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Musils Reconfiguring of Austrias (reluctant) Entry into Modernity

Kathrin H. Rosenfield1

Abstract: Musils essayistic novel The Man Without Qualities is the result of an ongoing effort to reconfigure poetically the conventions and hardened patterns of the cultural, social and political life of his time. Focusing on his first novel The Confusions of Young Trles,s as well as a few of his essays, this paper shows how Musil understands the relationship between rational thinking and the latent ideas and thoughts that emerge from within the poetic dimension (what he calls the other state of mind or other condition). The approach illuminates Musils conception of precision and soul, i.e. the interlocking of sensitive perceptiveness and intellectual rigor, which he believed to be a necessary condition in the strife for valuable literature and valuable life. Key-Words: Musil, poetic density, Trless, essays Resumo: O romance ensastico de Musil, O Homem sem qualidades, o resultado de um esforo para reconfigurar, na literatura, as convenes e os modelos petrificados da vida cultural, social e poltica no incio do sculo XX. Partindo de Trless e de alguns ensaios de Musil, esse artigo mostra como Musil entende a relao entre o pensamento racional e as idias latentes que emergem da dimenso potica (do outro estado da mente ou da outra condio). A abordagem ilumina a concepo musiliana de preciso e alma, isto , o entrelaamento entre percepo sensitiva e rigor intelectual como uma condio para a busca de valores literrios e existenciais. Palavras-Chave: Musil, densidade potica, Trless, ensaios.

Introductory remarks

Ph.D. Professor at Federal University of do Rio Grande do Sul. This research is sponsored by CNPq. Email address: .

Musil is best known for his monumental novel The Man Without Qualities and is often praised for anticipating certain literary problems which many critics have come to find important. Musil gives pluralistic shifts of perspective, leaves his narratives open to divergent and competing possibilities, and bodies forth an inconclusiveness of literary (and systematic) narratives, which he conceives as immense mathematical equations, offering partial solutions, yet remaining open to renewed calculations and essays. But Musils great novel did not spring from his head like Pallas Athena. His early works and essays, written decades before he began work on his magnum opus, are unique examples of a conscious project and an ongoing effort to reconfigure the contemporary world of the beginning twentieth century in literature. To redress Austria by means of a novel who would have dared it? writes Elias Canetti admiringly in his life story Das Augenspiel. Born in 1880, and trained as a mathematician and an engineer, Musil served as an officer in the First World War and died in exile in the middle of the Second World War (15th April 1942). His double role as an artist and a practical man allowed him forced him to witness the entire series of ruptures which destroyed the Austro-Hungarian Empire and the Standesethik without managing to fill the resulting voids with social, political, and economic structures that could support a democratic and multi-ethnic society. He also studied experimental psychology as a young man, while he was deciding to dedicate his career to writing (Dichtung, poetry;) he finished his first novel, The Confusions of Young Trless, while writing his doctoral thesis on the atomistic empiricism of the physicist Ernst Mach. His sense of a literary vocation led him to decline a university position in Philosophy, and he set out to introduce the principle of scientific exactitude into the domain of poetic thought and imagination. Musil is well known (and carefully avoided by most of todays drudging professors) for his demanding conception of literature and poetry (Dichtung); he expected his readers to develop the mixture of scientific precision and artistic sensibility that he demanded of himself, and the specifically musilian blend of what he called precision and soul shaped his writing. Although most of us still think of the history of Central Europe in the first half of the twentieth century as a hopeless avalanche of catastrophies, Musil took a more nuanced view. Things in Musil are not so much breaking down as gradually transforming themselves. Musils precise observation allowed him, for a while at least, to feel more

hopeful than most his contemporaries, who too often mistook the end of a particular social order for the end of the civilized world. Musils novels and essays ask how the elements of that social order began to crumble and how the crumbling parts actually were being reconfigured; but most of all, his writing wants to show how this could be done in several different ways, some better, some worse. His writing life consisted to a great extent of testing, through a rigorously logical application of poetic imagination, a wide spectrum of good, average and bad reconfigurations. In 1938, he described his literary principle as a method of serialized cross-sections which permits him to examine emotional, spiritual and social phenomena as a scientist would analyze tissues. He hoped that his method would lead contemporary literature out of certain chronic impasses that resulted from the false either-or division between people who over-emphasized the emotions (particularly in the Jung Wien movement, so highly influenced by Nietzsches Dionysian principle), and people who over-emphasized reason and promoted the subordination of feeling, sensitivity and intuition to political and social commitments.

Musil was extremely suspicious of the propagandistic use of literature and art even for apparently humanitarian purposes and he was much less confident than we seem to be about the critical abilities of communities. He would not have trusted larger groups to be legitimate caretakers of the meanings of a dense poetical work (Dichtung) or of the ambiguities of a life. He viewed his selfimposed task - of re-configuring narrative and rhetoric, of examining the value of literary styles, linguistic habits, and formulaic expressions - as an individual effort; and he always remained extremely suspicious of groups, feeling that they are too easily triggered by collective interests and drives. The nebulous dynamics of groups were, for him, quite the opposite of the task of the Dichter, the author of serious literature. He had developed these beliefs fully by the time the various dictators of the twenties and thirties made his suspicion of groups a necessary, timely, and quite magnificent artistic tool. So I would like to end this introduction with a short remark about Musils conception of Dichtung, of poetic density and seriousness. His claim for mathematical precision, exact observation of concrete facts, and empirical

reliability never led him to a blunt realism or naturalism, because science was only half of his method. The other half was poetry, which he thought of as the domain of the other condition or other state of mind-body-and-soul, as opposed to normal knowledge and discourse (be they everyday triviality or scientific discourses).
He located poetry outside the domain of verifiable discourse; it required and made possible the transition from hard facts or banal circumstances to an experience of transcendence. Musil described this transition as a strange kind of Umstlpen, a turning inside-out of what is perceived, which does not materially change things, but makes them appear in a totally different perspective. Musils paradoxical conception of a transcendence immanent in very concrete elements is not far removed from Hlderlins reflection about the tragic transport, which is the surprising effect of suddenly perceiving the successive moments of an event or a story in the timeless simultaneity of the aesthetic understanding or thought (spiritual eye). The Colloquium LifeConfigurations has offered us the opportunity to discuss this configuration of immanent transcendence in other contexts: Professor Vogt-Spiras carpe diem experience, and Prof. Saylers distinction between the certitude of light entertainment and religious or spiritual certitude. To care about this poetic or utopian dimension within life, to take it seriously in spite of its ephemeral and almost inexpressible character, is the task of the Dichter. Trless: Musils first attempt to come to grips with the other condition A reader who refrains from focusing on the surface topics (adolescent sadomasochism, homosexuality, bullying) in the very first of Musils novels, The Confusions of Young Trless (1906) will realize that the uncanny surfacing and disappearing of the other state of mind, body and soul is already at the heart of Musils earliest novelistic method. The five young men between 14 and 17 find different approaches and partial solutions to the intense feeling of void both enchanting and despairing which is the matrix of the transition experience of adolescence. Trless, homesick and lost in the military boarding school, is first attracted to a young prince, whose aristocratic birth and deeply religious intensity are an almost exotic enhancement of their friendship. But when the prince withdraws from the school without any explanation, Trless falls back into his feelings of emptiness and boredom. His sharp intelligence and wit make him interesting

for two older boarders, Beineberg, who indulges in elitist esoteric ideas about the superiority of oriental wisdom, and Reiting, whose skill for manipulation and intrigue make him the born tyrant of the school. The two older boys spot the ideal victim: Basini, a silly boaster, whose complicity with Beinebergs and Reitings ambiguous sexual drives will quickly lead to his passive acceptance of the older boys humiliations and intimidations.

Considering the complexity of Musils method, it is not surprising that the public failed to grasp it, and Trless became successful for reasons that were unimportant to its author. E. E. Kisch reports that the public identified with Basini, seen as the emblematic victim of the corrupt bourgeois education and elitist hypocrisy. Musil, however, was not interested in the polarization of aggressors and victims. What interested him was the cool and distanced treatment of the topic, which allowed a morally neutral, aesthetic examination of how certain unnoticed possibilities (represented in the figures of the five different characters) might connect and come to a surprising configuration. He was testing his method, seeing if he could create serious literature through the fusing of scientific precision with the other condition of poetry. The seriousness and precision of this literary experiment explains why Musil claimed that there is a decisive difference between inconclusive poetical density and the intellectual focus on isolated topics which can be defined and expressed discursively. More than ninety years later, J.M. Coetzee understood very well the poetic logic of the narrative, whose surface topic (the sadistic victimization at an lite boys academy) is embedded in a much more complex problem. Beyond the grim bullying experience acted out on a colleague who has been caught stealing money from the boys lockers, Coetzee draws attention to the uncanny void of adolescence (and human existence), which triggers cascades of crises: More specifically, it is an [] exploration of [Trless] inner crisis moral, psychological, and ultimately epistemological rendered largely from within [his] own consciousness, [which] makes up the

substance of the novel. (COETZEE 2001: xi in: MUSIL 2001, Penguins introduction) We might add that the story is rendered both from within and from without: Trless thoughts and feelings are, at moments, critically checked by the narrators (and the authors) views of the situation. What is at stake in Trless crisis is the decisive (and biographically relevant) difference between two possible trajectories open to a talented, sensitive and intellectually sharp young man, a fictional alter ego of Musil himself. As so often in all his other novellas and novels, Musil toys with one of his own temptations: the weaknesses of the young man on the brink of missing his chance to face the aesthetic-and-ethical challenge which can transform him into a remarkable person or artist. Like his more robust and violent friends, Beineberg (with his cheap mysticism) and Reiting (the demagogue and dictator to be), Trless, too, will yield to a sadly fixed attitude, denying his own feelings and doings (for example, in his homosexual experience with Basini), protecting himself with the typical shield of the versatile aesthete, the detached connoisseur who hides relevant aspects of his feelings behind the screen of artificial culture2. Trless and his friends are both individuals and social types who rehearse their more or less original solutions to the enigmas of adolescence in the Red Chamber, where they submit Basini to sado-masochistic tortures tortures which Basini first enjoys and consents to for quite some time, before they escalate nastily. Emblematically, this dark space is separated from the rest of the attic by stored and forgotten material for stage decorations3. In other words, it is a stage for the mise en scne of adolescent fantasies: i. e, the first, clumsy affirmations of their Nietzschean will to power and their still undefined erotic desires. These drives are theatrically staged under the masks of moral ideas: Beineberg and Reiting present their brutish violence as an attempt to better and correct Basini, their sadism is mantled as an absurd educational program, makeshift ideals mixing the

Cf. Literati PS 84 s.: conceptual formulae, in particular, cool down the vividness of impressions, and anaesthesize lively experience; such practical simplifications permit to sum up, but they also fall short of what is decisive for relevant (ethic, intellectual and emotional) experience. ibid., p. 85: formulae function as protective shields. 3 Cf., Trless,German original p. 40, Kulissen, English transl. Penguin, 48 s. .

conventional codes of honor with exotic elements of their philosophical and literary readings. Although Beinebergs regressive interest in Indian myth and wisdom and Reitings blunt patriarchal visions of hierarchy and submission reproduce extremely conventional cultural molds, for the boys, they have the charm of ideas: Ideas are those representations which never take shape totally when they rise from the nourishing matrix of feeling, although they assume certain [vague] forms. (Symptom-Theatre). (MUSIL 2001: 87). The three boys are unaware that they are rehearsing conventional attitudes inherited from their environment, while they still believe that there is something lively and original in the dark, thrilling mist rising from the humus of obscure feelings which are (as Musil explains in his essay on Symptom-Theatre) the fertile soil of vague ideas. What is wrong with this theatrical staging are not the fundamental drives per se, but the fact that they are not thought through, and thus rapidly gain certain compulsive connotations which remain clad in rhetorical formulae (educational redressment, order, etc.) and, as such, go unchecked by a more sensitive intellectual understanding and moral criteria. Trless keen intellect tries at certain moments to correct this flaw; although confused by the powerful seduction of his own awakening drives and intimidated by the lurking fear that he might, himself, become Reitings and Beinebergs victim, he remains aware of the gross, mindless brutality of the torture they are inflicting on Basini. But, already, his demanding (and slightly rigid) aesthetic sensibility has hardened under the shock of his first experiences and he withdraws from an open confrontation both emotional and intellectual - with his own brutal drives awakened by his older friends. He already starts to use refinement formal, stylistic, cold, lifeless refinement as a shield against the harder challenge of a lively confrontation with violence and sexuality. And Musil will explicitly anticipate that his trajectory leads right to the position of the aesthete.4 Musils mistrust of ideas vague concepts and paroles loaded with emotional dynamite was already strong when he wrote Trless. But it would

Cf. Trless, German original p. 112, English transl. 126; Portuguese transl. 152.

increase immensely later, after he himself had let himself be contaminated by the war-enthusiasm which led to the First World War. He look back for the rest of his life to the madness of the summer of 1914 as a warning not to let himself be grasped by ideas be they vaguely aesthetical or educational promises or more dogmatic fascist, bolshevik or Stalinist mots dordre without analyzing meticulously what, if anything, is aesthetically-ethically consistent in them5. In the very year 1905, when working on the final draft of his Trless, Musil noted a conversation with his friend von Alesch, in which he tries to come to grips with the difference between the aesthete and the artist (or the serious critic): 5. VII, [1905] Today, after Schumanns seminar, I talked with von Alesch and a few others [] about Huysmans, whom Alesch praised immensely. I said that I didnt like Rebours. Von Alesch: oh, but that is very fine stuff, particularly his style. There are such subtle aesthetic beauties I objected that this subtlety is slightly artificial; there is nothing real, nothing [convincingly] concrete or tangible. Alesch: what does real mean [in literature]? And why would it be a fault to be artificial? (MUSIL 2001: 152-3, Notebook 11) Musil is irritated with the cultish snobbery of Aleschs know-it-all attitude, which is so at ease in the art-world that he needs no longer wonder about its relation with real, i. e, relevant feelings and thoughts6. Musils Notebooks provide a few enlightening insights into his efforts to define the task or the writer (poet, Dichter) whose fiction has the task to discover possibilities which might bring into a better equilibrium the spiritual, the intellectual and the emotional perspectives on human experience.

1. The alienating effects of writing and poetic density


See, in particular Bedenken eines Langsamen, (Ruminations of a Slow Witted Man), written in 1933, in which Musil painstakingly analyses Hitlers Renovation program of the German Spirit; Kleine Prosa, 1413-1435, PS 214-236. 6 Cf. TB I, 152-3; Alesch, the versatile aesthete, corresponds to the model of the over-sensitive aesthetics of the decadence, together with Huysmans or George.

These notebooks filter his own impressions and fleeting feelings, his thoughts and reflections, his agreements and disagreements with other opinions or writings. They are not narcissistic, or even particularly introspective; they are generally impersonal, and they become more so as Musil matures. His sober, businesslike juxtaposition of objective observations and pitiless analyses of intimate processes (his own and other peoples) provide raw material for the fictional reconstitution of his cosmos (objectively and subjectively) in crisis. Due to his scientific and philosophical background, Musil sees, much more sharply than any other artist of his time, the problematic status of the poet caught in the complexities of modern society. As the Austro-Hungarian Empire dissolves around him, its final upheavals make him particularly sensitive to (un)acceptable political and ideological compromises, confronting him very realistically with the social, communicational and economic implications which tend to conflict with the inherent concentration and density of poetic thought. The latter belong, according to Musil, to another condition (anderer Zustand) than rational understanding and calculation. Nevertheless, Musil vindicates a place for poetry and poets within, and not apart from, the new, prosaic context of scientific knowledge, competitive, technological interests and rational concepts created by modern society. He sets out to create fruitful relations between the non-rational (not to be confused with the irrational) and the domain of scientific precision. [Short digression: The difference between Musils non-rational (das nichtratiode) and the irrational is not a current distinction in literary critique. But it should be, at least in Musil view, which is based on precise knowledge of systematic philosophy and on perceptive considerations about the specificity of literary discourse. Musil maintains (as Leibniz did in his Monadology7) that rational, conscious apperception differs from the not-yet-conscious perceptions :

A Portuguese translation of Leibniz Monadologia is available online: See paragraphs 12 and 14.


the latter register the subtler, sensitive distinctions, however in such a swift way that they remain mostly inaccessible to conceptual language and conscience. His point is that this nuanced perception of the quarter and eighth degrees which happen below the threshold of conscious, conceptually expressible perception are not irrational: sharper and more sensitive observation can train the soul (a domain at the encounter of the sensitive and the intellectual) to make them accessible to understanding and intellectual considerations. This is the task of the serious artist, poet and writer. This is also the reason why Musil rejects the weak and vague conceptions of the irrational at the turn of the century, derived mainly from superficial ideas about the benefits of immediate feelings and emotions, or the erroneous understanding of Nietzsches Dionysian principle, and the quick, imprecise absorption of psychoanalytical ideas (see also the footnotes on R. Huch and Ellen Key). Patrizia McBride has shown how literary critics like Herrmann Bahr induced a large public to accept as scientific facts their vague analogies between theories like Ernst Machs empiricist atomism (in particular, the notion of fluidity or instability of the Ego) and Nietzsches metaphorical philosophy of Greek tragedy8. Musils Diotima and Arnheim show the coarseness and lack of focus that results from these popular simplifications (see below)].
Musil envisions a precise rendering of the minutiae of feeling and thought through literature; although he understands that this method distances a writer from his community and from politics, he spares no effort, drawing the raw materials of his novels from scientific studies and handbooks as well as works of literature as a way of getting at more objective facts and working out the widest possible scale of variations of human attitudes and reactions. What counts for him in literature and art are precise observation and abundance of examples both on the rational and on the emotional level - , scanning the possible existing varieties and imagining the possibilities which should exist. Against the general trends of his time and his fellow writers torn between free experimentation and ideological engagements Musil insisted that art has to be both responsible and autonomous, committed only to the poetic examination of reality:

Cf. McBride, p. 42 s.


It is not poetry's job to describe what is. Poetry describes what should be, or might be, as a partial solution to what is. In other words, poetry provides significant images. Poetry interprets life fully and endows it with meaning. Reality is its raw material. (But: poetry also gives examples and provides partial proposals.) (MUSIL 2001: 34)9 Musil developed a special gift for observation. He memorized vivid and

analytical images of the mental and senti-mental habits of contemporary culture, and registered the rhetorical sound patterns and styles which distinguish individuals and groups according to their particular ways of treating things or events as given and existing. In his essay Profile for a Program he transforms Machs empirical atomism into a literary enterprise. What is needed, he writes, is: mathematical daring, dissolving souls into their elements and unlimited permutation of these elements; here everything is related to everything else and can be built up from these elements. But this construction demonstrates not this is what it is made of, but this is how its pieces fit together. (MUSIL 1990: 13) Literature has to enable us to feel and understand (to a certain degree) how different characters fit together the chaos of impressions to construct their world views, the attitudes, habits and stylistic tricks that enable them to present things and ideas according to their own or others mental and senti-mental routines. This is why, for Musil, Gestalt psychology is more important than the psychoanalytical clichs too quickly picked up by artists and literary critics. Great literature has to offer a welter of examples not one model to be followed which sharpen our perception of differences and possibilities not yet realized. Trless is Musils first effort to come to grips with the what he calls the inexpressible, which forms the horizon of the sorrows and yearnings of adolescence. Musils experiment in Torless with four different possibilities of formulating the same problematic elements will grow to gigantic proportions in his later work. And his notebooks show a vast collection of examples of how Musil continued to register the significant differences between the different characters modes of expression, their

GW 7, 970 Fallengelassenes Vorwort IV zu Nachlass zu Lebzeiten. Cf. Amanns detailed analysis of the relations between literature and politics, LP, 34 ss., 60-70.


styles which do not present new or original contents, but variations or, as Musil says permutations of the very same elements. The two couples Diotima and Arnheim, Agathe and Ulrich are conceived of as such experiments with thoughts and feelings. Both couples struggle with the very same inexpressible enigmas - love, the soul, elevating ideas, spiritual transcendence -, but the result of their respective handling of these elements couldnt be more different. Musil writes in his notebook no. 21: juxtapose [the two couples and their struggle with] the inexpressible. Wheras Ag[athe]: A[nders/Ulrich] notice this [inexpressible yearning] in themselves, it is played out as a pretentious hesitation between D a Arnh (MUSIL 1976: 588, Notebook 1) After that opposition follow numberless examples of the specific styles expressing Diotimas and Agathes feelings. Diotimas style is prophetic sentimentality: A time will come and there are signs that this time is near in which, may be, our souls can behold each other without the mediation of the senses. Occult powers awaken around us, magnetism, telepathy and levitation / Anders finally takes her to such meetings / scientific spiritism materialization. (MUSIL 1976: 588, Notebook 1) This almost liturgical soul-mongering and her tendency to occultism contrasts with Agathes more down to earth observation: Presentiments, the strange impression of an encounter or of the look [of another person]; a decision, we will never know why. Do we not all spend the greater part of our lives in the shadow of an event which has not yet happened? [MUSIL 1976: 589] What matters for Musils poetical enterprise is the exact tone of such quotations, their abuse of notions like spirit and soul, ideas and intellect which tend to become meaningless (and prone to propagandistic abuse) when they are carelessly treated as bundled packages, clichs repeated in journalism and small talk.

2. The Master as opposed to the aesthete


This peculiar and broader perspective of Musils work is not always easy to bring into focus, and particularly so in Trless, whose apparent leitmotif of perversion seems to have led most readers to think of it as an expressionist or decadent work. It is far from that. In fact, Musils first novel already distances itself from expressionism and decadence, pointing beyond the simple, uncensored depiction of cruelty and perversion. Musil implicitly criticizes as aestheticism the insistent dwelling on expressionist ideas, i.e, representations impregnated with the vivid perfume of the obscure humus of feelings from which they emerged. Trless is the literary transposition of Musils reflections about his own positioning as an adolescent and as a beginning writer. Musil looks at himself through the mirror of Trless and von Alesch, whose character is a portrait of what Musil loathes and tries to leave behind him. As he writes in his diary: [... Alesch is] the kind of man who is aesthetically sensitive. I am morally sensitive. Particularly since my passion for Valerie. In the old days I joined the aesthetes. Later, I started considering them as part of the greenhouse culture. Types like Strobl reinforced this idea. Constructed feelings, paper emotions. And now I come face to face with a man Who has all those cultural associations at his disposal. He pretends to be able to feel feelings I can only name [conceptually]. I have to figure him out; this causes me the sort of exhileration which reminds me of the times when I arrived, a half barbarian, at the gymnasium [highschool] and the circle of inmates. (MUSIL 1976, 152-3, Notebook 1) The young Musil is highly suspicious of the aestheticism of his time - as well as being nervous about what he felt to be his own insufficient knowledge in art and literature10. As he transmutes his experiences into fiction, he turns his aesthetic insecurity, confronted with Aleschs highbrow sophistication, into the unfavorable relationship that Trless maintains with his older colleagues, who pretend to have solutions to the enigmas Trless is struggling with. Trless uncanny emotions and fantasies would require high standards of senti-mental elaboration; but the school does not provide him with an adequate environment. On the contrary, the school, like his parents, offers him only a homemade sentimental moralism; while his older schoolmates offer an unrestrained

Musils education and training was much more turned towards mathematics and the exact sciences than towards art and literature. This made him often feel uneasy and (over) competitive in his relations with colleagues and friends more familiar with the literary world.


brutality, physical and mental. The three boys reactions to the overcome educational and moral ideals of the Bildungsbrgertum11 outline three types of attitudes which were characteristic for the building up of a cultural impasse in Austria and Germany. We could call it, as Freud did much later, the Civilization and its Discontents-syndrome. But Musil tried to avoid the unilateral explanation which focuses one decisive cause12. From early on, Musil identifies the numberless daily attitudes which contribute in their apparently innocuous ways to pave the roads to moral degradation: the daily use of inadequate, sentimental and hypocritical clichs which prevent the perception of the reality, the laws and the regularities of real life and experience; Trless future withdrawal to aestheticism will weaken his precious combination of sensitive, passionate alertness and his keen scientific mind which still searches for natural, precise, mathematical explanations not backward myths of unity and ancient wisdom and myth (like Beineberg), the unity of Greek (or Indian or medieval) philosophy or art and the like. Musil had shared in his early youth the enthusiasm for Goethes, Nietzsches and Jakob Burckhardts praise of the forceful beauties of Classical Greece and the Italian Renaissance. But he quickly perceived the dangers of the transformation of these ideas into educational or cultural models for contemporary society13. In Musils sensitive, alert and precise analyses, this aestheticizing mindset fit perfectly into the other malign tendencies of reactionary culture and politics in Austria and Germany. In the larger social and political context, the formerly exciting ideas could only be devastating. Nietzsches will to power, Burckhardts praise of the Italian princes and Nietzsches dreams of a Dionysian revival of tragic heroism or the illusions attached

Musils later novel The Man without Qualities, represents Lindner and Hagauer as the educationspecialists whose programs present outdated ideas as modern and promising perspectives. 12 Musil does not deny the merits of the emancipation movements of his time, but the (unrealistic and unscientific) salvation-attitudes attached to them. What he criticizes is the combination of a salvationpromise grafted on a unilaterally singled-out unique explanatory theory: incest taboo and sexual repression in Freuds case, the forgetfulness of pre-Socratic Being, in Heideggers, the longing for religious integrity of catholic conservatism, for aesthetic holism in the arts or the calls for national unity by the Pan-Slavic or the Pan-Germanic movements; or, later on, the formulae of communist and Stalinist panaceias. 13 Cf. his analyses in the Notebooks of Ricarda Huchs Bltezeit der Romantik (published in1899, reedited in 1901; cf. TB I, 137, 3 April 1905) and Ellen Keys Die Entfaltung der Seele durch Lebenskunst (June 19, 1905, TB, I, 151). Although Musil frankly admits that he shared precisely this enthusiasm for the age in which romanticism flourished (Bltezeit der Romantik) he quickly identifies the regressive trend and the sentimental stagnation of this kind of enthusiasm which remains blind to the challenges of modern science and technology, politics and economy. It feeds on impoverished scholarship which transforms Goethe, Nietzsche and Burckhardt into popular, journalistic recipes, a generalized form of demagogy which takes form in The Man without Qualities as the Diotima-syndrome: the vague enthusiasm of the (half) cultivated public that gets its ideas from literary supplements and illustrated reviews.


to forceful liberation of the deepest passions through the spirit of music or through erotic experiences all the vagueness of these regressive forms of idealism tended to channel the most precious talents and efforts into the nets and movements of political and ideological decisiveness. In the following decades, Musil wrote and spoke a lot about the dangers of this longing for decisiveness (Sehnsucht nach Entschiedenheit, MoE 1128 MwQ 1228)14. The clearest comes from his notebooks: Long before the dictators emerged in reality, our era produced the (climate for) their spiritual veneration. Have a look at Stefan George. And also Kraus and Freud, Adler and Jung. Or see Klages and Heidegger. The common denominator is probably the desire for leadership, the nostalgia for the essence of the savior. Would this be characteristic of leaders? For exemple, firm values and formulae which can, however, be understood in totally different ways. (MUSIL 1976: 896) 15 The quotation about the dictators (TB I 896) points out that the danger does not lie exclusively in the fascist and Stalinist dictators, but in the entire range of emotional, sentimental, aesthetic tendencies and their yielding to intellectual laziness compensated by sudden passionate explosions of activism and Dezidiertheit (decisiveness). The aesthete, who misses the intellectual challenge of his obscure feelings and longings, who fails to elaborate, step by step, the inner workings of the intense emotions which easily carry us away, it the most vulnerable of social types vulnerable, particularly to the pressures, menaces and seductions of tyrannical power (the Reiting type) and the theatrical staging of ritualistic esoterism, which tends to draw on legends of ancient wisdom and a sentimental longing for the lost perfection of bygone cultures. Embittered by the terrible turn of contemporary Austria and Germany, Musil reiterated, in his diary, that all the admired aestheticizing artists, all the (philosophical, psycho-analytical and ideological) myth- and culture-mongers, contributed to the general mindlessness of their own culture, which sold itself out to National Socialism. Not only the avowed Nazis like Heidegger, but even Freud had this effect on the people who would soon salute Hitler.

Cf. Klaus Amanns detailed analyses of the political implications of Musils literary and critical essays: Robert Musil: Literature and Politics (A Companion to the Works of Robert Musil, p. 60 s.) and the more recent Book, Robert Musil Literatur und Politik, Rowohlts Encyklopdie, 2007. Musils essays and annotations follow all the phenomena of the rising fascism: the medievializing aesthetics of the bookburning in may 1933, carried out by students under the patronage of Gbbels and with radio broadcasting (Cf. Amann 56); the mythicizing rituals of the consecration of the banners (see below, Appendix no. 2) and the like. 15 TB, I, 896 [vero 1938]


Musil was of course smart enough to know that Freud was not a fascist or a Bolshevik. It was not the beliefs or commitments of these writers, but their mental habits and their approaches to their work that made them bad counselors. What Musil noticed in all of them was a one-sidedness, a preference for unilateral methods of investigation of narrow fields of knowledge. By dividing the exact sciences from literature and the humanities, and establishing atomized and incompatible sets of firm values, they made it easy for demagogues to conquer by manipulating the opinions even of most intellectuals, not to mention the uninformed or the half-educated public. Musils view of constantly changing constellations which alter the value of each element (concepts, customs, political, social and economic criteria, moral and aesthetical values, etc.) certainly shrank as much from the Austrian reactionary and proto-fascist tendencies as it feared and abhorred the mystifications in the humanities: the poetical elitism of the George-Circle, the ritual celebration of Heideggers etymologies and digging up of ontological relations hidden in the structure of words, and also the Freudian archeology of culture condensed in the popular (and soon journalistic) notions of the Unconscious, the sexual trauma or the Oedipus complex.

Bibliography and Abbreviations AMANN, Klaus, Robert Musil Literatur und Politik. Mit einer Neuedition ausgewhlter politischer Schriften aus dem nachlass , Rowohlt, Reinbek bei Hamburg, 2007. BARNOUW, Dagmar, Skepticism as a Literary Mode: David Hume and Robert Musil; in: MLN, Vol. 93, No. 5, Comparative Literature (Dec., 1978), pp. 852-870 COETZEE, J. M. What is a Classic? in: - Stranger Shores, New York: Penguin, 2001 - Diary of a Bad Year, New York, Viking, 2008 KISCH, Egon Erwin. Der Rasende Reporter (The raving Reporter), Berlin, Aufbau Verlag, 2001.


LUSERKE-JAQUI, Matthias. Die Verwirrungen des Zglings Trless: Adolescent Sexuality, the Authoritarian Mindset and the Limits of Language, in: Musil Companion, 1151-174. MACH, Ernst. Die Analyse der Empfindungen, Jena: G. Fischer, 1902. MCBRIDE, Patrizia, The Void of Ethics. Robert Musil and the Experience of Modernity. Evanston: Northwestern UP, 2006. MUSIL, Robert.

Smtliche Erzhlungen, Rowohlt, Reinbeck bei Hamburg, 1968. Kleine Prosa und Schriften, Rowohlt, Reinbeck bei Hamburg, 1978 (P) Tagebcher, 2 vols. Ed. Adolf Frise. Reinbek bei Hamburg: Rowohlt, 1976 (TB). Der Mann ohne Eigenschaften, Rowohlt, Reinbeck bei Hamburg, 1976 (MoE)

Pour une evaluation des doctrines de Mach, Paris, PUF, 1980. Precision and Soul. Essays and Addresses (Burton Pike and David S. Luft, eds.

and transl.), University of Chicago Press, 1990. (PS)


The Confusions of Young Trless, (transl. Shaun Whiteside), New York, Penguin,


The Man Without Qualities, (transl. Sophie Wilkins), New York, Vintage, 1995

(MwQ) PATAI, Daphne & CORALL, Will H. (eds). Theory's Empire: An Anthology of Dissent, Columbia UP, 2005.


PAYNE, Philip; BARTRAM, Graham; TIKHANOV, Galin (eds.). A Companion to the Works of Robert Musil, New York, Camden House, 2007 TODOROV, Tzvetan, Traveling Through American Criticism, in PATAI, Daphne & CORALL, Will H. (eds). Theorys Empire, pp. 52-59.