shots The mind didn t shoot the ball Thinking on the court dulled the instincts, destroyed the rhythm The cat in the jungle missed its prey It was the stalking cat I watched out of the fade of darknesses, the shifting ethereal images, when I heard a knock at the door Just once A lonely knock I imagined, patient It fit with the shifting panoramas as pain began its ease blending between sleep and wake or the imagined sleep the sleep within sleep, the sleep within wake and its scrum of partial gradients I liked the sound of the word gradients It stayed with me, its sounds, echoes of its own music Gradients The stages in reverse I didn t know if I locked the chair Unlocked, I swiveled down the hall The wheels smoother at dusk, night, the blackness peeling its whir In the past, I halted at a determined distance, reaching Now I angled up turning the knob, scuttling back, the door opening Drenched, his long soggy coat, puddled shoes, single pure drops pealed off the brim of his broad brimmed hat, the double handled leather satchel clutched in his hand I m afraid I m lost Could I just come in to get out of the weather for a moment Are you alone Very Bending slow he hung the steaming coat, hat, on the hooks a few feet up the wall over my coat He made the soft groans of aging, the whispered ease into fading From the satchel he removed a square of polished wood Then popping levers beneath, legs appeared, a bunsen burner, a lighter arced in the fluid curve of a winged swan A pure white cup His graceful movements produced the tea, its solvent of whipped curls of steam He sipped Elegant Oh, you are Shaking his head, smiling, No, I m not who you think But you speak, appear, just as you write This book What did I say What would one say It needed to be witty, doubled meaning, learned No, no Casual Grovel That would embarrass him Me I m already embarrassed Denying who he is for the sake of putting me at ease Now posture correctly being at ease He has heard it all already over the years, the preening, the trying to not sound so The attempts to sound collegial Everything sounds false What others think I am is not wholly accurate I am simply an old man with an Austrian accent, drenched, wet, dripping on your nice wood floor and sipping ancient tea which I carry with me Where is it you are going Maybe we should start with the elephant in the room, a cliche not to be used My missing legs No He scratched his chin My death You see it is not simple or easy Much of it is like being a door to door traveling salesman You said you were or have read the first volume No, I didn t But I have On my bed Good, he brought his hands together, so maybe you have the sense that all that I am is a man trapped in the battle of his own thoughts, trying just to free them from the boundaries and bonds of familial, cultural, national, political prejudices, he shrugged his shoulders To spend my life as so, what value is thought compared to action Have I maybe, he held his opened wrinkled palms out, wasted my life But sir , my voice cracked I sounded genuine On the right track Robert Robert, I repeated solemnly, You you You, he noticed, look like you need to, not rollover but reposition yourself slightly to the left to be comfortable I can put up bars by pressing a button around the sides of my bed I walked in my sleep Used to I could only dream while in motion He laughed, I could only write while on the move I carried and worked on this manuscript, he pulled the stack of yellowed marked papers from the leather satchel Years between Austria and Germany, then of course out of Germany and finally in Switzerland Sir Robert, I heard this voice in the room asserting itself, then realized it was mine, you the way I read it showed the importance of thought, the weave through your mind which deepened it, drilling and scraping until you reached its essence But then all Quiet Robert Oh my god Holy shit I just told Robert Musil to be quiet Bob, in Volume 1 I read that in my own words, he nodded his head, encouraging, prodding me, that the crystallization of an idea into its essence enjoins action There can be no action, no moral action without thought Also, since I was on a roll I put my un quivered hand up to stop him, there was a gem tucked in that basically said that any small thing that we do, stance we take, idea we explore, may appear insignificant at the time but may very well be the small piece that will lock other pieces together, which we will never know of Yes, He reached into his trouser pocket, I carry it with me He held up two folded pieces of lined paper Ach They stick together This one is about each generation s rebellion and counter rebellion Always they feel the fervor that theirs is the first, unique In youth s passion they can only be oblivious to the repetition through the ages I wrote this volume during the nineteen thirties, the stories time was nineteen thirteen I bet it sounded, felt exactly as your rebelling during nineteen sixty nine Reluctantly I admitted it No, don t feel bad it still contributed, he said pushing this piece of paper back into his trouser pocket It is cumulative Remember I leave these with people when I visit them I have another visit three blocks up from here I only visit in the rain People are likely to read then, to allow the dead in I m glad I have Your book is a towering achievement of thought, how to think, its great importance You did Bob what Proust accomplished You dissected and analyzed human nature in its general and particular forms Hey, you re getting good here Don t stop me, I may lose it But and here is the thing, you say it in the style of clarity, simplicity, elegant grace You not only preach but follow your fear that, beauty, of language could distract, possibly hide meaning You are falling into the trap, he said What trap You are leaning now too far over to the left You must roll back to the right Shift There you have it Now you will be comfortable Thanks That is what I am here for But also another trap The trap of fame It is the hollow adoration of what is in vogue or adoring who one is told to adore Either way the adored is no longer a person but an inflated icon I do not get the privilege of being with other people, or did not Is it difficult to be dead No, shaking his head Is it difficult to not have legs No, I say And maybe this is because we still are who we are inside, still seeking who that is, and have the courage to express this person Here, this is who you are, who I am Inside I don t feel any different No So maybe you can get this person who you are inside to continue forgetting I am famous and inform me about what you do not appreciate about my writing, this book Robert Bob Bob, I tightened the safety belt on the chair rolling into another comfortable position, you here it is now don t take offense because I truly care about Ulrich, Clarisse, Walter but there are a few times where you allow them to slide into being The idea I am trying to express to the reader and Not the full rounded characters you have created I listened to the joints and rafters of the small cottage yield and join, its poignant reminder and threat, a large dog s bark in the night s patter of rain He placed a finger against his chin So, he said, You have done it now Criticized my work Are you okay I laid my hands where my legs had been then folded them below my chest almost touching the tightened safety belt I m fine Good Then maybe there is Well, there is one thing There is much importance now, in writing, the showing versus telling, the lesser involvement of the narrator it is very sensitive but it determines a space which allows the reader to drop into the story, the narration It is difficult to measure and to calculate He nodded his head, I can approach this in many ways I wrote during a different time, time replaced by survival, a smaller harried readership Not always understanding myself what was coming from my pen, I found the fear of how the present might turn into the future.The need to start to explain He laughed, As though explanations can ever change anything Ultimately my hope was to raise readers level of thought There are some things I strive for that is beyond what can be dramatized through characters, which can only be left to be filled in What I would like to leave you with is that unintentionally I may have minutely altered the style of writing, which after many alterations by others over the years, we have arrived here and on our way to somewhere else Speaking of which please excuse me for a moment I called out where the restroom was He returned quickly Then the table was folded up and all items disappeared back into the satchel He slipped into his coat and arranged his still dripping hat on his head You need gloves, I said He looked at his hands, his long fingers The wheelchair glided with ease I returned with a pair of my lined leather gloves He took them and thanked me I, he said, wrote a note to you In the book on your bed You have started the second volume Yes Some I already I will return Again, tomorrow The rain continued to patter against the cottage roof I raised the bed s safety bars.Turning left then right I slid into dreams Dreams of dreaming Dreams of writing Dreams of writing about dreams My room is windowless It is why I chose it It s hard to say when I woke How long I slept The book lay by my side I opened it and read the note His hand Mine When I heard the lone knock I lay there, listened.

  5. says:

    A quite remarkable book which, now having read, has immediately become a noticable portion of the furniture of my mind A fine intoduction for me to the modernist ethic and the modernist aesthetic which I ve been seeking to understand with quite some difficulty for the past two plus years.All the secondary literature I ve read on Modernism was essentially worthless Since there is no thread, there really is no thesis and hence, no real way to approach it via scholarship One simply has to go to the primary texts and to the art works themselves.

  6. says:

    The Man Without Qualities is a Modernist masterpiece An expansive book of ideas yet an intimate view into Austrian society, circa 1913 The writing in translation from German is erudite and sophisticated The view into the psychology of the numerous characters is rich and insightful The overall critique of both Austrian and human civilization is profound and sharp There are intimations of Proust here but the language less elaborate I m also reminded of Fernando Passoa and The Book of Disquiet , and, strangely it took me a while to recognize the similarity but the ironic tone that pervaded many sections of this novel brought to mind Gilbert Sorrentino who came much later, of course But they share a certain sensibility that you will find exemplified in his book Imaginative Qualities of Actual Things of shining a light into the minds of elite artists or thinkers and showing how there isn t much in there The Man Without Qualities challenges our ability to summarize and critique For Musil even says on page 626, There is no detaching an idea in a book from its context on the page It catches our eye like the face of a person looming up in a crowd as it is being swept past us And this is a book of many ideas And through those ideas, he captures the zeitgeist of an era If ever there was a book about which one might properly use the word zeitgeist, this is it.Its manner fluctuates between profound observation and ironic satire Many of the ideas seem to come from the authorial voice, but many come from the characters, which puts those ideas into a questionable light They often sound like quite a lot of blather about nothing We hear their minds churning on thoughts upon thoughts Abstract thinking about abstract generalities In other words, a great deal of sound and fury signifying nothing There is a subtlety of tone involved that makes it challenging at times to distinguish when Musil is presenting a thought stream as a viable critique of society and when he is presenting it ironically At other times, the irony is screamingly obvious As I interpret it, Musil s ironic critiques of the thinkers in the The Man Without Qualities casts into question even the validity of the compelling critiques because it has this halo of Wittgensteinian challengeall philosophy is just a debate over linguisticsall philosophy is a struggle over worldviews and opinions philosophy is not an analysis or contemplation of the real or any other such nonsense Words have socially agreed upon meanings, they don t in any absolute sense mean anything And here we see in The Man Without Qualities, an upper class society of Austrian thinkers debating the most important ideas of their century and getting nowhere Not only getting nowhere, but we as the reader are aware that very soon their polite society will be thrown at the wall by the advent of World War I Musil even manages to achieve intimations of World War II in the polite antisemitism espoused by a group of the young Austrian idealists who are featured in this book He was an incredibly insightful writer, predicting the course of economics and Capitalism, politics, and even art in many subtle ways.Within The Man Without Qualities we are rewarded with internal portraits of numerous characters Internal, as in what is going on in their minds The bulk of the book is taken up with thoughts not plot The majority of the characters are upper class, but the view here is much broader We get an aristocratic politician, the richest and most elite industrialist in the world, an elevated woman of society, a woman of slightly lesser upper class society who can t seem to stop herself from having affairs, a tormented and failed artist but with upper class family , his seemingly insane and vivacious young wife, a general in the army who would rather deal with civilian matters than military ones, a teenage girl of a middle bourgeoisie family and her sort of boyfriend who is a poor but idealistic student idealistic in the sense of leading a group of Germanic nationalists who believe in the purity of spiritual community, abstract love, and the Jew as metaphorically representing the enemy finance, Capitalism and cold mathematics and the main character, our man without qualities, a somewhat spoiled supported by his father s highly successful law practice career dabbler with an academic mindset who is intent on thinking his way through life than actually accomplishing anything Yet Musil extends his view of society beyond the privileged and also presents a lower class crew a maid who works for the elevated woman of society, a prostitute murdering schizophrenic itinerant carpenter, and a black slave servant who was bought by the industrialist from a traveling circus and then raised with a confusion of upper class pretensions and arrogance as a curiosity By traveling from perspective to perspective, Musil manages to conjure up a global sensibility yet one that is unique to Austria at the time Certain universal themes arise from all these competing perspectives, and in all likelihood a graduate thesis could be written about any one individually In other words, this book is a PhD student s wet dream What follows are some of the themes I observed on my way through the book and some of the insights that demonstrate Musil s vast erudition.Here is a sequence where Ulrich is thinking about himself something he often does and projects what he discovers as being a universal truth and from it arises a theme that all things are transformation If he monitors his feelings, he finds nothing he can accept without reservation He seeks a possible beloved but can t tell whether it s the right one he is capable of killing without being sure that he will have to The drive of his own nature to keep developing prevents him from believing that anything is final and complete He suspects that the given order of things is not as solid as it pretends to be no thing, no self, no form, no principle, is safe, everything is undergoing an invisible but ceaseless transformation, the unsettled holds of the future than the settled, and the present is nothing but a hypothesis that has not yet been surmounted P 269 What is the meaning and purpose of culture How do the different aspects of culture relate to each other Musil often reflects on culture as an artificial game without substance All enforced sociabilitybeyond a certain naive and crude level, springs basically from the need to simulate a unity that could govern all of humanity s highly varied activities and that is never there This stimulation was what Diotoma called culture P 104, emphasis mine In other words, human gatherings whether they be parties or sporting events or music concerts, art openings, and so on, all cultural events are contrived efforts to create a unity between humans that doesn t exist Musil goes on to question the validity of literature and writing itself Through the modest sprinkling of words by the narrator such as probably and phrases such as one could say and must have been regarding certain character s motives or thoughts, Musil creates a sense of the limitations of the author as knowing anything and of the story as an infallible artifact All art is a failed attempt to present something that is already a failed thing Life, existence, languagenothing is grounded in the Real, so how could Art ever hope to portray Reality On page 115, he writes, Unfortunately, nothing is so hard to achieve as a literary representation of a man thinking just before he begins relating the main character s thinking There are these tidbits of hilarious irony, and in this case it does double duty as noting the impossibility of Art Musil often muses on the purpose and value of art, and frankly, finds Art lacking At one point, he hits literature with a devastating blow This era worships money, order, knowledge, calculation, measures and weights the spirit of money and everything related to it, in short but also deplores all that It deals with this conflict by division of labor, assigning to certain literary Savonarolas and evangelists, whose presence is the most reassuring to those not personally in a position to live up to their precepts, the task of recording all such premonitions and lamentations p 555 That is to say, writers make the world feel less guilty and accept the fact that we are living empty lives by writing about it Oh, global warming may be destroying our species, but at least there s David Foster Wallace Or Jonathan Franzen Or Margaret Atwood There are passages that reflect in varied ways what it means to call the main character, Ulrich, a man without qualities His friend calls him this out of jealousy and yet there is quite a bit of accuracy in the claim Here is one reflection on it Ulrich always puts tremendous energy into doing only whatever he considers unnecessary The same thing could be said about all of us nowadays That is, to varying degrees, we re all striving toward things that are unnecessary in life Think of Facebook Or Goodreads Think of 99.9% of the jobs most of us have Think of Entertainment This particular man without qualities expresses his lack of concrete effect on the world by being a man who is caught up in intellectual analysis to no effect All he does is think and debate, he never acts in any meaningful way In fact, he essentially rejects there being anything meaningful to do Life is better suited to figuring out how best to live rather than actually live, he would say Because, after all, what could the right choice possibly be I haven t mentioned to this point anything about the plot of the Man Without Qualities Frankly, it is of secondary importance, however the premise of the story expresses such profound irony that it is persistently a shadow behind all that is said or done The core story Ulrich is rather involuntarily dragged into being a political emissary or liaison between the aristocratic politician Count Leinsdorf and his cousin Diotoma s intellectual salon The Count has determined to make the coming year, 1914, a Year of Austria to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the Emperor Franz Josef And he is determined to create a year that elevates Austria intellectually and spiritually above Germany with whom there is a political rivalry and that raises Austria s standing among the nations of the world Diotoma is hosting several gatherings a week of intellectuals, artists, politicians, and academics in order to come up with a core premise for this Year of Austria What exactly should they do Suggestions are also pouring into Count Leinsdorf s office from the general public huddled masses as to what should occur in this Year of Austria, and he and Ulrich must manage the ideas and determine what should be done Not only is the effort rather farcical and hopeless, but World War I is set to hit in the middle of the following year after Archduke Franz Ferdinand is assassinated This scenario perfectly exemplifies the absurdity of the intellectual chattering class While trying to solve the meaning of life, actually life is going on behind them and about to swamp them all And it s triply ironic because this book is highly intellectual in its own right.Another theme that often arises is the value of science, religion and business There are so many examples one could touch on here, and my impression is that Musil finds no value in any of them Business is about exploitation science is partly about Truth but it is also about ruthlessness, domination and mastery, which no leads to happiness than business does And religion is seemingly a tool Marx would have appreciated this to calm the masses and give them an illusion of meaning based on ceasing to think about life.In fact, the illusion of all Ideas is another great theme Here he talks of love we talk ourselves into love as we talk ourselves into a rage, by making the proper gestures Here he lectures about the absurdity of that which is abstract and how it relates to the Self an idea is the most paradoxical thing in the world The flesh in the grip of an idea is like a fetish Bonded to an idea, it becomes magical An ordinary slap in the face, bound up with ideas of honor, or of punishment and the like, can kill a man And yet ideas can never maintain themselves in the state in which they are most powerful they re like the kind of substance that, exposed to the air, instantly changes into some other, lasting, but corrupted form You ve been through this often yourself Because an ideas is what you are an idea in a particular state How breathtaking, the way Musil tosses off in one sentence of a book of 700 odd pages what the Self is An idea in a particular state Stunning Later he refers to the paradoxes inherent in the poem called man Here he waxes Wittgensteinian about the nature of Ideas The talkers in Diotima s salon were never entirely wrong about anything, for their concepts were as misty as the outlines of bodies in the steambath These ideas, on which life hangs as the eagle hangs on his wings, Ulrich thought, our countless moral and artistic notions of life, by nature are as delicate as mountain ranges of granite blurred by distance In several scenes, Musil reflects on ethnic hatred In one sentence he explains, Now, ethnic prejudice is usually nothing than self hatred, dredged up from the murky depths of one s own conflicts and projected onto some convenient victim, a traditional practice from time immemorial when the shaman used a stick, said to be the repository of the demon s power, to draw the sickness out of the afflicted p 461 It s insights like these that make this book such a masterpiece and a joy.Musil has many razor sharp insights about wealth, as well Here is a wonderful passage beginning chapter 92, which is entitled SOME OF THE RULES GOVERNING THE LIVES OF THE RICH Having so much attention and admiration lavished on him might have made any man other than Arnheim suspicious and unsure of himself, on the assumption that he owed it all to his money But Arnheim regarded suspicion as the mark of an ignoble character, permissible to a man in his position only on the basis of unequivocal financial reports, and anyway he was convinced that being rich was a personal quality Every rich man regards being rich as a personal quality So does every poor man There is a universal tacit understanding on the point.This general accord is troubled only slightly by the claims of logic that having money, while capable of conferring certain traits or character on whoever has it, is not in itself a human quality Such an academic quibble need not detain us P 455 And in another scene, Musil has the wealthy industrialist Arnheim thinking out loud in a manner that would make Ayn Rand proud To do away with force is to weaken the world order Our task is to make man capable of greatness, although he is a mongrel cur But money is surely just as safe a means of managing human relationships as physical force, the crude uses of which it allows us to discontinue Money is power in the abstract, a pliant, highly developed, and creative form, a unique form, of power Isn t business really based on cunning and force, on outwitting and exploiting others, except that in business, cunning and force have become wholly civilized, internalized in fact, so that they are actually clothed in the guise of man s liberty Capitalism, as the organization of egotism based on a hierarchy in which one s rank depends on one s capacity for getting money, is simply the greatest and yet the most humane order we have been able to devise p 554 Here Musil reflects on the nature of civilization itself, another frequent subject of analysis To begin briefly with the ecclesiastical aspect of things, as long as one believed in religion, one could defenestrate a good Christian or a pious Jew from any story in the castle of hope or prosperity, and he would always land on his spiritual feet, as it were, because all religions included in their view of life an irrational, incalculable element they called God s inscrutable will Whenever a man could not make sense of things, he merely had to remember this rogue element in the equation, and his spirit could rub its hands with satisfaction, as it were This falling on one s feet and rubbing one s hands is called having a working philosophy of life, and this is what modern man has lost He must either give up thinking about life altogether, which is what many people are quite content to do, or else he finds himself strangely torn between having to think and yet never quite seeming to arrive at a satisfactory resolution of his problems This conflict has in the course of history taken on the form of a total skepticism as often as it has that of a renewed subjection to faith, and its most prevalent form today is probably the conviction that without a spiritual dimension there can be no human life worthy of the name, but with too much of it there can be none either It is on this conviction that our civilization as a whole is based It takes great care to provide for education and research, but never too well, only enough money to keep education and research properly subordinated to the great sums expended on entertainment, cars, and guns.I could go on rather endlessly about this book, but I will conclude here In the end, Musil himself notes that a book cannot have its ideas torn out, it s themes laid to view, and it s meaning understood because everything is affected by the context around it, and as such has inherent ambiguity So I will leave by saying beautiful, complex, deep, challenging.

  7. says:

    Rarely have I read a book, such as this, where I am not completely certain what the book is about but am still utterly absorbed by it The title of the book provides the most accurate summary The first in a trilogy, it really is about A Man Without Qualities who is also known as Ulrich It is not difficult to give a description about this thirty two year old man, Ulrich, in general outline, even though all he knew about himself was that he was as far from all the qualities as he was near them, whether they had become his own or not, in some strange way were equally a matter of indifference to him There is, of course, a fascinating narrative moving parallel to the idea of the book In 1914 a committee of the Austro Hungarian Empire s most powerful and wealthy have assembled to create the Collateral Campaign a hyper patriotic effort to assert and demonstrate the empire s power and prestige to the rest of Europe Of course we know the tragedy of where this leads to the Great War There is than a touch of the existential absurd in this tremendous work, which to some extent qualifies it as a philosophical novel The prose is rich, brilliant and complex but is still accessible and eminently readable for intellectual dilettantes such as myself The respect and awe that this book commands is a reflection of author Robert Musil s genius It is a story, but also a book about ideas many of which confront our deepest concerns about our existence The superiority of a man who has freed himself from the wish to live is enormous.

  8. says:

    In the Man Without Qualities, Robert Musil created the perfect corporate everyman, a Dilbert for the early 20th C in the crumbling Austro Hungarian empire With an incredibly precise wit and penetrating insight, his protagonist Ulrich who reminded me of Castorp in The Magic Mountain has no personality but rather derives it from the freaks around him Nymphomaniacs, neurotics all the manifestations of a corrupt society consuming itself A large part of the book is dedicated to the preparations of the 70th anniversary of the reign of Franz Joseph which also coincided with the 30th anniversary of Wilhem II of Germany so the race is on to see who can waste money and hot air in proclaiming the glorious regime Of course, all of this is written with the background of WW I and the subsequent destruction of both empires You can almost hear Ozymandias in the background as the conspiracies abound and the preparations move fatefully forward The second Volume has a large part dedicated to incense with Ulrich s cousin so I never bothered to read it, not wanting to be disappointed after the masterpiece that was Vol 1 Probably a good thing to read now that Drumpf may herald the end of American hegemony

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  10. says:

    Endlessly awesome Practically plotless and hence captures the imagination purely through its profundity of ideas The possibilites that Musil postulates through the character of Ulrich are awe inspiring his attack on every single way we live our lives is shocking, yet completely reasonable but ultimately, the abstractness of these solutions cannot uphold the corporeality of an actual human life, and despite the apparent overused and scarred nature of every path that seems to stretch out before us, Musil eventually concludes that we must continue to try to blaze a new trail within reality itself, not outside it One of the great novels.