The Man Without Qualities

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also how does the new one translate 'tausendjahrreich'?

thomp, Saturday, 16 October 2010 00:03 (nine years ago) link

tausendjahriges reich. whatever

thomp, Saturday, 16 October 2010 00:04 (nine years ago) link

i would have liked to quote from a chapter in volume 1 but i can only find volume 2. : (

here's burton pike, though, in the preface to the posthumous leftovers:

'musil did not finish the man without qualities, although he often said he intended to. there is no way of telling from either the parts published in his lifetime or his posthumous papers how he would have done so, or indeed whether he could have done so to his own satisfaction. this is because of the novel's rigorously experimental structure, consisting of an "open architecture" that could be developed in many directions from any given point. the novel does contain coherent individual threads and incidents, but musil firmly rejected the idea of a plotted narrative whole. therefore, while the drafts of the twenty chapters in part 1 of "from the posthumous papers" carry on from where "into the millennium" left off, the material in part 2 is not preliminary to a final version in the usual sense, but consists rather of notes, sketches, and drafts that musil was keeping in suspension for possible use in some form at some place in the ultimate text, a version he never decided upon and that must forever remain the object of tantalizing speculation.

the extent to which musil regarded this novel as experimental was extraordinary. he had begun work on it in earnest in 1924 and was most reluctant when the urging of publishers and worsening external conditions forced him to publish parts of it in 1931 and 1933 (pages 1-1130 in this edition [i.e. all of parts I, II, and III]). from his point of view, the entire text ought to have remained "open" from the beginning until it had all been written and he could then revise the text as a whole. he complained that partial publication removed those parts of the novel from the possibility of further alteration, as well as distorting the shape (again, a never defined, "open" shape) he had in mind for the whole work. as it was, in 1938, in less than robust health and apparently apprehensive that he would again be forced into premature publication, he withdrew the first twenty chapters that appear in "from the posthumous papers" when they were already set in galleys, in order to rework them still further. these chapters were not intended to conclude the novel but to continue "into the millennium". like goethe, musil had a strange sense of having infinite time stretching out before him in which to complete his task. one is tempted to see in his solitary and stubborn pursuit of his ideal more than a little of kafka's hunger artist.

musil's purpose in writing the man without qualities was a moral one. he had set out to explore possibilities for the right life in a culture that had lost both its center and its bearings but could not tear itself away from its outworn forms and habits of thought, even while they were dissolving. musil equated ethics and aesthetics, and was convinced that a union of "precision and soul," the language and discoveries of science with one's inner life of perceptions and feelings, could be, and must be, achieved. he meant this novel to be experienced as a moral lever to move the world, as emerson and nietzsche intended their writing to be experienced, in such a way that (in rilke's words) "you must change your life." musil's anguish becomes palpable as he pursues this search for the right life using the tools of scientific skepticism, while remaining all too aware of the apparently inherent limitations of human societies and, especially, of human nature. fortunately this anguish is leavened by a sparkling wit of language and situation, as when a character is described as wearing "a wig of split hairs."'

j., Saturday, 16 October 2010 01:22 (nine years ago) link

Cool, thanks for the tips I think I'll go with the new one then, I just liked the 3 different covers the picador editions used.

― Michael_Pemulis, Friday, 15 October 2010 18:18 (Yesterday) Permalink

Man oh man I love those covers. I have 2/3 vols then own the other vol in the picador (but not in the same style of cover?).

My feelings on this (to give ans emil.y) - Musil said he wasn't interested in Joyce. Given the few bits I know about Musil that could be jealousy but when you read the novel you can tell he wasn't.

He sorta explores the essay form in fiction. A bit like Proust or Borges except the former has more going on by the manner in which he wrote (e.g. the punctuation he utilizes).

Broch is in the middle of all that: part III of The Sleepwalkers is a worried essay but Death of Virgil builds on Joyce.

xyzzzz__, Saturday, 16 October 2010 11:07 (nine years ago) link

Interesting discussions about experimentalism, thanks guys. I may have to have a bit of a read of it just to see where I stand on the issue too.

emil.y, Saturday, 16 October 2010 11:46 (nine years ago) link

i reread the first two chapters of part III (beginning of the second vintage volume) last night, the writing is really amazing.

compared to say 'the sleepwalkers' or 'the magic mountain', the way he depicts people thinking or talking about 'important things' makes broch and mann seem like old-timey allegorists. in the first chapter where he re-meets his sister, ulrich is depicted as feeling her out (he barely knows anything about her) in a conversation that takes all these turns in response to the content of what they've said (about her academic-climber of a husband and about gender relations, among other things) and to ulrich's read of her emotional reactions and of his own—it doesn't at all read like 'musil tries out some thoughts about education and gender', it's actually a scene in which people think, and it makes the situation and the people and the ideas seem bound together.

there are all sorts of inversions of time piled up in those first two chapters, it's crazy. but the most awesome is his father's telegram:

this is to inform you that i am deceased.

– your father

j., Saturday, 16 October 2010 23:43 (nine years ago) link

j you're right in that an idea and a character are more fused together in Musil. Mann (at least in the read I gave to The Magic Mountain) in comparison is quite wooden, all symbols playing off against one anther for supremacy instead of beings on the page, thinking and feeling. I largely think this to be the case in much of the Sleepwalkers (each of the three main characters representing an age blah) but in part III he's playing at a few different things in the essays.

Actually got a copy of part III on its own and I'll need to give that a re-read sometime.

xyzzzz__, Monday, 18 October 2010 20:14 (nine years ago) link

i would agree about mann except that i do think a lot of the stiffness in 'magic mountain' is not unintentional. it seemed to me like a writerly way to solve the problem of how to depict attraction to and enticement by competing 'great ideas' and their corresponding ways of life, without the course of a novel being the most apt place to express such things. (i put it that way, mainly because i'm trying not to say 'mann didn't understand these things well enough to do them justice in fictional form'.) things in that novel seem quite affected by the naive hans, spiritual education in progress, being the focal point of the narrative, even if the official narrator is distinct from hans.

j., Monday, 18 October 2010 21:47 (nine years ago) link

the "essays" in Man Without Qualities are (with or without context to the actual "prose" of the book) some of the best, most pure philosophical material ever written (in style and in contents) and Musil insights are magnificent and inspiring.

Zeno, Monday, 18 October 2010 21:48 (nine years ago) link

six months pass...

i finally read "the confusions of young torless", it was great. i found it tougher going than mwq but still full of really brilliant insight. also i'd forgotten, beyond the philosophy even, what a brilliant mood musil can conjure. torless is so relentlessly violent and bleak, even the thoughts and feelings seem to have a real sense of blood and thunder to them.

i also bought flypaper, a collection of short stories, but not started it yet.

Phelan Nulty (Local Garda), Thursday, 12 May 2011 10:51 (nine years ago) link

Been finishng his diaries - a lot more relaxed than his novels. Diaries that were not intended for publication will always do that on one level, but its even more pronounced in this case.

Took a while for it to warm up to the contents, so this got more interesting with the entries composed while he was engaged with MwQ, and its reaction: namely his frustration at lack of reaction and non-recognition in Austria. He did save most of his energies for the novel but there are some gems: when he describes H!tler as an emotion, then you see his scientific background on the one hand, and openess to mysticism on the other. A good moment is when he reflects on MwQ that has been pusblished so far as having too much essayistic material that doesn't stick (or words to that effect). The introduction is worth a good scan.

xyzzzz__, Thursday, 12 May 2011 18:19 (nine years ago) link

Just finished today and there is a wonderful set of entries, a kind of notes-to-an-autobiography that (like so many of his ideas for novels, etc) never materialized.

Really a must (even when there is planty to quibble over and get frustrated by), just an opportunity to spend more time in his company.

xyzzzz__, Friday, 13 May 2011 17:39 (nine years ago) link


Egon Schiele exhibition (whose paintings were reproduced on those MwQ Picador covers)

xyzzzz__, Friday, 13 May 2011 17:42 (nine years ago) link

Young Torless frightened me when I read it in college in '95 -- one of the first times a work of lit forced me to rethink my sexuality.

ginny thomas and tonic (Alfred, Lord Sotosyn), Friday, 13 May 2011 17:45 (nine years ago) link

it really is quite intense alright.

thanks for that info julio, i have had diaries in my amazon basket for a long time, must buy them then. also will check that exhibition...

Phelan Nulty (Local Garda), Saturday, 14 May 2011 19:00 (nine years ago) link

No probs Ronan.

All I need to read now is that volume that ceme with the Burton Pike translation of sketches/scenes/proposed endings fo MwQ (only available w/the hardback I think)

xyzzzz__, Monday, 16 May 2011 17:55 (nine years ago) link

no, not in the current u.s. paperback ed—it's all crammed into the second volume.

j., Monday, 16 May 2011 23:03 (nine years ago) link

two months pass...

anyone else read flypaper? don't know why i held off on reading more than the title essay till now, it's such perfect musil material. "it's lovely here" and "monuments" in particular are really good. when he's in the mood to make a point it's always so nicely weighted, never browbeating. and he has that 1 per cent smartass quality running through things too.

LocalGarda, Monday, 15 August 2011 14:27 (eight years ago) link

I had completely forgotten that I was the one who recommended this formative book to LG. What a feather in my cap! To be honest, I am now incapable about thinking of this book or Musil without thinking of LG, and vice versa.

Virginia Plain, Monday, 15 August 2011 20:31 (eight years ago) link

:) i owe you greatly. it's still such a big thing for me, that book. i have considered musil related tattoos.

LocalGarda, Monday, 15 August 2011 23:01 (eight years ago) link

you should totally research the system (of notation? symbols?) he used to organize his notebooks for 'man'.

j., Tuesday, 16 August 2011 03:25 (eight years ago) link

Ha, LG, I refuse to take responsibility for any Musil-related body ink. Whenever I see reference to this book (granted probably most often on this board) I think to myself, LG got so much more out of it than I did, I should read it again. And then I see a shiny thing in the distance and forget all about it until the next time it comes up.

Virginia Plain, Tuesday, 16 August 2011 13:58 (eight years ago) link

i have probably mentioned my failure to finish this book already on this thread

thomp, Tuesday, 16 August 2011 14:07 (eight years ago) link

failure to finish book, failure to reread thread

j., Tuesday, 16 August 2011 18:18 (eight years ago) link

seven months pass...

i started reading this cuz i was really impressed with von rezzori and i guess musil was a big influence on his writing but:

To me, a book that changes the way you think and really dominates your thoughts

'dominatees your thoughts' is a really good way of putting it, so far it has this real immensity, physicality, it almost sort of looms. i mean not even really sure of what i think about it, because it ends up thinking for me, almost?

Lamp, Tuesday, 3 April 2012 02:43 (eight years ago) link

which translation are you reading? i really don't want to scroll back up and see how long i've been reading this for

thomp, Tuesday, 3 April 2012 13:01 (eight years ago) link

wilkins and pike

Lamp, Tuesday, 3 April 2012 17:35 (eight years ago) link

do you find it oppressive or just boring?

Lamp, Tuesday, 3 April 2012 17:35 (eight years ago) link

Got tonka and other stories recently, not started it yet tho.

I'm going to allow this! (LocalGarda), Friday, 6 April 2012 07:21 (eight years ago) link

diaries are worth a look

puff puff post (uh oh I'm having a fantasy), Friday, 6 April 2012 08:48 (eight years ago) link

do you find it oppressive or just boring?

kind of ... both?

it's weird, tho, i think the older translation does a more thorough job of making everything be in quotation marks -- like there's obv characters (the businessman who comes to a revelation that 'one should only expend the interest of one's soul - never the capital!') whose interior lives are plain awful, but absolutely everything is ventriloquised by this narrator or structure of feeling that puts it into that space. which is sort of aligned with but not identical to ulrich's malaise

whereas i think the new one seems closer to making it seem like there are human beings in there somewhere. i swapped halfway through and then gave up.

thomp, Friday, 6 April 2012 09:13 (eight years ago) link

probably my favorite novel of all time.

anyone read Posthumous Papers of a Living Author and can recommend?

nostormo, Friday, 6 April 2012 15:06 (eight years ago) link

back on this. i half wonder if one of his sublimed models was de sade.

thomp, Sunday, 15 April 2012 11:30 (eight years ago) link

in the earlier translation the telegram runs:

"Herewith notify you of my decease of current date."

thomp, Sunday, 15 April 2012 11:31 (eight years ago) link

really need to finish/restart this

Exile in lolville (Alfred, Lord Sotosyn), Sunday, 15 April 2012 12:00 (eight years ago) link

okay, 'into the millennium' is kind of amazing throughout

thomp, Friday, 20 April 2012 09:47 (eight years ago) link


thomp, Sunday, 22 April 2012 10:31 (eight years ago) link

And the verdict?

Thinking of reading this one again soon.

xyzzzz__, Sunday, 22 April 2012 15:06 (eight years ago) link

nine months pass...

So, about 2 1/2 years after getting the books (vol 1 and 2 of the new translation) and reviving this thread (as Michael Pemulis), I finally started reading Vol 1, am about 300 pages in and am absolutely loving it. Even with high expectations going in, it's managed to completely exceed them all and totally blow me away.

Federico Boswarlos, Friday, 8 February 2013 18:33 (seven years ago) link

three months pass...

Törless entirely abandoned himself to their influence, for the situation in which his mind now found itself was approximately this: At schools of the kind known as the Gymnasium, at his age, one has read Goethe, Schiller, Shakespeare, and perhaps even some modern writers too, and this, having been half digested, is then written out of the system again, excreted, as it were, through the finger-tips. Roman tragedies are written, or poems, of the most sensitive lyrical kind, that go through their paces garbed in punctuation that is looped over whole pages at a time, as in delicate lace: things that are in themselves ludicrous, but which are of inestimable value in contributing to a sound development. For these associations originating outside, and these borrowed emotions, carry young people over the dangerously soft spiritual ground of the years in which they need to be of some significance to themselves and nevertheless are still too incomplete to have any real significance. Whether any residue of it is ultimately left in the one, or nothing in the other, does not matter; later each will somehow come to terms with himself, and the danger exists only in the stage of transition. If at that period one could bring a boy to see the ridiculousness of himself, the ground would give way under him, or he would plunge headlong like a somnambulist who, suddenly awaking, sees nothing but emptiness around him.

Mastery of the authoritative tone is in evidence there.

Aimless, Friday, 17 May 2013 23:51 (seven years ago) link

seven months pass...

Read about his poem Isis and Orisis today and a translation in this blog about Musil

Isis and Osiris

On the foliage of stars the moon
Boy in silvery rest withdrew
And the hub of the sun's wheel soon
Turned and looked at him anew.

From the desert the red wind wails.
And the coasts are empty of sails.

And the sister quietly loosened
The sleeper's sex and devoured it.
And she gave her soft heart, the red one,
In return, and laid it upon him, upon him.

And in the dream the wound healed over.
And his sweet sex she devoured.

See how the sun thundered away
As the sleeper was shocked from sleep,
Stars swayed, like ships,
Shaking trees, if they are chained,
When the great storm begins.
See, there his brothers stormed
After the lovely thief,
And he cast his net out.
And the blue space broke,
The woods broke under her tread,
And the stars ran along in dread,
But the tender birdshouldered one
Could not be caught by anyone, no matter how fast.

Only the boy she called to at night
Finds her, when moon and sun exchange.
Of all the hundred brothers, only this one,
And he eats her heart and she eats his.

xyzzzz__, Thursday, 9 January 2014 23:01 (six years ago) link

eleven months pass...

Anyone read Heimito von Doderer's The Demons, reading about it in this blog although that piece complains about criticisms of it rather than putting an argument forward for same.

I suspect it isn't v good as the good stuff does manage to stay in circulation in small but visible enough ways but I'd like to hear anyone's thoughts.

xyzzzz__, Thursday, 8 January 2015 10:31 (five years ago) link

one month passes...

Just found it, haven't listened..

xyzzzz__, Tuesday, 17 February 2015 23:52 (five years ago) link

lol er starts with some old concert.

Matthew Sweet annoys me...still wasn't expecting this book to be featured.

xyzzzz__, Wednesday, 18 February 2015 00:01 (five years ago) link

That broacast was good in parts: covered Kakania, the way Musil writes about women, how he used himself as a human laboratory is very true an probably much more of post-Freuian psychologist. Agathe. Loved the voice of the guy who reads the passages from the book.

As for the panel Boyd was boring, Drabble was annoying at times (I think the way this book flows from a non-fiction essayism to a fiction of sorts can be baggy and risky but its amazing how Musil pulls it off and keeps you turning pages). Blom seems to have had the longest engagement with the book by far and his comments show that.

xyzzzz__, Thursday, 19 February 2015 11:04 (five years ago) link

Agree with that - I listened to this earlier this year, forget how I found it.

I thought all of them kind of got it wrong and raised really trite points apart from Blom (assuming he was the German academic.) I just think they failed to actually value it in any meaningful way whereas everything he said really showed a sense of the book as a whole and the wide range of topics it covers.

The others just seemed to say "oh it's ridiculous, this parallel campaign" - as if the book was like a short jolly satire.

Moyes Enthusiast (LocalGarda), Thursday, 19 February 2015 13:53 (five years ago) link

one month passes...

Excellent piece - its great Blanchot (also one of my favourite novelists but he wrote differently) has written on him, must chase that.

xyzzzz__, Friday, 20 March 2015 21:51 (five years ago) link

one month passes...

Looks interesting.

xyzzzz__, Monday, 20 April 2015 11:56 (five years ago) link

three months pass...

'The Confusions of Young Torless' is excellent, and only about 180 pages.

SHAMELESS SELF-PLUG: I used to write a great short books column for Bookslut - - but gave up due to complete indifference from the editor.

― James Morrison, Sunday, November 9, 2008 4:48 PM (7 years ago) Bookmark Flag Post Permalink

sick. im gonna read all of these i love short books

flopson, Monday, 1 August 2016 02:36 (three years ago) link

three months pass...

First impressions after roughly 100pp. The approach to story or content is extremely diffuse. The best description of the story so far might be 'some things happen'. But this diffusion is more than offset by the crisp acuity and rueful humor of the author's voice. I am carried along happily wherever Musil wishes to take me, trusting implicitly that he will take me to a place of interest, sentence by sentence.

incidentally, Musil's prose, as viewed through the lens of the translation, is purely remarkable without being striking. He doesn't form his phrases to impress you through stylistic posturing. Instead they each carry an intellectual tension that he successfully resolves over and over again, either as wit or as insight. It's pretty cool to watch him work.

a little too mature to be cute (Aimless), Thursday, 17 November 2016 02:08 (three years ago) link

Nicely put, aimless. Diffuse is the word---in 1000 pages the plot will not be much further advanced, but there is something great or lgely on each of those pages

I hear from this arsehole again, he's going in the river (James Morrison), Thursday, 17 November 2016 09:14 (three years ago) link

What translation, Aimless? Anybody?

dow, Saturday, 19 November 2016 01:39 (three years ago) link

I have the Sophie Wilkins & Burton Pike translation.

a little too mature to be cute (Aimless), Saturday, 19 November 2016 02:26 (three years ago) link

three years pass...

This review has Hofmann saying a bunch of really nice things about Musil but its really unbalanced as a critique of translation in the sense that I have no idea why the NYRB edition is a good translation in the same way that the Archipelago edition of the Novellas is terrible. The review of the NYRB is simply puff.

xyzzzz__, Monday, 9 March 2020 15:23 (two months ago) link

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