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The Man Without Qualities

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This magnificent novel, compared by critics with the best of modern masterpieces, demonstrates that one must turn to Proust, Mann and Joyce to find a talent of equal brilliance. Set in Vienna on the eve of World War I and peopled with some of the most memorable characters in modern literature, the book presents a profound, witty and striking portrait of life as it exposes the vanities, follies and eccentricities of the dying Austro-Hungarian Empire.
--back cover

365 pages, Paperback

First published January 1, 1930

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About the author

Robert Musil

213 books981 followers
Austrian writer.

He graduated military boarding school at Eisenstadt (1892-1894) and then Hranice, in that time also known as Mährisch Weißkirchen, (1894-1897). These school experiences are reflected in his first novel, The Confusions of Young Törless.

He served in the army during The First World War. When Austria became a part of the Third Reich in 1938, Musil left for exile in Switzerland, where he died of a stroke on April 15, 1942. Musil collapsed in the middle of his gymnastic exercises and is rumoured to have died with an expression of ironic amusement on his face. He was 61 years old.

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Profile Image for Vit Babenco.
1,425 reviews3,392 followers
April 3, 2020
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 more 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.
February 24, 2020
Είναι απίστευτο το συλλογικό τελετουργικό εύρος
απο το κουβάρι της ζωής, ως το ποικιλόμορφο νήμα
της αφήγησης, που ξετυλίγεται προστατευμένο
απο τον τον νόμο της υποψίας και της προοπτικής σύντμησης των φαινομένων για την ιδεολογία του μηδενός, του ανθρωπισμού, της πίστης και της επιστήμης.

Η παντοδυναμία του ονειρευόμενου ανθρώπου
που αμφισβητεί την πραγματικότητα του.
Την έννοια του ατόμου που αφηρημένα και διαβόητα, μετατρέπει και αλλοιώνει το εύρος της ανελέητης αλήθειας του κόσμου, αλλά ψάχνει διεξόδους, ώστε οι ψυχές να αντικρίζονται χωρίς την μεσολάβηση των αισθήσεων.
Αυτός ο πλάνητας των ιδιοτήτων, έχει την απλότητα
στο «Όταν»,το «Πριν» και το «Μετά»,
της αφηγηματικής τάξης πραγμάτων, αυτής της τεράστιας λογοτεχνικής αυτοκρατορίας που έχτισε ο Μούζιλ.

Ένας βαθιά φιλοσοφημένος στοχαστής, ένας μυστικιστής της συναισθηματικής καθαρότητας που αντιτίθεται στην σκευωρία των ιδιοτήτων,
ένας πολέμιος της πραγματικότητας που αναζητάει το άλλο κράτος της ύπαρξης, τον Πύργο των επαναστατικά στεροτυπικών συμπερασμάτων για τους στόχους των πιστών σε έναν νεκρό θεό, έναν θεό που οι κακόμοιροι ανοήμονες πίστεψαν πως τον σκότωσαν σε βωμούς κέρδους, ενώ στην ουσία ο θεός έχει γίνει απλά, Άλλος.
Έχει ασπαστεί την Αγία τριάδα
κράτος-εργασία-τεχνική, που απαιτεί τα πάντα, ολοκληρωτική παράδοση στα θυσιαστήρια του Μολώχ που διακηρύσσει μανιφέστα θανάτου όταν δεν λατρεύεται και δεν υπηρετείται, ενώ στο ακαταλόγιστο της σκλαβιάς του υπόσχεται μια διαβολική θεία χάρη.

Ο συγγραφέας τούτος είναι ανυπέρβλητος στυλίστας των γενικών ιδεών της εποχής του που έτειναν να γίνουν διαχρονικές και αξεπέραστες.
Ο Μούζιλ θεωρείται απο πολλούς ως ένας απο τους μεγαλύτερους μοντερνιστές του 20ου αιωνα
( και ναι, βάζω ταμπέλα σε έναν λογοτέχνη ενώ είναι κάτι που απεχθάνομαι και αγνοώ).

Ο Αυστριακός ευφυής πεζογράφος πέρασε το μεγαλύτερο μέρος της ζωής του
(1880-1942) γράφοντας αυτό το επικό έργο.

Μπορείτε να υποκλιθείτε κάπου εδώ ή και λίγο παρακάτω.

Βρισκόμαστε στην Αυστρία το 1913 και γνωρίζουμε τον Ούλριχ -έναν απο τους σημαντικότερους και γοητευτικότερους χαρακτήρες της παγκόσμιας λογοτεχνίας.

Ο Ούλριχ αδιαφορεί για τα πάντα και αρνείται
τη μεσαία τάξη, τη θέση του στην κοινωνία και τις πολλές ικανότητες του.
Είναι ο άνθρωπος χωρίς ιδιότητες ή ο συγκερασμός πολλών ιδιοτήτων που δεν βρίσκουν άνθρωπο να αποδοθούν.
Είναι ο ίδιος ενα κυνικό ποίημα που κρύβεται πίσω
απο δεξιότητες γενικές, πνευματικές και κοινωνικές.

Ίσως η αδιαφορία του καθίσταται δυνατή απο τις δια βίου προσπάθειες του διπλωματικού έργου του πατέρα του,ενός μεσαίου επιπέδου επηρμένου γραφειοκράτη.

Ο Ούλριχ μπορεί να βοά μέσα στην σιωπή του και απο τα μεγάφωνα της καρδιάς του να στέλνει την κραυγή της ψυχής του στο σύμπαν, σαν ελάφι οιστροδόνητο και τότε οι απαντήσεις φθάνουν σε αυτόν απο χιλιάδες άλλες ερωτικές κραυγές μοναχικών ψυχών προς το σύμπαν. Ένας άνδρας χωρίς ιδιότητες που αγκαλιάζει τον διάβολο διότι δεν υπάρχει όμοιος του και μισεί οτιδήποτε παραλύει την βούληση και διαταράσσει το πνεύμα.

Είναι ένας ευφυής άνδρας, ένα μαθηματικό μυαλό,
μια εύστροφη και μεγαλοφυής, χαρισματική προσωπικότητα που αναγνωρίζεται ως διάνοια.

Στην κοινωνία και την ψυχολογία, στην Βασιλική και τυπολατρική Κακάνια, μια φανταστική πόλη-κράτος στην Αυστρία κάτω από τους Μεγαλειότατους, Υψηλότατους, βασιλικούς και αυτοκρατορικούς θώκους, όπως και άλλα τιποτένια συστατικά μέρη, που μαζί με την υποτέλεια στους Αψβούργους, η εξουσία
αλόγιστα οδήγησε στον Μεγάλο Πόλεμο, πνέουν τα λοίσθια η μοναρχική αριστοκρατία και η ανώτερη μεσαία τάξη,
Η Κακάνια βρίσκεται στο χείλος της καταστροφής
όταν ο Ούλριχ συνειδητοποιει πως ο πνευματικός, παραδοσιακός κόσμος της τέχνης και του πολιτισμού ρημάζονται απο την πρόοδο της μεσαίας τάξης στο εμπόριο και την επιστήμη.
Ο παλιός κόσμος βουλιάζει στην άβυσσο εντοπίζοντας κάποιον αποδιοπομπαίο τράγο, χάρη σε διανοητικά ελλιπείς μα ξεχωριστούς ηγέτες και κινητοποιήσεις εθνικιστικών αυτοαποκαλούμενων πατριωτών και λοιπών εθνικών υποομάδων.

Έτσι ο Ούλριχ διορίζεται σε ηγετική θέση σε μια εθνική επιτροπή επιφορτισμένη με την ανάπτυξη του παραλλήλου στόχου, του παραλλήλου αγώνα για μια οικουμενική Αυστρία.
Όλα τείνουν προς ενα σύνθημα που θα ενώσει τις επιδιώξεις των αυστριακών κατά τη διάρκεια του εορτασμού για κάποιο ιωβηλαίο του σκωληκοφαγωμένου γέροντα της «Γενέσεως», αυτοκράτορα Φερδινάνδο Ιωσήφ.

Εύκολα και λόγω κυνισμού ο Ούλριχ μεταξύ πολλών προσωπικών και ενδόμυχων συλλογιστικών διαβουλεύσεων, με κίνητρο τον προφητικό κυνισμό του συνειδητοποιεί πως η επιτροπή έχει μία μάλλον αδύνατη αποστολή.
Το μέλλον της Αυστρίας διαπλεκόμενο και κατεστραμμένο δεν περιλαμβάνει τον εορτασμό της παλιάς αλλά προφανώς μιας ριζοσπαστικής κοινωνικής αλλαγής που στοχεύει στους Εβραίους ως θύματα και θύτες καθώς και την ενδυνάμωση ομάδων ειδικών συμφερόντων στην αυστροουγγρική αυτοκρατορία.

Κάπου εδω ο Μούζιλ χτίζει ενα καστ απο δορυφορικές προσωπικότητες με περίεργα δημιουργικά προαπαιτούμενα και την αυστηρή αυστριακή ανάλυση μέσων, χαρακτήρων, καταστάσεων, διαθέσεων, σχέσεων και σκοπών, σαν ιστορικός που καταγράφει την αυστριακή αυτοκρατορία στις ημέρες της παρακμής, πριν τον Α’ΠΠ.

Το μυθιστόρημα του Μούζιλ θέτει τον προβληματισμό στον αναγνώστη να αναγνωρίσει στον Ούλριχ
αδιαφορία και ανεπάρκεια εγγενών πολύτιμων ιδιοτήτων, ενώ περιπλανιέται σε ένα αποσυντηθέμενο έθνος και εξαρτάται περισσότερο απο την παρέμβαση και τον περιορισμό των καθεστώτων.
Επομένως καμία διαρκή κουλτούρα δεν μπορεί να βοηθήσει στην κατανόηση και την διατήρηση των ανθρώπινων αξιών.
Για ένα άτομο, μια κοινωνία, ένα έθνος χωρίς ποιότητα σε κάθε έκφανση της βιοψυχολογικής επιβίωσης και αναβίωσης, οι αξίες και οι ιδέες δρουν ως παραλυτικό ναρκωτικό.

Έτσι ( τελειώνει ο πρώτος τόμος (με δικά μου, αίμα, δάκρυα κι ιδρώτα ). 😨
Σαφώς ο συγγραφέας παρουσιάζει ένα αριστουργηματικό έπος με απίστευτα υψηλή νοημοσύνη γραφής και κατανόησης της ανθρώπινης φύσης.

Θα μπορούσα να ανοίξω το βιβλίο σε οποιαδήποτε σελίδα και να ξεχωρίσω ένα φιλοσοφικό δοκίμιο, με εύρος, νόημα και ωριμότητα νόησης.

Φυσικά για να επιτευχθεί αυτό χρειάστηκαν χιλιάδες λέξεις που πραγματικά δίνουν ένα υπέροχο, πολιτιστικό και διαχρονικό έργο της παγκόσμιας λογοτεχνίας στην βιβλιοθήκη της ανθρωπότητας και μια παραλυτική κατάπληξη νοητικής και πνευματικής κούρασης για εμένα που τείνει να γίνει καταστολή. 😰

Ο Μούζιλ βράζει τον εγκέφαλο μεταφορικά και ουσιαστικά, ύστερα τραβάει το δέρμα απο το μυαλό και γιατρεύει την πληγωμένη ψυχή με αποθέματα πνευματικής μέθης και επιθέματα απο το δέρμα της μέθεξης σε πνεύμα, νου και εξαρτημένες ιδιότητες απο στόχους, αξίες και ενέργειες.

Καλή ανάγνωση.
Πολλούς εορταστικούς ασπασμούς.
Profile Image for Jimmy.
512 reviews713 followers
May 9, 2011
I’m always appreciative of a book that at first feels unapproachable to me, because this means that I can come back to it when I’m ready, when I’ve grown. This is the case with The Man Without Qualities, a book I had attempted twice last year but found hard to really get into. I picked it up again this year and started from page one, and this time it just clicked. It’s important to me as a reader to get the voice of the writer in my head just right, and it seems to me that I just couldn’t do that initially. But with my third attempt, the voice suddenly made sense, I got the rhythms and understood the sounds, the extra words and the tonality of it, and the remarkable and remarkably understated humor.

One of the chapters is called ‘A chapter that can be skipped by anyone who has no very high opinion of thinking as an occupation’. This title could probably just as well be applied to the entire book. It reads like philosophy with the novel/plot-parts sprinkled sparingly throughout. I had to write down the characters’ names not because there were too many to keep track of in my mind, as in some Russian novels, but more because you only get a brief glimpse of these characters before being plunged into 20 more pages of philosophy and when you come out of it you may not still remember who they were; the book constantly goes on these wild thought provoking tangents (this, too, fits the themes of the novel, for the man without qualities is one who has no sense of reality, a dreamer and an idealist, essentially, and this book puts you in that mindset, not allowing you to connect to the ‘reality’ of the novel for more than a few pages at a time) .

Instead of finding this intolerable, I thought it was attractive and even liberating to me on the third read. A lot of his philosophizing is put into serpentine syntactical structures, long sentences full of commas and slightly odd diction and tone, but not in a way that is obscure... the sentences made intuitive sense once I could hear that unique ‘writer’s voice’ in my head. In fact, I can’t imagine them phrased differently, and they expressed so well (and precisely) things that I can’t easily put into words; a lot of it concerns the state of the world as Musil saw it then, crystallized into perfect perceptive wit. Yes, a lot of it is very funny, but in a way that is biting and subtle so that you can’t exactly pinpoint one particular phrase as containing all the-funny without also including the phrases before and after it. There are very few one-liners in here, or at least very few one-liners that aren’t made more funny by including the preceding 100-liners.

One of the reasons I like longish plotless novels, and this is a feeling I discovered also with Hopscotch, is that in a traditional novel it is more-or-less like a flat plain. There are some hills and some valleys with their bodies of water, but basically you can stand on the highest elevation and see the complete trajectory of the thing, see all the people, how the dogs are chasing frisbees etc. But in these longish less plot-oriented novels, there are little nooks and crannies that you cannot see even from the highest points--shaded creeks leading to icy caves or overhanging cliffs, little areas in the prose to hide in. There are friendly places in this narrative to stop and think, to live and breathe in instead of just going forward forward forward. Also, there are favorite places where you can go back over and over again, and it feels private, like nobody else has been there since the last time you were there and ate your ham croissant by the ant-trail (look the ants are still there, carrying your crumbs).

One thing that gets brushed over when people call this a ‘novel of ideas’ is that it’s also a novel against ideas. Or at least, a warning against those who use and rely on ideas without knowing what they mean, without thinking clearly and critically about them, but merely try them on for size or as a fashion statement.

For example, it’s telling that at the beginning the Collateral Campaign is looking for an idea that is worthy of the occasion. It’s not that the campaign started with an idea, but that the campaign is going to happen no matter what, and a noble idea must be found for it. Musil also pokes fun at almost all the characters for having ideals that they blindly try to live up to, or worship without actually having to think one iota. Diotima falls into this, and so does her maid Rachel. They are enamored by ideas and the people who have ideas, whereas the people who have ideas (like Paul Arnheim) only use them out of convenience, as a sort of fashionable trinket or social cachet, something they use to their own ulterior ends. In fact, almost all the characters fall prey to the dangerous side of ideas, in one way or another, with the possible exception of Ulrich (though he’s not immune to being made fun of also, for many other self-deprecatory reasons (I say self-deprecatory because I believe Ulrich is a stand in for the author himself)).

This notion of the thing or action coming before the idea might seem silly at first, but is ubiquitous. Think about political campaigns trying to find a platform or a catchy slogan, advertising campaigns looking for a unique angle or image, even graphic design firms trying to evoke a feeling or a lifestyle through a color or clean line. These things don’t have ideas in and of themselves. Whereas traditionally we think of the idea snug at the core of a thing, as a kernel preceding the event, Musil understood even in the 1930s that things were increasingly empty at the core. These were hollow things that then took on an idea as a wrapping-around like an outer shell, forming an ideal surface that is perfectly attractive and relatable to the target audience’s delusions.

The Collateral Campaign reminds me of many other parallels in recent history. For example, the Olympic Games in China. And by extension, all of the recent Olympics too, but in China it was even more exaggeratedly obvious that it was merely a show, a nation’s grand facade with all the underlying hypocrisies that echo Musil’s example.

The ‘tea party’ movement, is another example, since is touted as this organic grass roots movement. Similarly, the organizers of the Campaign stress repeatedly how the movement must come organically from the people; but in practice, it achieves this end by having high level officials meet repeatedly to plan it out, because the masses aren’t to be trusted with big ideas.

On the other hand, as soon as a soul has morality or religion, philosophy, and intensive bourgeois education and ideals in the realms of duty and of the beautiful, it is endowed with a system of regulations, conditions and directives for operation, which it has to fill out before it is entitled to think of itself as a respectable soul, and its heat, like that of a blast-furnace, is conducted into beautiful squares of sand. What remains then is fundamentally only logical problems of interpretation, of the kind as to whether an action comes under this or that commandment; and the soul presents the tranquil panorama of a battlefield after the battle, where the dead lie quiet and one can at once observe where a scrap of life yet stirs or groans. And so man makes this transition as fast as he can. If he is tormented by religious doubts, as occasionally happens in youth, he goes straight over to the persecution of unbelievers; if love deranges him, he turns it into marriage; and if other enthusiasm overwhelms him, he disentangles himself from the impossibility of living perpetually in the fire of it by beginning to live for that fire. That is, instead of filling the many moments of his day, each of which needs a content and an impetus, with his ideal state, he fills them with the activity for the sake of his ideal state, in other words, with the many means to the end, the hindrances and incidents that are a sure guarantee that he never need reach it. For only fools, the mentally deranged, and people with idees fixes, can endure unceasingly in the fire of the soul’s rapture. A sane man must content himself with declaring that life would not seem worth living without a flake of that mysterious fire. p. 219
I find it even more remarkable that this book, with its warning against the seductiveness of ideas, was written from 1930 to 1942, in the years leading up to the frenzy of the fascist state, the pinnacle of Hitler’s mass seduction. This unfinished book was interrupted by World War II just as the Collateral Campaign will be interrupted by World War I. In both cases, ideas play a big part. Musil saw what was coming as well as what had passed; unfortunately nobody was paying attention, and we still aren’t.

Along these lines, Hitler is a criminal with the help of an idea and thus he was on the top of society. Whereas Moosbrugger was a common criminal and madman and espoused no ideas, so he belonged to the bottom rung of humanity. This made Moosbrugger, in Ulrich’s eyes, somewhat noble:
But it is along this road that business leads to philosophy (for it is only criminals who presume to damage other people nowadays without the aid of philosophy) p227
You can go to jail today for smoking a little weed, but the crooks that caused the financial crisis get off scot-free by merely hiding behind a system of signs and numbers, laws and loopholes, a philosophy or an idea.

An Essay on the Curious Coincidence of the Number 62

I find it curious that one of the central ideas of this book is a concept Musil calls ‘Essayism’ and that it is explored primarily in chapter 62. And that Julio Cortazar, who in the book Hopscotch references The Man without Qualities on more than one occasion, chooses chapter 62 of his book to be the basis of an entirely different book: 62: A Model Kit. Coincidence? Or does the concept of Essayism apply to what Cortazar was doing in these two books?

Essayism is hard to put into better words than Musil has already done in his book. But I will try and fail anyway: It has to do with the word ‘essay’ which means ‘attempt’, to attempt to get at something (without preconceived goals) from various angles, which is a type of thinking and a type of living too. This is contrasted with the tendency for one generation to react to the previous generation’s extremism by revoking everything and going to the opposite extreme. Thus, history, when zoomed out, looks like a yoyo going back and forth between ideals, without ever meeting in the middle. Essayism is interested in living in this in-between state (the bridge metaphor in Hopscotch as well as Torless comes back to me here). However, part of the consequences of this kind of living is a lack of convictions, since any term like “morality” for example, must be defined by the context in which it is used and cannot be declared definitively. Thus, ideals live “in a field of energy the constellation of which charge them with meaning, and they contain good and evil just as an atom contains the potentialities of chemical combination.” Likewise, the Man Without Qualities, being a man between states, draws no conclusions and no convictions from his many potentialities, thus he is a man without action (whereas Paul Arnheim is full of action). The realm of the essay is the realm of thought and not of action. Perhaps this is why nobody did anything in Hopscotch either.

One aspect of these extreme ideals that Ulrich/Musil is especially interested in is the one between facts as scientific/real data/information and facts as a metaphysical passion/experience of truth. So the fact that the “atmospheric temperature was in proper relation to the average annual temperature” versus the fact that “it was a fine August day in the year 1913” (from the opening paragraph) is a central concern of the book. The man “in between” would have to come to an attempt at living between these so that he was “no longer thinking, neither was [he] feeling in the usual incoherent way. It was a ‘comprehending wholly’”. Thought and emotion merged.

Of course, I am oversimplifying, as any summary of an idea is bound to do. In fact, I am going against exactly what Essayism says, which is that any attempt to systematize a genuine essay, which is an attempt where the thought moves in between ideas is “to transform wisdom, even as it is, into a theory of life, and so to extract some ‘content’ from the motion of those who were moved: what is left over is about as much as remains of a jelly-fish’s delicately opalescent body after it has been lifted out of the water and laid on the sand. The teachings of the inspired crumble into dust in the rationality of the uninspired, crumble into contradiction and nonsense.” So, to Musil, it is the process of the attempt itself which constitutes its worth, not any kind of “conclusion” that others may draw from it like a residue after the act. This reminds me very much of the sense of playfulness and experimentation in Hopscotch, where the act is made wholly and holy, and the result is inconsequential.

I will have to go out on a limb in order to draw connections with 62: A Model Kit, but I am convinced they are there... The idea of a Man Without Qualities is necessarily a man with all qualities, and all potentialities. This is the modern man, with multiplicities within himself, in which he simply chooses certain aspects to show in certain settings. “It is not altogether easy to recognise the driving passion in a temperament like this” (p. 176). So it is qualities or characteristics or ‘ideas’ that are constantly being bounced around in this book, for the book has no real plot except for the interaction between the different character’s thoughts. These thoughts, which are almost interchangeable, are passed from character to character, bouncing off some, sticking to others.

Likewise, 62: A Model Kit is plotless in the traditional sense. Instead, we have characters who are like amoebas, made up of vectors that affect one another in strangely mathematical yet emotional ways. The difference here is that I think Cortazar is more interested in psychological states than the trajectory of ideas between his characters. Thus, we have in Model Kit a novel of subtle mental shifts, a kind of Jungian jungle of consciousness.

I told you I was going out on a limb.

A few paragraphs that can be skipped by anyone who has no very high opinion of thinking about the art of literary translation:

I read the older translation of this, done by Eithne Wilkins & Ernst Kaiser, here are links to the volumes 1, 2, 3. I’ve only read volume 1, which ends in the middle of the actual book’s volume 1 (chapter 72), but I plan on reading the rest ASAP. The new (and more popular and widely available) translation compiles it into only 2 volumes instead of 3, and is translated by Sophie Wilkins (any relation to Eithne?) and Burton Pike.

The quality of this older translation is in my opinion superior to the new translation. Although William Gass calls it “truncated and uninspired”, this older translation has the cadence of poetry and that unique rhythm that is necessary to bring out the ideas. I don’t know what Gass was thinking when he made that judgement, perhaps he dismissed the older translation without really reading it closely. Here’s a side by side comparison so you can see for yourself. First, the new translation, by Sophie Wilkins and Burton Pike:
Most of us may not believe in the story of a Devil to whom one can sell one's soul, but those who must know something about the soul (considering that as clergymen, historians, and artists they draw a good income from it) all testify that the soul has been destroyed by mathematics and that mathematics is the source of an evil intelligence that while making man the lord of the earth has also made him the slave of his machines. The inner drought, the dreadful blend of acuity in matters of detail and indifference toward the whole, man's monstrous abandonment in a desert of details, his restlessness, malice, unsurpassed callousness, moneygrubbing, coldness, and violence, all so characteristic of our times, are by these accounts solely the consequence of damage done to the soul by keen logical thinking! Even back when Ulrich first turned to mathematics there were already those who predicted the collapse of European civilization because no human faith, no love, no simplicity, no goodness, dwelt any longer in man. These people had all, typically, been poor mathematicians as young people and at school.
And here is the same passage in the older translation by Eithne Wilkins and Ernst Kaiser:
Perhaps not all of these people believe in that stuff about the Devil to whom one can sell one’s soul; but all those who have to know something about the soul, because they draw a good income out of it as clergy, historians or artists, bear witness to the fact that it has been ruined by mathematics and that in mathematics is the source of a wicked intellect that, while making man the lord of the earth, also makes him the slave of the machine. The inner drought, the monstrous mixture of acuity in matters of detail and indifference as regards the whole, man’s immense loneliness in a desert of detail, his restlessness, malice, incomparable callousness, his greed for money, his coldness and violence, which are characteristic of our time, are, according to such surveys, simply and solely the result of the losses that logical and accurate thinking has inflicted upon the soul! And so it was that even at that time, when Ulrich became a mathematician, there were people who were prophesying the collapse of European civilisation on the grounds that there was no longer any faith, any love, any simplicity or any goodness left in mankind; and it is significant that these people were all bad at mathematics at school.
To me, it is clear that the Wilkins/Kaiser translation is superior. The newer translation takes out so much of those rhetorical gestures (‘that stuff about the Devil’ becoming ‘story of a Devil’ and ‘And so it was that even at that time’ becoming ‘Even back when’) which convey little raw information but much in the very particular ironic tone of the novel. Not to mention the complete un-musicality of the phrase “moneygrubbing” in that list of ‘s’ sounds. And the humor of that last sentence-- ‘and it is significant that these people were all bad at mathematics at school’ falls completely flat in the new translation of ‘These people had all, typically, been poor mathematicians as young people and at school.’

The only downsides of the older translation: 1. a few typos, for some reason 2. uses British English, but this is easy to get used to 3. out of print (but you can get used copies on Amazon).

Further Reading: my review of The Man Without Qualities, Volume 3
Profile Image for Oguz Akturk.
278 reviews459 followers
September 25, 2022
YouTube kitap kanalımda hayatımda en sevdiğim kitap olan Niteliksiz Adam'ı yorumladım: https://youtu.be/QspgH8phl2k

Oğuz : Oğuz
Niteliksiz Adam 1 : NA1


NA1 : Beni neden buraya getirdin Oğuz?
Oğuz : Ben senin içindeki cümleleri bu kafede çizik çizik ettim NA1. İçindeki matematiksel bir düzenle kurulmuş, bilimsel formül gibi oluşmuş ve bugüne kadar hiç duymadığım betimlemeli cümlelerden bazılarını okurken işte burada sesli bir şekilde şaşırmış ve insanları kendime baktırmıştım istemeyerek de olsa. Hiçbir insan bana bugüne kadar böyle olağanüstü şeyler dememişti, çok ciddiyim. Bugüne kadar hiçbir kitaba yapmadığım şeyi sana yaptım 16 gündür beraber olduğum arkadaşım. Ben de bunun için sana çay ısmarlamaya geldim.
NA1 : Teşekkür ederim fakat bizim Viyana'da Melange adında bir kahve vardır, biraz daha niteliklidir sizin Türk kahveniz ya da çayınız gibi olamasa da. Onun için senin beni okuma cesareti gösterme niteliğine karşılık ben yine namıdiğer niteliksizliğimle bu çayı içmeyeceğim, üzgünüm dostum.


NA1 : Oğuz, kalk gidelim buradan... Beni kimse okumak istemiyor gibi bir duyguya kapılıyorum. Çetin bir kitabımdır ben, öyle hemen anlayamazsın içimdeki bazı şeyleri. 3-4 kere okusan da çözümlemekte zorlanabileceğin çetin cümleler içeririm.
Oğuz : Şurada bildiğim bir kahvehane var. Okumak nitelikli bir eylemdir, seni daha çok niteliksizleştirmemi ister misin?
NA1 : Bayılırım.


Oğuz : Mutlu musun?
NA1 : Hiç olmadığım kadar. Zaten okunmuyordum, en azından dışarıdaki insanların bensizken ne yaptığını öğrenme fırsatı buldum. Oğuz, buradan da gidelim. Yalnızlığım bastırdı yine iyice.
Oğuz : Peki.


NA1 : Şu an şu salıncakta sallanıp nitelikli zevklerimi doyurmak yerine insanların göz ardı ettiği, giriş paragrafımda bile yazılan Atlantiğin üzerindeki barometrik minimumlarımın Rusya üzerinde biriken maksimuma dönüşünün bu salıncakta sallanışıma etki edeceği merkezkaç kuvvetini düşünüyorum. Böyle akıl dolu şeylerle rahatlayabilmek ve aklını kullanmak varken neden sallanayım Oğuz, ben manyak mıyım? Siz insanlar nasıl etrafınızda böyle şeyler olup bitiyorken hiçbir şey olmuyormuş gibi sallanabiliyorsunuz?
Oğuz: Ne desen haklısın NA1.
NA1 : Anne ve babamı özledim ben Oğuz, beni onların yanına götür.


Oğuz : İşte geldik.
NA1 : Nasıl yani? Ben bu göğe uzayan uzamlar sayesinde mi okunabiliyorum yani?
Oğuz : Tabii ki de, ne sandın? Bak, sizin gibi kitapları okuyan insanlar böyle yeni yeni fidanlar diktiği için sen şu an yaşıyorsun. Fakat benden, seni meyve ya da sebzeymiş gibi toprağa ekip de yeni basımının çıkacağını da bekleme. Sen edebiyatın Elvis Presleyi gibi bir kitapsın. Aslında gövdeler senin yazarın Musil ya da Proust, Joyce, Dostoyevski, Broch gibi isimlerden meydana gelir ve sizden etkilenen diğer yazarlar da bu ağacın göğe doğru giden yemyeşil uzamlarına benzerler NA1.
NA1 : İşte buna gerçekten şaşırdım...


Oğuz : Bak NA1, işte senin memleketin Viyana. Sen neredeyse 100. doğum gününü kutlayacaksın ve aslında oraya aitsin. İçinde bahsettiğin Avusturya Macaristan İmparatorluğu'nun en önemli kentlerindendir Viyana. Aslında Viyana, içinde bahsettiğin gerçeklik ile düşün olasılıkları arasındaki gidip gelişleri, beynin sağ ve sol lobunun iki ayrı kutbu gibi içerisinde hem tarihi bir dokuyu hem de modernizmi taşır. Aslında sen de içinde bunları anlatmak istemiştin, değil mi?
NA1 : Şu Viyana gözlerimde tütüyor Oğuz, ne yalan söyleyeyim. Burjuvazinin çöküşüne şahit oldum ben. Varmayı istemek ile kurtulmayı istemek arasında gittim geldim aynı senin gibi. Atonal bir müzik parçasıyım ben Oğuz. Düzensizlikler arasında bir düzen oluşturucuyum, zaten sen de beni okudun bunları görmüşsündür. Her zaman tercih edilen nitelikler arasında bir niteliğe sahip olmaya ihtiyaç duymayan bir sonrasızım ben. Akıl ve ruhun senteziyim. Barok üslubunda bir kitabım aslında, değil mi?
Oğuz : Evet, kesinlikle. Doğru kelimeler Barok, bulanıklılık ve sonrasızlık. Barok mimarisinin o göz alıcı süslü dünyasını hatırlıyorum da, gerçekten de senin kitabında boşluğun o göz alma ihtiyacı hissetmediği mistik Barokluğunu öğrendim ben NA1. Kendimin sahip olduğu bulanıklığa sende de şahit oldum. Sen Paralel-Eylem'i anlatırken burjuvazinin de bir bakıma toplumda tikel bazda rol alan bireylerin çöküşü gibi çökmesini izledim yavaş yavaş.


NA1 : Şu an bana gösterdiğin şehir hayatı ve insanların burjuvazi tavırları sadece çok fazla gerçek. Anlıyorsun beni değil mi Oğuz? Ben bundan bunalıyorum işte. Yapmacık gerçekliklere hiç gelemem. 244. sayfada demiştim sana, bu kadar tamamlanmış ve eksiksiz gözüken bir dünyanın içerisinde, kiliselerin, binaların, üzerindeki gök kubbenin, bütün bu ağaçların, insanların içerisinde en ilgisiz kalan, en muhtaç soluk insandır. İşte bundan sonra Ulrich, niteliksiz adam olmayı istemişti, biliyorsun.

En azından beni okurken beyninin eski bir makine odası çalıştırıldığında o odadaki makinelerin tozlarından arındırılarak tekrar çalışmaya başlaması gibi çalıştığını biliyorum. İçimdeki fiziksel, düşsel, sosyolojik, etimolojik ve edebi dünyayı bu şehirde bulamazsın sen Oğuz.
Oğuz : Haklısın. Zaten ben seni okurken aklımda hep tek bir düşünce vardı : "1984 hamdım, Şibumi piştim ise Niteliksiz Adam 1 yandım seviyesidir."
NA1 : Beni evime götür Oğuz.


NA1 : Oh my Ulrich! Bu kitaplıkta yer kalmamış bana Oğuz? Sen, bana verdiğin değeri böyle mi gösteriyorsun yani?
Oğuz : Şey, kusura bakma NA1. Sana daha özel bir yer düşünmüştüm.
NA1 : Nasıl yani?
Oğuz : Diyorum ki, sen beni bugüne kadar en çok etkileyen sadece kitaplardan değil "şey"lerden birisin NA1. Onun için artık benle dolaşmanı ve dünyaya da senin içindeki o kendini tekrar tekrar okutan cümlelerle bakmak istiyorum.
NA1 : Tamam, sen bilirsin.


Oğuz : Artık damarlarımdasın NA1, hani iliklerime kadar işledin derler ya bizim Türkler, işte bunu hissediyorum. 316. sayfada altını çizdiğim alıntından anlamıştım bunu. En azından senden sonra gelen kitapları senin gözünle anlamlandırabilmek için bir başlangıç yapmış oldum senin sayende. Bunun için çok teşekkür ederim.

Ulrich sana benim için en özel şarkılardan biri olan şu şarkıyı hediye ediyorum, çünkü hem senin bulanıklığını, hem de benim bulanıklığımı, ikimizin de gerçeklik ile düş arasında gidiş gelişlerimizi, ikimizin de insanları ve hayatımızdaki olguları matematiksel olarak anlamlandırabilme eşiklerimizi hatırlatıyor bana tekrar :

"Çünkü dünya benden ibaret
Öyle olmayaydı şayet
Kafatasımın içinde ne diye dolanıyo
Bütün bu güzellik bütün bu rezalet
Hepsi benim hepsi bana ait"

Profile Image for Szplug.
467 reviews1,229 followers
April 20, 2011
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-siècle 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 more—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 Königlich (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 more 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.
Profile Image for Lee Klein .
800 reviews851 followers
June 30, 2013
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 more 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 more 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 more highly to pretty much everyone -- for a book of this size and sort, it seemed surprisingly accessible. Can't wait to read some more Musil, all of Mann, and some other related Germanic stuff (Broch's "The Sleepwalkers") this summer. Let's hope it's dark and dreary.
Profile Image for Luís.
1,864 reviews523 followers
June 1, 2022
Often classified among the major works of the 20th century, I have sometimes been tired of it. But of what, then? How can such a book (and let's say "volume 1"), which by far condenses the questions and the potentialities, the contradictions and the fears of the beginning of the 20th century, be boring? And indeed, after almost 1000 pages of intellectual dithering, we are flushed. We talk about progress, feelings, Ideas, the meaning of life or the sense of humanity, to mention only that.
The writing of the Man without Quality was perhaps the way for Robert Musil to put on paper, by making it unalterable, the result of his reflections, to try to understand in what state of mind this part of Europe on the eve of the catastrophe we know: the First World War.
Even if the geopolitical situation had not deepened in the book, we understand the stakes of this "Parallel action" for the "Austrian patriots" unable to define their own identity in this Austro-Hungarian empire stuck between the German Empire and the Slavic countries of south-eastern Europe.
The main character, who so far enjoyed modest success in his career, is at the centre of the action of the work. This man without quality had not so deprived of it, but he does not know how to define himself. The author uses this vagueness to embody his thoughts and communicate his questions to us. Conversely, Dr Harneim seems to represent a man who has all the qualities, a man who does not stay on the "average" and has the answer to everything. We get the impression that this man knows everything. But in the end, he recognizes that we cannot know everything to know everything; the truth is specific to everyone, according to their values, culture, and their history.
And it is the fight, intellectual, of the main character to make this fact, that all that we do, all that we believe, depends on our mechanisms of thought, that it does not there is no single truth. So, finally, it could apply this well-known maxim of Socrates: "All I know is that I know nothing".
Profile Image for Michael Finocchiaro.
Author 3 books5,547 followers
September 4, 2020
UPDATE: new article about Musil, great read!


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 more money and hot air in proclaiming the more 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...
Profile Image for Jessica.
593 reviews3,381 followers
Shelved as 'aborted-efforts'
August 16, 2010
Reading this book was the way I'd wrongly imagined reading Proust would be. That is, at the beginning it was engaging and interesting, and unlike anything I'd read. Then it started to get a little harder, but I still liked it a lot, and was enjoying myself. It has a mentally-ill felony offender! One of my favorite things! And his description of psychosis was much better and more accurate than most authors'. Anyway, at first it was exciting -- Vienna! Modernity! But then it got quite a bit less so, and started growing kind of.... dense. Not dense as in stupid. Dense as in too smart. I started feeling like I needed to go read up on the Hapsburg Empire and on pre-War Europe in general. Like maybe not just a Wikipedia entry, like do actual research in order to understand what was going on.... Then this book and I settled into a pattern where a page or paragraph of brilliant beauty would suddenly shatter the numbed fugue I'd been pushed into by the increasingly abstract, ponderous, and no doubt very brainful surrounding chapter, and I'd leap up and cry, "This book is fantastic!" before sitting down heavily to nod off again in a pile of my own drool.

Don't get me wrong: I think this book was good. I'm pretty sure it was, but I just wasn't up to it. I read 297 pages, and several of those pages I did like very much. However, quite a few months ago I put it down on my desk at work, and somehow or another haven't picked it up since. So I took it on the train today, thinking it was about time I finished, and opened it up for the first time since spring. I made it through about a page and a half, then had to admit I had no idea what the hell he was talking about. And you know what? I know when I'm beat.

The Man Without Qualities was over my head. I'm not ashamed to admit it! This book was too hard. I mean, honestly if this weren't the first of three volumes, I'd read the last sixty-eight pages, but it is, and I'm not, and anyway, I'm pretty sure he didn't finish writing it before he died, which is also a demotivating factor. If Robert Musil couldn't finish The Man Without Qualities how on earth can I be expected to?

I do recommend this to someone who wants to read something unique, intellectually engaging, and fairly difficult. At the moment, however, that someone's not me.
Profile Image for Peter.
519 reviews20 followers
August 12, 2016
05.03.2014 Fast schon seit ich lesen kann (Ironie) auf meiner Leseliste und auch fast schon zwanzig Jahre (Tatsache) in meinem Buchregal. Ich habe bereits die ersten, köstlichen dreißig Seiten gelesen und amüsiere mich großartig. Das könnte jetzt tausend Seiten so weiter gehen...
23.03.2014 ... und tut es auch. Jetzt bin ich auf Seite 330 und dieses Buch zeigt mir auch seine strengen Seiten. Es ist es strenger Herr. Wehe ich lasse meine Gedanken zwischen zwei Zeilen abschweifen - sofort werde ich aus dem Textverständnis geworfen unerbittlich und jedesmal. Somit heißt es aufmerksamst Lesen um in den Genuss der Textfreuden zu gelangen oder in diesen zu verbleiben. Das Buch erlaubt k e i n e Fisimatenten oder gedankliche Faxen. Für den Folgsamen ist die Belohnung aber wirklich reichlich. Ich werde weiter berichten.
16.04.2014 Mittlerweile befinde ich mich auf Seite 540 und noch immer macht mich dieses Buch staunen. Die Fülle an Ideen und Gedanken in jedem einzelnen Kapitel macht dieses Buch zu einem großen Gedanken-Ideen-Analyse Fundus. Die Kapitel wirken eher wie aneinandergereihte Essays zu den großen Themen der Zeit. Dabei ist der Roman für mich absolut zeitlos. Viele Zeitröntgenbilder könnten heute entstanden sein. Nur ein Beispiel aus diesem Röntgenapparat: Kapitel 106 (Glaubt der moderne Mensch an Gott oder an den Chef der Weltfirma? Arnheims Unentschlossenheit)
"Es erging Arnheim nicht anders wie seinem ganzen Zeitalter. Dieses betet das Geld, die Ordnung, das Wissen, Rechnen, Messen und Wägen, alles in allem also den Geist des Geldes und seiner Verwandten an und beklagt das zugleich.
24.05.2014 Zunehmend schleicht sich eine neue Erkenntnis in mein Lesergehirn. Dieses Buch ist kein Buch sonder eine eigene Galaxie. Ein unerschöpfliches Kopfuniversum dessen Erschaffung sich in den Köpfen seiner Leser immer weiter fortsetzt. Musils Text ist der Urknall für eigene Erkenntnisse und Einsichten.
01.06.2014 Gelesen aber nicht ausgelesen weil ich einzelne Kapitel wiederlesen will. So einfach lässt es sich für mich zusammenfassen. Wie bei Proust kann man dieses Buch irgendwo aufschlagen und ein Kapitel mit großem Vergnügen lesen. Das größte Amüsement haben mir die vergleichenden Bilder gemacht. In diesem Formenreichtum habe ich das so in der deutschsprachigen Literatur noch nicht gefunden. Auch die präzise Genauigkeit in der Ausformulierung finde ich großartig. Nicht ausgelesen stimmt auch noch auf einer sehr praktischen Ebene. Der Band dieser Rowohlt Ausgabe umfasst die nach dem Tode von Musil veröffentlichten Texte zum Mann ohne Eigenschaften. Wiederum tausend Seiten. Nach einer Musilpause (auch andere Bücher wollen gelesen werden) werde ich im Herbst die Lektüre fortsetzen. Jetzt meine uneingeschränkte Empfehlung: Musil lesen bedeutet in Reichtum an Ideen und Sprache zu schwelgen.
Profile Image for AC.
1,693 reviews
June 28, 2013
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.

September 19, 2013
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?"
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," I repeated solemnly, "You…you…"
"You," he noticed, "look like you need to, not rollover but reposition yourself slightly to the left to be more 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 more 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."
"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."
"Bob," I tightened the safety belt on the chair rolling into another more 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 more."
"Well, there is one more thing. There is much more 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 more 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.

Profile Image for David Katzman.
Author 3 books450 followers
August 20, 2013
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 more 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 more compelling critiques because it has this halo of Wittgensteinian challenge...all philosophy is just a debate over linguistics...all 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 more 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 more 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 sociability...beyond 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, language...nothing 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 more 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, more 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 more 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.
Profile Image for Michael.
57 reviews67 followers
July 19, 2015
Regardless of the presence, absence or definition of plot, this work–what I’ve thus far read of it, which is the first book of the original translation–is nearly universally quotable. And to me, quotable means illuminating and illumination demands from the liver of this life to be had–in this case read, digested and perhaps regurgitated and redigested. The following example is typical; the sentences are thick with insight that is almost said in passing:

“Questions and answers click into each other like cogs in a machine. Each person has nothing but quite definite tasks. The various professions are concentrated at definite places. Amusements are concentrated in other parts of the city. And elsewhere again are the towers to which one returns and finds wife, family, gramophone, and soul.”

I can’t overstate how persistently such insight is spilled in passing. What Musil is showing us in this, far from the most remarkable quote of his, is that the human animal is constantly in the process of telling itself that he has everything figured out. His certainty gives him to “nothing but quite definite tasks.” His compartmentalization pulls his energies in different directions so that he never has to confront reality with the full brunt. Questions and answers are given to process which itself he questions as often as he does the performance of a worm gear. Because even when or if he does, the answer, to his relief, clicks in and he proceeds. And how consciously does anyone think that their soul is sequestered in a tower, as if set next to the other neglected objects therein, as if if must understand that it will be got to when we get to it? And yet it is certainly true for all of us in some fashion or another.

Most reviewers seem to mention two things: that this is a book of ideas; and it is set in pre-WWI Austria. True enough. But somehow one often gets the impression from these reviewers that these are simply the book’s two major describers and that they are more or less coexisting side by side, or fit together arbitrarily, as a meandering sort of plural content hastily shoved into a plot-challenged vehicle. And while I’d agree that the body of these ideas could be fitted to almost any setting or plot, I do not think they are as independent of the more structural elements of the book as some will have you believe.

The Man without qualities is Without insofar as Qualities are specific sorts of delusion that everyone has and shares in a kind of grand Venn diagram that we like to call reality. And the book is, by one explanation, the account of one man’s personal and somewhat casual disillusionment of his share in this phenomenon, while all those around him continue in the madness that is the status quo.

The specific historical events that the plot works around are of secondary or even tertiary concern. And I don’t mean to minimize any time or events or people but in this book these are only relevant insofar as they represent the same forces that are at work in every time and every place and in everybody. It is comical how often and variously we can get together to assure ourselves, in any religion, ideology, nationalism, or just in a Goodread��s cliques–anything, etc. It is all the invisibly blatant self-assertion of ego. In this case, the overt premeditation of a country’s peacocking before its international neighbors–an organized effort to manufacture the meaning of their own existence. How ripe for this man of ideas! The characters of this book are no different than anyone–you and me included–constantly trying to convince ourselves of ourselves. Musil knows this is not unique to his part of the world or time, and yet many readers of The Man Without Qualities seem to miss this fact. I suppose because history puts a distinctive face over these forces, we see them as unique as defined by an exclusive intersection of time and place. We say, ‘wow, that’s what that was like,’ and promptly return to the same forces in our own lives. Musil is not writing to give us a window into the Austro-Hungarian Empire on the brink of oblivion, but uses it to show the window within that window: as if saying, ‘see here, the thinking animal that is called human is itself plagued with this plight, to be obsessed with the fabrication of it’s own importance to such a degree that it is willfully blind to the forces that drive it into such insecurity in the first place as well as to those that are all the while rising all around, readying to obliterate it–even if only in a self-assertive action of their own.' Frankly, this book is about the ubiquity and imperviousness of human stupidity–perhaps the topic we’re most in need of versing ourselves in. Pick a time and pick a place; it may be nice to think that there is an Ulrich there, but deep down we all know we cannot be helped, even by those who see, if we choose not to help ourselves.

I read and write specifically for such insight that this book is absolutely filthy with. Even if what comes is not always exactly new to me, I happily accept whenever my labors yield–as if I need such grand, idiosyncratic paraphrasings to get even the barest glimpse of the abstract at work in this world. Perhaps this isn’t a very common attitude. Or perhaps I’m not always seeing what is meant to be seen. But I’m compelled to mention in this review that, if I could have back the hours I spent with a book like Ulysses or Leaves of Grass and devote all of them to handful of pages of Musil, I would. Read this paragraph and tell me you couldn’t reread it every morning and live a better–or if not better less delusional–life for it.

“And how then is one to describe it? One can stand still or move on as one will, the essential is not what lies straight before one, what one sees, hears wants, takes hold of, and masters. It lies ahead, a horizon, a semicircle; but the ends of this semicircle are joined by a sinew, and the plane of this sinew goes right through the middle of the world. In front, face and hands look out of it; the sensations and strivings run along ahead of it; and no one doubts that what we do there is always reasonable or at least impassioned. That is, circumstances external to us demand our actions of us in way that is comprehensible to everyone; or if involved in passion, we do something incomprehensible, that, after all, is also something with a way and a nature of its own. But however completely understandable and self-contained it all seems, it is accompanied by an obscure feeling that it is merely half the story. There is something the matter with the equilibrium, and man advances in order not to sway, like a tightrope-walker. And as he advances through life, leaving behind him what he has lived through, a wall is formed by what is still to be lived and what has been lived, and in the end his path resembles that of a worm in the wood, which can twist any way it likes, even turning backwards, but always leaves an empty space behind it. And this dreadful feeling of a blind space, a space cut off behind all the fullness, this half that is always still lacking even although everything has become whole, is what finally causes one to notice what one calls the soul.”

*If you're reading this because you're familiar or flirting with Vol 1 of the newer Pike/Wilkins translation, you may want to know that that book is composed from the same material as Vols 1 & 2 of this older version; i.e. if you like what you've read above, the review continues (and if I may say so improves) with Vol. 2, found here:
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Profile Image for Şehriban Kaya.
377 reviews16 followers
February 3, 2019
20.yüzyılın üzerinde en çok konuşulan kitaplarından biri Musil'in Niteliksiz Adam'ının 1.cildini bitirdim. Bir hayli zorlandım itiraf edeyim. Çok keyifli bir okuma değil ama kararlıyım geriye kalan 3 cildi de okuyacağım.
Romanın kahramanı, Niteliksiz Adam,Ulrich, 30lu yaşların başlarında, bir süre yurt dışında yaşadıktan sonra Viyana'ya dönmüş bir matematikçi ve bilimadamı ve daha birkaç işi denemiş bir adamdır. Ulrich birçok işi denemiş tam olarak ne yapmak istediğine karar verememiş varoluş sıkıntısı çeken sürekli kendisini ve etrafındakileri analiz eden bir karakter. Ne huzur ne aydınlanma peşindedir, önce aşk sonra doğa sonra matematik üzerinden gerçeği aramaya bulmaya çalışmış ama artık herhangi bir heyacanı kalmamıştır. Viyena'da çarpıcı bir ev alır dekore eder, profesör olan babası sabırla Ulrich'in bir iş edinmesi bekler ama yorulunca onu imparatorluk bürokrasisiyle olan yakın bağlarını kullanarak tam olarak ne olduğu belli olmayan bir işe sokar. Burada Ulrich'in meşgul olduğu iş "paralel faaliyet" olarak tanımlanan, özünde eylemsizlikten sıkılmış erdemli bir eylem arayan kentsoylu elitlerin, Almanya karşısındaki 1866’daki yenilginin acısını hafifletecek bir teselli arayışında yaşlı imparatorlarının tahta geçişinin 70.yılı kutlamak üzere hayata geçirmeye çalıştıkları bir faaliyettir. Ulrich paralel faaliyet'te kuzeni Diotima ile etkin bir konumdadır ama asıl sorun kimsenin bu paralel faaliyetin ne olduğuna dair tam bir fikrinin olmamasıdır. Ulrich kendini hiç istemediği bir bürokratik ilişkiler ağı ve karmakarışık kadın erkek ilişkileri arasında bulur. Sanırım diğer 3 ciltte de bu devam edecek.

Ulrich yani Niteliksiz Adam’ın çevresinde, soylular arasında saygın bir yer edinen Daire başkanı Tuzzi, Tuzzi'nin karısı aynı zamanda Ulrich'in kuzeni güzel zeki kültürlü ve bir nevi paralel faaliyetin gayrı resmi başkanı Diotima Tuzzi, aristokrat Kont Leinsdorf, Savunma Bakanlığınca paralel faaliyeti izlemekle görevlendirilmiş General Stumm von Bordwehr, Ulrich’ in çocukluk arkadaşı, yetenekli müzisyen Walter ve eşi Clarisse, Loyd Bankası'nın müdürü Fischel ve kızı Gerda, prusyalı kapitalist Arnheim; renkli ve işveli genç hizmetçi Rachelle var. Ayrıca roman boyu Ulrich ve Clarisse'nin ilgi alanına giren vahşi, kadın katili Moosbrugger de ilginç bir yan karakter.

Yalnız alkışlar çevirmen M. Sami Türk'e gidiyor. Bu kadar zor bir metni Almanca'dan çevirmek herkesin harcı değil. Resmen adanmışlıkla yapılacak bir iş. Ellerine sağlık çevirmenin.
Profile Image for Ece.
11 reviews6 followers
March 9, 2022
Okurken hem çok keyif aldım hem de belirli noktalarda devam etmek için kendimi zorladım. Dili oldukça ağır, özeleştiri yapmak gerekirse hakkını vererek okuyamamış olabilirim. Oldukça koptum bazı bölümlerinde. Fakat Ahmet Cemal’ in çevirisi tartışmasız muazzam.
Profile Image for A. Raca.
729 reviews150 followers
February 5, 2021
"Birbiriyle iyi geçinen insanların duyguları sonradan nefrete mi dönüyor?"

Niteliksiz Adam Ulrich matematikle ve bilimle ilgilenen ama üniversiteyle işi olmayan daha sonraları felsefeye de ilgi duymaya başlamış biridir. Hep bir anlam arayışı içerisinde modernleşen Avrupa'da birçok kadının ve adamın arasında bulur kendini. 'Paralel Faaliyet' adını verdikleri toplantılar çevresinde geçer kitap.
Tam olarak ne yazacağımı bilemiyorum, muazzam bir eser harşka bir anlatım şekli ama belki 4'ünü bitirince bir şeyler yazabilirim.

Profile Image for Tim Edison.
70 reviews24 followers
February 3, 2016
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 more 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."
Profile Image for Jelena Jonis.
151 reviews13 followers
March 22, 2020
Šiaip ne taip įveikta pirma dalis. Jaučiuosi taip, lyg išėjusi po 24 valandas trukusios smegenų operacijos, kurią stebėjau atliekant. Tik Musilis ne žmogų operavo, o XX a. pradžios Austrijos visuomenę. Ir tos operacijos metu prieš skaitytojų akis išanalizuojama viskas: to meto žmonių nuotaikos, jų elgesys, tarpusavio chemija, požiūris į save ir į savo gyvenimą, visuomenės vertybės (tiksliau, visuomenė be vertybių), stovinti ant I-ojo pasaulinio karo slenksčio. Šis kūrinys labai reiklus, todėl sakyti, kad jį visiškai perpratau ir perleidau per save tikrai negaliu. Tam tikrais kartais ateidavo nušvitimas, kitais kartais - dvejonės ir absoliutus nesuvokimas apie ką eina kalba. Todėl net literatūros paskaitų įrašus susiradau, kad galėčiau išklausyti profesionalią kūrinio analizę. Nes šią knygą ne skaitai, o studijuoji. Ir per šias pusės metų studijas (tiek laiko užtruko įveikti pirmą jos dalį) pasidariau tokias išvadas:
(1) minia niekada nesikeičia. Keičiasi laikmečiai, keičiasi darbo pobūdis, keičiasi komforto suvokimas, bet minios gyvenimas visada išlieka nuobodžiu;
(2) regimybė visada buvo svarbiau, nei tiesa. Todėl socialiniai tinklai nuo pat pradžių buvo pasmerkti sėkmei;
(3) nors dėl lygių galimybių moterims dar reikia kovoti, bet retai suvokiam, kokį ilgą kelią nuėjome per paskutinius 100 metų;
(4) vertybės formuojamos per pavyzdį ir per darbus. Teoriniai išvedžiojimai kaip turi būti ar kaip reikia daryti kuria dviveidę ir į saviapgaulę linkusią asmenybę;
(5) intelektualios knygos yra kaip jėgos treniruotė smegenims - ne visada maloni, bet reikalinga.

Pabaigai, labiausiai įsiminusios citatos:

Minios gyvenimas nuobodus ir rutiniškas. Jame nėra jaudulio, adrenalino, prasmės. Todėl tokie įvykiai kaip nužudymai, nusikaltimai, sukrečiantys savo žiaurumu, žurnalistų yra pristatomi ir narstomi po kaulelį po antrašte “pagaliau kažkas įdomaus”. O minia jais domisi labiau, nei savo reikalais.

Reikia tik įsivaizduoti: jeigu išorėje liežuvį, rankas ir akis sunkiai slegia pasaulis <…>, o viduje nieko, išskyrus niekur nepritampantį rūką, kokia laimė pamatyti kieno nors gestą, kuriame tu, kaip tau atrodo, atpažįsti save. Jis padovanoja žmogui akimirką būties, pusiausvyrą tarp vidinės ir išorinės įtampos, tarp to, kas jį traiško, ir to, kas jį plėšo.
Profile Image for Rafa Sánchez.
392 reviews71 followers
June 1, 2016
Ha sido un gran esfuerzo para mí leer esta novela, sin duda una obra maestra por la calidad y hondura del texto. Sin embargo debo confesar que mis conocimientos de filosofía y psicología no dan la talla que exige un texto tan abstracto en largas disertaciones, sin duda cargadas de reflexiones profundas. En muchas ocasiones he tenido que leer en diagonal cuando la historia se paraba y empezaba la espiral de reflexiones sobre el comportamiento humano... A pesar de eso, la novela tiene un gran sentido del humor que la hace agradable y te empuja a seguir leyendo. No sé si leeré alguna vez la continuación de la novela. Por ahora, voy a descansar un poco...
Profile Image for Manybooks.
3,126 reviews104 followers
February 1, 2018
Maybe if I had not been forced to peruse this absolute and roaring monster of a novel for my PhD comprehensive examinations in late October 1994 (a departmental friend and I took turns reading and then sharing our notes, which allowed us to actually get through a more than overly lengthy reading list that was replete with dense, involved and above all often very long-winded in the extreme German literary classics) I would perhaps have had the inclination (and yes also the required time) to savour, to interpret and perhaps even like Robert Musil's Der Mann ohne Eigenschaften (as speeding through almost one thousand pages of complicated, philosophically imbued German language musings in less than a week because the date for the examinations was fast approaching and we were majorly behind with our perusals, does NOT EVER make for either an enjoyable or even an all that enlightening and worthwhile reading experience, at least, this has never been the case for me, both as a teenager when we started being assigned Charles Dickens for school and as an adult majoring in German language and literature at university).

Now I do know and even realise that Der Mann ohne Eigenschaften is considered a classic and that many really do seem to absolutely love this novel (either in its German language original or in translation), but for and to me, it was (and still remains) simply just another mega-tome to read, another huge and verbose German language classic I had to plough through and digest sufficiently for my comps (and as already pointed out above, this kind of forced and mandated reading does not ever really lead to personal reading enjoyment on my part, perhaps sometimes to very mild appreciation, but absolutely NOT to potential and lasting reading pleasure). And while I should I guess consider rereading Der Mann ohne Eigenschaften now that I actually have the time to do so (and to take perhaps a few weeks or even months to complete the book), truth be told, Robert Musil has also NEVER really interested me all that much as an author either (as I have always wondered how Musil could write nearly a thousand pages about a man labelled in the title as representing an individual with supposedly no qualities, no personality, no characteristics).
Profile Image for Asim Bakhshi.
Author 8 books258 followers
May 10, 2015
Life has stopped me somehow to embark upon the six (or is it seven?) volumes of Proust, or tomes of Mellville or Cervantes as yet , but having the opportunity to read Musil's masterpiece while I am still alive was an amazing experience. Its like somehow being able to make a little sense of the tragic complexity of this life before after-life. But this tragedy is modern in all its dimensions. I am not sure how it would ever be possible to reproduce the literary experiment of Musil in all its complexity; in other words, how one can write a novel so enriched with ideological discourse is infinitely beyond me. Such complex and wide territory of ideas is often charted in poetry, however doing it in prose, in the medium of a gigantic unending novel, and unlike Russian masters, doing it with very few characters and nearly no plot is truly ingenious. I am barely into the second volume and know that there is no end as such; however, I can't stop wondering at this magnificent Austrian mind.
Profile Image for Andrew.
1,992 reviews699 followers
November 11, 2019
There's a lot to unpack here...

I guess the first thing I would compare The Man Without Qualities to is The Magic Mountain, and it likewise features people arguing about ideas in German, but it really is a different beast. Rather than a mountain refuge, Musil sets his novel in glittering prewar Vienna, with a sensational tabloid murder providing much of the background, and at its center is an indifferent, skeptical, directionless, but pretty damn bright guy who tries to figure shit out, using the world as his sounding board.

Look, if you like these sorts of ragged, sprawling modernist and postmodernist novels of ideas, you'll like The Man Without Qualities. I do, so it's not an issue, but I would hardly call this anything I would universally recommend. But for those of us who are in the club, it's the literary equivalent of foie gras.
Profile Image for Nick.
183 reviews135 followers
September 24, 2007
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.
Profile Image for Steve.
362 reviews1 follower
February 21, 2022
The Man Without Qualities is a feast. The writing is glorious, providing an abundance of irony and sarcasm, wit that flows engagingly throughout, much to my liking. Herr Musil appreciates the intrinsic humor innate to a bureaucracy and social structures generally. Reading this work, I thought of the writing of Günther Grass and Alfred Döblin, though for different reasons, authors I wish I had encountered earlier in life.

The tale begins in 1913, with the principal character, Ulrich, age 32. Ulrich is a bit lost in his life journey, so his esteemed father opens a door into a most important undertaking, the Parallel Campaign. The Emperor Franz Josef will celebrate the seventieth year jubilee of his accession on December 2nd 1918 and plans are already being formed, or are being considered to be formed, for the great moment. Coincidentally, however, Germany’s Emperor Wilhelm II will celebrate his thirtieth year jubilee “on or about June 15th 1918.” The Austrians sense an opportunity to outmaneuver the Germans, calling attention to their underappreciated empire, and for good reason as anyone who has savored Mozartkugeln or Sachertorte will surely agree.

His Grace the Imperial Liege-Count Leinsdorf leads the efforts to execute the Parallel Campaign, which Ulrich joins. Ulrich’s father has also suggested an introduction to “the daughter of a cousin of my late brother’s widow, and hence your cousin.” This cousin Ulrich names Diotima, from the character in Plato’s Symposium, also, as my closest friends may recall, the same name of a good pocket cruiser, a sailboat I owned for just over a decade. Diotima, otherwise known as Ermelinda Tuzzi, who calls herself at times Hermine, is married to Section Chief Hans Tuzzi, who calls himself Giovanni at times, of the Imperial Foreign Office. The Tuzzi’s both assist in the Parallel Campaign with Ulrich and His Grace. A Major General Stumm von Bordwehr, Chief of the War Ministry’s Department for Military Education and Cultural Affairs, is sent to monitor proceedings for the military, “mainly a matter of reconnaissance and reporting back.” The Major General learns something about the library system to his great amazement, and my modest enjoyment, amidst his formal important assignment.

Bonadea, a married mother of two, is Ulrich’s mistress. Ulrich “baptized her Bonadea, ‘the Good Goddess,’ for the way she had entered his life and also after that goddess of chastity whose ancient temple in Rome had become, by an odd reversal of fate, a center for all the vices.” Dr. Paul Arnheim, an “immeasurably rich” son of “the mightiest mogul of ‘Iron Germany’” is a frequent visitor to Diotima, though it’s unclear whether his motivations spring from lust, a desire for greater cross-border harmony, or a play for Galician oil fields. Herr Musil introduces other relationships into the story, with their own cross-border issues. There is Walter, who coined the moniker "man without qualities," and Clarisse, who thought “A man without qualities doesn’t say No to life, he says Not yet! And saves himself for the right moment,” married friends of Ulrich; Rachel and Soliman, servants for Diotima and Dr. Arnheim, respectively; and Hans Sepp and Gerda Fischel, two young romantics. Ulrich tests romance with several of the female characters, yet he doesn’t find motivation in any one person or any one pursuit. Woven through the book, too, is Moosbrugger, a convicted murderer who occupies an unusual amount of attention within the minds of several characters.

The Man Without Qualities is long, yet wonderful, and this is only to be said of the first volume; there’s more to come.
Profile Image for Christopher Robinson.
173 reviews72 followers
January 30, 2021
Just finished this, the first volume, and now onward into the second.

Magnificent so far. I’ll do a (slightly) more proper review upon finishing the second volume. But in the meantime, I’ll just say that I’m in love with this book and I’m kicking myself for having put it off for so long, for being needlessly intimidated by its bulk. It may be huge, it may be densely packed with ideas, rich with intellect, verbose and fragmentary, but reading it does not feel like “homework.” Despite its abundance of heavy themes, it never feels particularly demanding. Rather, I’ve found it compelling, stimulating, highly entertaining, shockingly difficult to put down. In another writer’s hands, this could very easily have been a stodgy exercise in ludicrous overthinking, but it’s a testament to Musil’s brilliance that he’s made it seem so... I don’t know... informal? Casual? Those are perhaps not the right words, but they came immediately to mind and they felt right so I’m sticking with them.

Anyway, The Man Without Qualities is brilliant so far and I’m very excited to see where all it goes in the second volume.
Profile Image for Stefania.
178 reviews31 followers
March 18, 2017
Έτσι νιώθεις μόνο όταν διαβάζεις Νίτσε
" Όλοι οι δρόμοι προς το πνεύμα ξεκινούν από την ψυχή αλλά κανένας δεν οδηγεί πίσω"
" Για να είναι κανείς υπερβολικός πρέπει να είναι τελείως ακριβής και αντικειμενικός¨
"Διότι μόνο ενα οι άνθρωποι ήσαν τελείως αντικειμενικοί-κι αυτό είναι σχεδόν το ίδιο σαν να είναι απρόσωποι- θα ήταν και ολότελα Έρωτας.Γιατί μόνο τότε θα ήταν ολότελα αίσθηση και συναίσθημα και σκέψη"
" Γιατί δεν κάνει ο άνθρωπος Ιστορία,δηλαδή γιατί επιτίθεται ενεργητικά στην ιστορία μόνο σαν ζώο, όταν είναι πληγωμένος,όταν πίσω του όλα καίγονται,γιατί με μια λέξη κάνει ιστορία μόνο σε περίπτωση κινδύνου; Γιατί η ερώτηση αυτή ηχεί ανάρμοστα; Ποιά είναι η αντίρρηση μας;Σε τελευταία ανάλυση δεν σημαίνει παρά μόνο ότι ο άνθρωπος όφειλε να μην αφήνει την ανθρώπινη ζωή να προχωρεί παθητικά όπως της υπαγορεύουν τα πράγματα;"
Profile Image for Eddie Watkins.
Author 6 books5,451 followers
October 3, 2014
Master of the elaborate and perfectly apt simile and an intellectual ironic comic of the highest order, I salute you Robert Musil, you AND your rarefied but highly readable novel composed of hundreds if not thousands of well-engineered lines worthy of weeklong pondering each. It may make your head swim but it'll also teach your brain how to breathe.
Profile Image for Evan.
195 reviews24 followers
January 16, 2009
I finally finished volume 1 of this book on the first day of 2009. 730 pages, and I'm not entirely sure I could explain what, if anything, happens. Clearly, not many contemporary readers would enjoy the kind of experience this entails. My description below, written back in the summer of 2007 when I started reading it, pretty much holds. I will now add volume 2 to my "currently reading." Stay tuned for the review, which will probably be forthcoming somewhere around 2015...

My original review (summer 2007):

I must admit that I experienced smugness when carrying around this weighty early twentieth century Austrian novel earlier this summer, while passing through airports where everyone from naval cadets to septuagenarians were Pottering. If you dislike "closure," this is the ultimate novel. At 1500 pages (spread over two volumes), it remained uncompleted at Musil's death And yet, somehow, it is worth it. This is a wry portrayal of Austrian society in the moments before World War I, set amidst a secret committee charged with a "parallel campaign" to celebrate the Emperor's 70th birthday (in 1917) with some kind of celebration of the Austrian zietgeist. The result? Pseudoreality. Musil's opus has been compared to Ulysses (it is a far easier read) and Proust's cycle (it is far less microscopic). Though there are points where nearly anyone would wonder why he is spending this much time on a novel that doesn't even end with a quidditch match, there are frequent scenes that rank with the best of twentieth century fiction.
Profile Image for Veronika.
Author 1 book68 followers
October 23, 2020
Wie bewertet man dieses Buch .... puh. Es zu lesen war schon teilweise qualvoll und anstrengend. Es ist kein Roman im klassischen Sinne, sondern eine Ansammlung von Essays zu allen möglichen Themen, wie Politik, Religion, Beziehungen, Staat und Gesellschaft etc.
Ich muss sagen, dass ich immer am meisten Spaß hatte, wenn Ulrich und seine Cousine Diotima sich unterhalten haben, weil die eine herrliche Chemie hatten und sich gleichzeitig blöd und sehr anziehend fanden und deswegen herrliches Bickering dabei rauskam. An den Essays hatte ich leider weniger Spaß. Ich wollte irgendwann einfach nur noch fertig werden.
Also es war schon ein Leseerlebnis und ich bin froh, dass ich es mal gewagt habe, aber es ist keins der Bücher, die ich dringend nochmal lesen müsste.
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