Neither of them was, neither he nor she: their ideas and their conduct had long left no doubt of that; but they were nihilists and activists, sometimes one and sometimes the other, whichever happened to come up. In the realm of the aesthetic … even imperfection and lack of completion have their value.
T he Austrian novelist Robert Musil — occupies a peculiar position in the pantheon of great twentieth-century writers.
This brutal yet seductively introspective tale of adolescent cruelty and sexual exploitation at a German military boarding school was published to instant critical acclaim in , when Musil was only twenty-six. But for most of us, Robert Musil is first and foremost the author of Der Mann ohne Eigenschaften , The Man Without Qualities , a book in which the major themes of his earlier works coalesce to form a novelistic tapestry of extraordinary wit, complexity, and intelligence.
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I t is worth stressing the wit. Like those other novels, The Man Without Qualities is a book of weighty seriousness and deep erudition. It is also, in parts, an exceptionally funny book.
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Whatever else one can say about it, The Man Without Qualities stands as one of the great modern works of satire. Set in Vienna in , it depicts a world on the edge of a precipice—the moral, cultural, political precipice that was to give way to the abyss of World War I the following year. It almost goes without saying that The Man Without Qualities is a peculiar book, or set of books. Like the other great novels just mentioned, it is monumental—in its literary ambition, its intellectual sophistication, and, not least, in its length. Certainly, as Dr.
Under pressure from his publisher, who had been steadily advancing him money for years, Musil reluctantly began preparing the second part of the second volume for publication in the late s.
By then, Musil and his wife Martha, a painter whose parents were assimilated Jews, were living in penurious exile from the Nazis in Switzerland. An energetic not to say fanatical rewriter—a literary perfectionist, really—Musil had retrieved the galleys from the printer and was in the process of extensively reworking them when, in April at the age of sixty-two, he suddenly collapsed from a cerebral hemorrhage and died.
Apparently, he succumbed while performing his morning gymnastics another activity to which he was fanatically devoted. Be that as it may, in addition to the twenty chapters in half-corrected galley proof, there exist dozens of draft chapters as well as voluminous notes, character sketches, alternative chapters, and miscellaneous jottings related to the book. Published in three volumes from to , this edition included all of the novel that Musil published during his lifetime all of volume one and the first thirty-eight chapters of volume two.
A projected fourth volume was to contain the posthumously published chapters and notes. While some of this material will interest readers of the novel as distinct from those who prefer to dissect it , much of it will command the attention only of Musil specialists. It must be said, too, that shoe-horning all of this material into only two volumes has bloated the second volume to tumid, phone-book proportions: a pity, not only because it makes the book difficult to handle, but also because it seems unfair to the striking and elegant jacket design that Knopf provided.
In any event, other decisions in the new translation are more dubious. N ot that translating Musil is an easy task. Indeed, nothing about Musil is easy. Simplicity was not for him: in style, thought, or life. But it suggests something more. To speak of a man without Eigenschaften is therefore not so much to deny that he exhibits any definite qualities but rather to suggest that whatever qualities he displays are not really his. To be without Eigenschaften is in this sense to be without character—that inscribed residuum of identity that makes us who we are—though to be without character is by no means to be anonymous.
For readers in the habit of opposing the claims of science to those of art, part of what makes Musil difficult is the way that he complicates the Romantic impulse to champion art as a kind of escape or redemption from unpalatable scientific truths. I will have more to say about this subject—a key theme in The Man Without Qualities —below. But for now it is enough to note Musil was himself of a scientific bent by temperament and training or perhaps by temperament because of training. And Musil was genau in everything: dress, speech, manner, and intellectual comportment.
That is, I must establish the facts. Musil had great respect for facts, and for the procedures science had devised for obtaining them. His education was primarily technical, not literary. I n , the year in which he began writing in earnest, Musil went to study civil engineering. He took a diploma from the Technical University in Brno in , and, after doing his military service, spent a year working in the engineering laboratories in Stuttgart. He then went to Berlin, where he studied psychology, logic, and philosophy the gloomy Maurice Maeterlinck and, later, Emerson and Nietzsche were particularly important influences.
His doctorate, under Karl Stumpf, was on the epistemology of the great Austrian physicist and philosopher Ernst Mach — , about whom William James once remarked that he appeared to have read and thought about everything. And although Musil decided against pursuing an academic career, he remained deeply interested in empirical science. He was even something of an inventor. Early on, he invented a chromatometer. This device, an earlier version of which was invented by Newton, resolves all the colors of the spectrum into whiteness—an appropriate invention, as one commentator has observed, for the author of a book called The Man Without Qualities.
But the portrait of Robert Musil, technician, is not of course the whole story. If Musil was the son of an engineer, he was also the son of a tempestuous, artistically inclined mother, Hermine. As a boy, he was socially withdrawn, often sickly, but also defiant and—in the schoolyard, anyway—effectively pugilistic. Although he was baptized Catholic, his parents were ardent secularists, and Robert was brought up without religious instruction.
Jean de Vignay | Arlima - Archives de littérature du Moyen Âge
As he grew older, Musil quite naturally came to resent Reiter and to despise his father. About his mother he seems to have entertained a mixture of indifference and contempt. Of course, these transformations were a catalyst for disaster. The resources of civilization—epitomized by the faith in rationality, moral law, and progress that Schorske mentions—were hollowed out from within; weightless, they soon lost the capacity to resist the barbarism of feeling—aesthetic, sexual, social, political feeling—that rushed in everywhere that a spiritual vacancy was felt.
Musil put it in terms of the credit system:. The Man Without Qualities contains a record of both activities. On peut se demander dans quelle mesure Genette est conscient de ces distinctions. Vous savez que je suis confuse! Il y en a aussi, entre autres, chez Braque, Miro et Picasso.
Est-ce un fait de hasard? Genette et Vigneron ne se posent pas la question.
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De plus, elle est indissociable de l' expression grammaticale par les temps verbaux. Le premier de ces jours — [ Une autre fois, Swann que j'avais vu si souvent autrefois Et grave pour qui? Tout d'un coup , C'est la seconde clef de lecture qu'il offre ainsi au lecteur. Auerbach, Erich , trad. Borges, Jorge Luis , trad.
Le manuscrit original du "Tour du monde en 80 jours" retrouvé
Genette, G. James, Henry trad. Jauss, Hans Robert , trad.