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The Man Without Qualities #3

The Man Without Qualities: Vol. 3

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Este terceiro volume de O Homem sem Qualidades, reune o essencial do espólio inédito deixado por Musil em 1942 e nunca foi editado em Portugal. Abarca momentos essenciais da pré-história do romance nos anos vinte (ainda com os títulos O Redentor ou A Irmã Gémea) e documenta o complexo labirinto por onde se move a escrita e reescrita de Musil nos anos trinta e quarenta, a caminho de uma conclusão que nunca alcançou, nem podia alcançar, porque o romance «não pode provar nada» e o seu «programa» é o da «apropriação da irrealidade ». Assim sendo, conclui Musil num dos fragmentos, «uma conclusão é quase um absurdo». O Homem Sem Qualidades III de Robert Musil

445 pages, Paperback

First published January 1, 1930

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About the author

Robert Musil

213 books979 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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Displaying 1 - 14 of 14 reviews
Profile Image for Jimmy.
512 reviews711 followers
July 4, 2012
"Musil, given his desperate personal situation and the Nazi takeover in Germany, compares his continued work on The Man without Qualities to “the diligence of a woodworm, boring through a picture frame in a house that is already ablaze”
Close to the end of this unfinished tome, Ulrich muses about the condition of modern life wherein we are presented with so many raw facts and feelings that theories arising from them from every direction can appear equally valid, none having a monopoly on the truth:
Does man act only according to his emotional impulses, does he only do, feel, and indeed think, that to which he is impelled by unconscious streams of longing or the milder current of pleasure, as is nowadays widely assumed to be the case? Or does he perhaps, after all, act according to reason and will--as is also widely assumed today? Is he particularly at the mercy of certain impulses, such as the sexual, as is nowadays assumed? Or at the mercy not of sexual preconditions, but of the psychological effect of economic conditions, as is also assumed?
He concludes in a typical non-conclusive way:
An organism as complex as man can be regarded from many sides, and one can choose one or the other axis in the theoretical picture: what one gets is partial truths, out of the interpenetration of which truth slowly rises higher. Or does it really rise higher? Every time a partial truth has been taken for the sole explanation of things, there has been a heavy price to pay. On the other hand, nobody would have arrived even at the partial truth if it had not been over-estimated. So the history of truth and the history of feeling are in many ways interlinked; but that of feeling remains obscure. Indeed to Ulrich’s way of thinking, it was not a history at all, but a wild tangle.
Likewise, in a book this wide ranging and complex, I feel like you could come out of it with many different theories, each equally valid (and also equally invalid), since every theory misses the truth by its very simplification of the thing itself. Thus, I found it interesting upon finishing the book and reading Eithne Wilkins’s preface, that I never thought of Musil’s main themes the way she did (she says they are ‘love and belief’) but that reading her explanation of them, I could see a certain truth in them also.

All this to say that this work is truly hard to capture. And this being the third volume (about 700+ pages precede this), you would think that by now it would be on autopilot, but that is hardly the case. In fact, Wilkins says “The previous volumes are in fact a sort of prologue, and the story begins only now, at the point where Musil originally intended to begin it...It may be disconcerting to realise that now we shall need to re-read over a thousand pages of prologue to the story. But Musil is a disconcerting writer. And one of his characteristics is to reward every re-reading with a profusion of new insights.”

I can already see myself re-reading these books over and over again for the rest of my life, grasping a little more each time. But for the sake of this first time through, I wanted to jot down a few insufficient notes of things I noticed:


Just when I thought the book couldn’t get any better, any more complex, any more interesting, Musil exceeds all my expectations. Book 3 begins with a new character, Ulrich’s sister Agathe. They spend a lot of time together in the country after his father dies, and this was a much needed break for me from the city characters (Bonadea, Walter, Clarisse, Stumm, etc). This part of the novel focuses on the thorny idea of morality. But less in a ideal sense, and more in a practical sense. Agathe is like the manifestation of Ulrich’s ideas, whereas Ulrich’s ideas are only approximations of extremes, Agathe doesn’t overthink them, she acts directly out of the same forces that makes Ulrich think, yet she doesn't often know why she is acting. This scares Ulrich, but also attracts him.

The part with Agathe in the first 100 pages or so was amazing, probably one of the best parts of the entire book, with great dialogue and thinking and dynamic between them, but when Ulrich goes back to the city, I was quite reluctant to follow him. I was tired of his talks with the city folks already, and wanted more of Agathe.


The more I read this book the more I see the original review I wrote for Part 1 of this book as inadequate. The ideas I wrote about then seem so naive and simple now, yet I don’t think they were wrong... It’s just that, with Musil, every idea has 5, 10, 100 gradations, in more and more minute detail. This doesn’t sound fun to read, but it is! (surprisingly!) But I’m glad I wrote what I did in my review of part 1 because at this point the ideas are so complex and subtle (though similiar in nature and theme) I’m not sure I can even put them into words. Someone can spend their whole life studying this book.

“Ahead of him he saw her figure under her dress like a big white fish quite close to the surface. He felt the masculine urge to harpoon that white fish and see it flap and struggle, and the urge was an equal blend of repugnance and desire.”
Often called a book of ideas, this is more like a book of constantly-arriving-at-ideas. It never arrives, it is only interested in the process. Thus, the vehicle for the arriving-at, i.e. the writing, often contains gem after gem. This is not a crude container, as in some other idea-driven un-feeling novels like The Fountainhead. Each sentence, even in translation, is crystal clear, metaphors containing equal parts scientific precision and emotional weight, often so apt that it stuns me (or sometimes intentionally clunky/non-apt as to create a stunningly jarring effect).
“and through the darkness the aerial storm of love came raging like a gale. It was with a thud that it set the lovers back on firm ground again, when, vanishing through the walls, it let them go. And now the darkness lay between them like a lump of coal with which the sinners had blackened themselves.”
Musil proves that the novel can be a perfect vehicle for philosophy, if written well enough, except what he’s written isn’t philosophy at all. Instead, he attempts to put science, philosophy, and art/humanities on an equal playing field as the three legs of a stool for thinking/feeling about the modern world. These competing extremes do not have to be extremes in Musil’s world, but instead complement each other, teasing out each other’s blind spots and tugging at each other’s hems and haws for a semi-truth of fluctuating averages. Though he philosophizes, and though he writes with scientific precision, he does not sacrifice any of the wordplay, wit, or feeling in the prose.


I don’t know why I never noticed this until around the middle of this volume, but almost every time a conversation about something starts taking shape, it gets interrupted. Usually it’s right when it gets close to the conclusion of a certain theory Ulrich is arriving at... something inevitably comes up, a phone call or General Stumm von Bordwehr comes barging in or something, but the point is the novel is filled with these false-starts, where no conclusion is ever made. Aptly, the novel is about a patriotic celebration of a ‘great idea’ that would inevitably be interrupted by war (as is foreshadowed by the setting). Also apt is the fact that the novel itself is never finished, Musil himself being interrupted by war and death.
"The story of this novel amounts to this, that the story that ought to be told in it is not told." - Musil

In the same way that he was interested in extreme ideas/ideals in earlier parts of the book and how they operate in society, here the ideas get more personal and universal at the same time. He takes on the extreme opposites of male/female, of brother/sister, of moral-right/wrong, of self/other, especially in Ulrich and Agathe’s relationship. He takes apart these extremes by burying them in particulars, so that they become a million tiny moments, and at any particular moment Ulrich and Agathe are merely more brother and sister or more lovers or more siamese twins, etc. but never wholly one thing or the other. This indefinable relationship exists on a continuum, as does the morality of their actions within it.


Even in the last 50 pages, new characters were being introduced. If Musil had finished this novel, it probably would’ve been 3000+ pages. What’s surprising is that it continually renews itself despite the lack of any kind of traditional plot. Some chapters hold up better than others, but I rarely felt like he was not moving along at a certain pace of thought, where ideas are continually rising to the surface to form new concoctions. This is truly one of the best books I’ve ever read.

Further Reading: my review of The Man Without Qualities, Volume 1
Profile Image for A. Raca.
729 reviews150 followers
April 6, 2021
'"Kadim dinlerde ilahların yanında yer alan ilaheler gerçekte artık bizim hissedişimiz için ulaşılamaz hâldedirler," diye düşündü. "Bu insanüstü güçleri olan kadınlarla ilişki kurmak bizim için mazoşizmden farksız olurdu!"'

" Hayatta sadece bir kez kişi yaptığı her şeyi başkası için yapar. Güneşin o kişi için ışıdığına inanır. O her yerde, kendisiyse hiçbir yerdedir. Yine de bu hal 'iki kişilik bir bencillik' değildir, çünkü diğer tarafın durumunun da aynı olması gerekir. En sonunda iki kişi de artık birbirleri için varolmayı bırakırlar; geriye takdir, fedakarlık, dostluk ve feragatten ibaret iki kişilik bir dünya kalır."

3. ciltte Ulrich'in babasının ölümü üzerine uzun yıllardır görmediği kendisi kadar niteliksiz kız kardeşi ile karşılaşıyoruz. Bunun üzerine önce baba- oğul ve aile ilişkileri üzerine düşünüyor Ulrich. Bilinmeyen kız kardeşinin gelişi Ulrich'in çevresinde büyük şaşkınlıkla karşılanıyor ve 'Paralel Faaliyet'e dahil oluyor. Sonra ise ahlak üzerine düşünmeler, uzun sohbetler geçiyor.
Özellikle bu cildi çok beğendim, Nietzsche'nin ve Goethe'nin görüşlerinden çok bahsetmiş; bu iki yazara (filozofa) çok önem verilmiş.

Yalnız kitapta 'ıztırap' kelimesinin yazılışı gözümü kanattı. 1 kere 2 kere de değil özellikle mi yapılmış bilmiyorum.
Profile Image for Michael.
57 reviews67 followers
November 2, 2013
Note: Vol. 3 of this older translation and Vol. 2 of the newer translation begin at the same point: ‘Into the Millenium (The Criminals)’.

It is a precipitous drop from the incorruptible 5 stars of the first two volumes to the 4 of this, the third. Obviously the lesser, Vol. 3 unsuccessfully succeeds the impossible height that ‘The Like of it Now Happens’ left off at by veering straightaway into Anna Karenina territory. And although that is not an entirely unphilosophic book itself, this deviation marks, in this one, a noticeable downturn into the superficial from the perhaps unsustainably insight-lavish elaborations it carried through its first 800 pages. That is to say, that despite its own merit, this volume seems doomed to be the ‘unfortunate sequel’ instead of a ‘continuation of the luminous whole’.

So here we have a kind of ‘forbidden love’ plot stepping into the fold. Forbidden, as the back cover of this somewhat rare volume will tell you, on the grounds of sibling incest - not really outrageous or uncharted territory for a novel. What is rather egregious though, is how the dialogue between brother and sister often devolves into a sort of shared monologue, an off-tune crescendo that is sung all too repeatedly throughout the first half of the book. The previously brilliantly unassuming Ulrich falls prey to the somewhat naive if not preposterous idea of the ‘soulmate’ as the solution to his particular existential can-o-worms. And based on this, the reader is made witness to how these two quite different people can improbably carry on the thread of said monologue without ever misunderstanding or challenging each other no matter how abstract or sensational the talk becomes. I don’t remember if there was any literal finishing of each other’s sentences, but the effect was no less nauseating.

After just under 200 pages (note that I didn’t say: only just under) of this, the narrative returns to a semblance of its old form. But as more plot lines open than close and Musil’s signature philosophic dissections come fewer and farther in between, one is left to wonder if the book is not slowly coming off the rails. Indeed one wonders if Musil himself was not doing so at this time. In the end though, Musil does reassure us that the illusion of the ‘soulmate-solution’ is his character’s (and is illusion) and not his own, which does make this lesser installment a worthy addition to any literary comment on the absurdity of man’s situation. Therein lies the negative.

Here now the positive:

“…perhaps every thinking person goes around with some such idea of order, just as grown-up men still wear next to their skin the holy medal that their mothers hung around their necks when they were small. And this mental medallion, which nobody can nerve himself either to take seriously or to discard, looks pretty much as follows: on one side there is a blurred image of the longing for a law of right living, a law both iron and natural, allowing of no exceptions and dealing with all objections, a law both as liberating as an intoxicating drink and as sober as truth itself; on the other side, however, what is depicted is the conviction that one’s own eyes will never behold such a law, that one’s own thoughts will never think it out, that it cannot be promulgated by any one man’s gospel and authority, but only by the exertions of all mankind–if, indeed, it is not simply a phantasm of the mind.”
10 reviews
February 13, 2019
Класичний модерністський роман: галюциногенний, іронічний, глибокий, несерйозний, тонкий, ненав'язливий.
Profile Image for António.
165 reviews3 followers
February 5, 2022
As milhares de páginas seguem-se quase sem acontecimentos: no que respeita a eventos em que costumamos resumir a trama de um romance, talvez não encontremos mais que três ou quatro nesta obra. Muita culpa disso vem de Ulrich, o protagonista, homem sem qualidades que se distancia de tudo, sobretudo do que acontece muito perto. Esse afastamento faz tudo aparecer-lhe equivalente, não por ser tudo bom, ou mau, mas por nada ser preferível. Algumas perspectivas de acção que nos podem parecer chocantes acabam niveladas e comparadas sem hesitação nem ponderação moral: quando olha os participantes numa manifestação junto à sua janela, passa de um interesse entre o piedoso e o fastidioso para a indagação sobre como poderia matá-los facilmente. A própria moral é constantemente relativizada, e os seus valores feitos depender do contexto em que surgem. Tudo está mais na reflexão sobre o objecto do que no próprio objecto: quando se tratam questões como a responsabilidade criminal, mais concretamente a imputabilidade do criminoso, os argumentos são trocados com tanta minúcia e distinções tão especiosas que a dada altura o artificialismo permeou a discussão de tal maneira que uma posição já não parece distinguir-se da contrária.
Talvez nenhuma cena concretize melhor esta abstracção, ou o seu contraponto ao mundo da acção, que a das relações sexuais com Gerda: Ulrich está ali pronto, mas quer ir embora; aproxima-se cheio de vontade de se afastar, toca-a todo desejoso de repelir aquele corpo, e mesmo ela reage a isto como quem passa por uma experiência traumatizante, como se tão mau como ser forçada fisicamente a ter relações fosse tê-las com alguém espiritualmente ausente. A aproximação das mulheres a Ulrich, aliás, começa por parecer um pouco estranha, visto não haver nada nele, para lá do aspecto físico, que pudéssemos ter por atractivo. Não é especialmente simpático ou cativante, não adere a valores, não tem princípios, não adopta grandes gestos, nem sequer pratica conversas sedutoras. Parece atrair antes como atrai um buraco; como o precipício que, ameaçando com a queda, nos vai puxando pela vertigem.
Ulrich vem a ser um pouco a projecção do que os outros procuram para viver a sua própria história: Clarisse vê nele uma figura afuniladora e referente de alguns dos seus devaneios e hipóteses; para o general Stumm ele é um camarada; para Bonadea é a um tempo o amante infame, frio e cruel, e o amado romântico, sacrificado e generoso; para Agathe é o irmão que lhe oferece a perfeita harmonia de espírito e ânimo; para Walter é o rival que alimenta o seu ciúme e frustração patológicos; para Diotima é o olho em que espelha continuamente a sua hipótese de adultério, etc.
Moosbrugger tem, de certo modo, a posição inversa da de Ulrich: enquanto este se mantém uma unidade distante das acções, mera consciência representando, recebendo impressões, ideando e analisando, Moosbruger nunca está só em pensamento distante da realidade, mas antes, pelo contrário, sempre a precisar de se concretizar no mundo – em acções, sensações, reacções, satisfação de necessidades... E dispersa-se em todas essas coisas. É louco? Talvez não mais que Ulrich, a moralidade de um não é preferível à do outro, sucede apenas que o assassino Moosbrugger parece mais perigoso. Se ambos têm moralidade neutra, Moosbrugger desarruma o mundo, e portanto, tem de ser contido, enquanto Ulrich não desarruma nada, limita-se a olhar de longe, mantém-se distante e quase bloqueia perante contactos mais próximos.
Nenhum contacto chega a ser mais próximo animicamente que o estabelecido com a irmã Agathe. A sua relação é a princípio puramente espiritual, mas a aproximação torna-se cada vez mais intensa, sem nunca se concretizar, tanto quanto percebi e apesar de algumas leituras divergentes, em actos sexuais. São apenas perturbados pela atenção da sociedade, da qual se excluem cada vez mais, mas que de vez em vez tenta chegar a eles. O general Stumm é a ponte: vai-lhes dando conta da Acção Paralela (o evento-motivo em torno do qual giraram as personagens na primeira parte da história), cada vez mais impaciente por acção; pois Ulrich e Agathe, mais e mais afastados do mundo, parecem menos e menos inclinados para acção alguma, perdidos no limbo da reflexão, da análise, e incapazes sequer de se fixarem numa opinião em definitivo, sempre buscando explorar a contrária. O limbo em que derivam torna ainda mais interessante o encarar da perspectiva do incesto: parece que o único motivo irrelevante para o concretizarem é a ideia de que não o podem fazer; não podem fazê-lo, não porque lhes importe alguma proibição, mas porque estão demasiado longe de qualquer acção.
Romance inacabado e inacabável, porque inacabável é o pensamento mais do que a vida, o livro desdobra-se numa geração infindável de teorização, perguntas, respostas, sempre mais e mais abstractas. Acusado de exagerar nas considerações supérfluas e prolixas, Musil respondia: “para mim o principal são essas considerações!”
Profile Image for Miranda.
164 reviews3 followers
April 10, 2012
I finally finished book 27- The Man Without Qualities by Robert Musil. As I set out to write this I have no idea how I am going to summarize a three volume mega novel with a philsophical bent. The first two volumes I didn't like very much, but the third volume I adored. I am not sure what that makes the average for the entire novel in terms of rating, but I guess over all it falls somewhere around a 3 star novel.

The novel, featuring a man named Ulrich who opts out of life by taking a year holiday and doing nothing but thinking through life, has very little action in it. The essential plot follows a cast of characters who have banded together for the collatoral campaign, a project that is trying to come up with one idea to symbolize the monarch's jubilee. Most of the novel consists of Ulrich playing the devil's advocate through a whole host of conversations with various people. He argues a great deal of the time from both sides of every argument which a lot of the time is highly irritating. The last novel takes place after his fathers death when he reunites with a sister he hasn't seen in years. They have an almost incestuous relationship as they both see each other as two halves of a whole. Ulrich's philosophy is finally solidified at this point in the novel.

One of my favorite tangents in the novel was Ulrich playing with the idea of soul. I actually really like the idea he has which is essentially that the soul is all the empty places inside of us not filled up by personality, societal views or personal feelings. Here are some quotes:

"Every dweller on earth has a tenth character, which is nothing more or less than the passive illusion of spaces unfilled"

" some people even think away out and beyond everything, of a God who has the missing piece of themselves in His pocket"

"all roads to the mind start from the soul, but none leads back again"

"the loved person seems to stand where otherwise there is always something missing"

"I called it the acoustics of the void"

The book also had a great deal to stay about the idea of "mystic rapture". I was ecstatic to feel what I have felt many a time (and often describe as "so excited I could scream" ) laid out in such fantastic words. It made my heart burn with the excitement the book was describing. It is for this reason, that I can't say I hate this book. It is also this idea of connectedness with the larger world beyond that makes me love literature. When you see something of yourself, outside of yourself it is very heart warming and leaves you with a feeling that all is not lost in the world.

"all moments that had meant something decisive in his life ahd left him with the same feeling"

"all decisive moments of his life had been associated with such a sensation of amazement and lonliness"

"every sort of excitement that exceeds the normal very soon mists over with a patina of melancholy, absurdity and satiation."

"They call it an undoing of self, and at the same time declare they live more fully than ever"

"The heart 'ravenous and satiated' , as they say- suddenly finds itslef in those utopian regions that lie somewhere and nowhere between an infinite tenderness and an infinited loneliness"

The book also has a lot to say about love and what it means between a man and women, but also the love of ideas. Most of the characters are in love with someone, or over the course of the novel several someones. Diotima, Ulrich's cousin is intellectually in love with a member of the collatoral campaign and debates the entire novel whether to take this into the physical realm.

The most fantastic quote that Ulrich aid to Diotima was this:

"to strip to the skin, put arms round each other's shoulders and instead of talking, burst out singing"

and also encouraged her to 'so to speak touching him under his pscyhological loin cloth without shuddering"

There were a lot more that were interesting including these;

"...had entered the territory of intimacy where one reveals oneself to the other person in all one's emotional disorder"

"When do you understand another human being? You have to play along with him"

"It goes back a very long way, this desire for a doppelganger of the opposite sex, this craving for the love of a being that will be entirely the same as oneself and yet another"

"true love-sickness is not desire for possession, but only a gentle unveiling of the wordl itself"

Finally there is a lot that talks about morality. Ulrich never really officially pins down his philsophy of life, but essentially you are never left feeling that the world doesn't have meaning or that there isn't a God. Despite several arguements about good and evil and deconstructing them Ulrich still believes that they exist. This book talks a lot about how morality should be fun and that living a life consistent with your own philosophy of life should not be boring. It left me excited about life and with a feeling that one can have a personal view of the world, still believe in some form of universal truth, but yet also be open to the differences amongst people. By playing both sides of each arguement I really feel like Ulrich comes closer to the truth about life than a lot of other people. He plays with the idea of a both/and philsophy and also that the truth lifes somehwere in between polar sides of an argument.

"We ourselves must work out the sum he sets us"

"he regarded the problem set by every human life as one of these" (a math problem with a specific answer but no general one)

"nowadays every truth comes into the world split into two mutually antagonistic falsehoods"

"perhaps they're potentially good human beings. They don't lose that even as criminals"

"Why should moral people be so dreary...when their intentions are good ought to be the most delicious, the most difficult, the most enjoyable thing anyone can possibly imagine"

"All moral propostions, "Ulrich confirmed, ' refer to a sort of dream condition that's long ago taken wing and flown away ot of the cage of rules in which we try to hold it fast"

"For him morality was neither conformism nor the sum of acquired knowledge: it was the infinite fullness of lifes potentialities"

"morality is imagination'

This book was fun, Ulrich never takes himself seriously and you feel light hearted and silly about everything the whole time. It is long, though, and daunting. Large chunks of the book at times seem unnecessary and the action is slow moving. The book also doesn't come to a conclusion either because the author never finished the novel or he purposely leaves it vague. Either way, this book is likely not for everyone. I love philosophy and playing around with ideas in my head so for that I mostly enjoyed the book.
Profile Image for Юра Мельник.
309 reviews30 followers
November 27, 2018
4 з 5 за третю частину, 5 з 5 за трилогію. Важко було зрозуміти де саме Ульріх починає вводити гальмівні механізми філософського маніфесту і чи збирається він робити це взагалі Навіть попри те, що роман видається незавершеним, таким його можна назвати лише на макро рівні, на мезо рівні зустрічаються вагомі і однозначні висновки, які не можуть не зворушувати і не зачаровувати.
Уже в одному із останніх роздумів автор зауважує що "...Ульріх, як можна здогадатися, просто позбавив слова одну несподівану думку, а саме: що кохати зовсім не так просто, як намагається запевнити нас природа, довіряючи знаряддя для цього першому-ліпшому дилетантові з-поміж своїх творінь" або "...він, звичайно, розумів, що обидва різновиди людського буття, поставлені тут на карту, не означали нічого іншого, крім «людини без властивостей» – на противагу наділеній усіма властивостями, які тільки може продемонструвати людина."
Всупереч чисельним сюжетним лініям які автор продовжував відкривати впродовж першої тисячі сторінок мало не всі лишились не завершеними, не виключно що автор просто не збирався помирати. Але найепохальніший сюжет розпочався і не мав жодного шансу на те, щоби бути завершеним в цьому або в інших потенційних романах Музіля. Цей сюжет - нарис непереможності сили, яка не дає розквітлому розуму пробитись крізь цупке полотно часу.
Profile Image for Sini.
494 reviews115 followers
February 11, 2016
Dit boek is door gezaghebbende Duitse critici verkozen tot de beste Duitstalige roman van de 20e eeuw, en Musil geldt voor velen als minstens de evenknie van giganten als Mann, Kafka, Joyce, Proust. In Nederland wordt hij fanatiek bejubeld door o.a. Jacq Vogelaar, Cyrille Offermans en Maarten van Buuren. Niettemin is het heel begrijpelijk waarom "De man zonder eigenschappen" niet heel veel lezers kent: het boek is enorm dik (bijna 1400 bladzijden), het is onvoltooid en incompleet (Musil ging dood voordat hij er een einde aan kon breien), en het is werkelijk bezopen ingewikkeld qua inhoud, structuur en stijl. Door die ingewikkeldheid bleek 50-100 bladzijden per dag voor mij echt een maximum: je moet er dus veel tijd voor nemen en ruimte voor vrijmaken, want anders haal je de 1400 echt nooit. De Nederlandse vertaling van dit boek, hoe bewonderenswaardig ook, bevat tevens een aantal gekke uitglijders, en mijn e-reader versie staat bovendien vol met werkelijk belachelijke drukfouten. En toch was ik bijzonder geimponeerd door "De man zonder eigenschappen": ik vind het echt een van de 5 allermooiste en allergeniaalste boeken die ik ooit heb gelezen. Dit vond ik niet zomaar een goed of prachtig boek: ik vond het een absoluut meesterwerk, dat ik nog vaak wil herlezen.

Het boek draait niet om actie, maar om onnavolgbaar genuanceerde reflecties en bespiegelingen, waarin een heel exacte mathematisch-filosofische wijze van denken gecombineerd wordt met een onnavolgbare gevoeligheid voor de complexiteit en onbestemdheid van onze binnenwereld en buitenwereld. Hoofdfiguur is ene Ulrich (zijn achternaam krijgen we niet te horen), iemand die niet handelt (alhoewel hij wel de ene vrouw na de andere verovert) maar vanuit een soort gedistantieerde buitenstaanderspositie nadenkt over zichzelf en de wereld. Wat hem interesseert is niet de gangbare werkelijkheid zoals die in zijn tijd gedefinieerd wordt, en ook niet de gangbare normatieve uitspraken over wat men wel moet doen en wat niet of over hoe men zijn eigen identiteit vorm moet geven in de maatschappij van nu. Wat hem interesseert is juist alles wat daaraan ontsnapt: niet de definieerbare of gedefinieerde werkelijkheid c.q. moraal, maar de nog ongerealiseerde MOGELIJKHEID; niet 'dat wat is' in de ons bekende vorm, maar dat wat zou KUNNEN zijn in al zijn raadselachtige potentaliteit. "Essayisme" noemt Ulrich dat: de drive om alle innerlijke en uiterlijke fenomenen van alle kanten te onderzoeken, op tastende, experimenterende en proefondervindelijke wijze zoals in een essay, zonder te willen uitkomen bij een allesverklarende definitie van die fenomenen. Want zo'n definitie verstolt, versimpelt, reduceert en verarmt.

Het boek staat dan ook vol van zulke "essayistische" beschouwingen, van Ulrich, van de (naamloze en alwetende) verteller, en van diverse andere personages. Beschouwingen die ik zeer bewonder om hun rijkdom aan gedachtes, verschillende invalshoeken en experimentele vergezichten. Mooi is ook hoe de verschillende gedachtenexperimenten elkaar nuanceren, aanvullen, corrigeren en verrijken. Dat levert een rijk filosofisch bouwwerk op, een caleidoscoop van hypothetische horizonten. Maar het meest briljant en geniaal vind ik dat die beschouwingen niet 'alleen maar' beschouwingen zijn, maar tegelijk ook doordesemd zijn van subtiele gemoedsbewegingen. De beschouwingen staan namelijk steeds rechtstreeks in verband met concrete personages en hun stemmingen: in alles wat Ulrich zegt en denkt over de wereld staat ook hijzelf als persoon op het spel en speelt ook alles wat er bewust en minder bewust in hem speelt een rol. Alle essayistische beschouwingen zijn daardoor tegelijk ook enorm genuanceerde en minutieuze beschrijvingen van psychologische zielsprocessen: als lezer zie je niet alleen hoe een tastende essayistische wereldbeschouwing zich (voorlopig) vormt, maar ook hoe er daarbij allerlei subtiele verschuivingen plaatsvinden in het hoofd van de beschouwer. Vooral dat laatste vind ik echt ongelofelijk goed gedaan: het is echt schitterend om Ulrich te volgen in al zijn innerlijke veranderingen en innerlijke worstelingen, maar b.v. ook om diverse andere personages te volgen in hun veranderingsprocessen. Zoals de extatische Clarisse, een jeugdvriendin van Ulrich: in haar bijna waanzinnige extase en verwarring duidelijk anders dan Ulrich, want Ulrich blijft vasthouden aan heldere methodiek en rationaliteit, maar in haar neiging voorbij alle grenzen te denken en te voelen ook weer verwant of op zijn minst complementair aan Ulrich.

Door zijn twijfel aan alle vaste waarden en waarheden heeft "De man zonder eigenschappen" zeker een kritische en satirische inslag. Ook omdat het boek speelt in het Habsburgse Oostenrijk-Hongaarse rijk in de periode 1913-1914: in een wereld dus die door WO I zal worden weggevaagd. De personages weten dat niet, de lezer echter weet dat wel en de naamloze verteller weet het duidelijk ook: dat verklaart mede zijn voortdurende weemoedige ironie over alles wat er in dat Habsburgse rijk gebeurt en alle pogingen om dat rijk tot 'het centrum van de wereld' te verklaren. Het geeft ook extra contouren aan Ulrichs afstandelijke opstelling: je beseft dat hij deel uitmaakt van een behoorlijk pretentieuze wereld die spoedig ten onder zal gaan, en dat hij er dus goed aan doet niet in die pretenties te geloven. Maar je beseft tegelijk dat ook Ulrich de eerste wereldoorlog en de instorting van het Habsburgse rijk niet ziet aankomen: Ulrich is een zoeker, geen ziener. Bovendien besef je dat de situatie van Ulrich en zijn tijdgenoten misschien deels ook wel de onze is. Ulrich c.s. leven in onzekere tijden en weten totaal niet wat het verloop zal zijn van de geschiedenis: sommigen (zoals Ulrich) hebben grote twijfels aan de waarheden en waarden die de maatschappij hen voorspiegelt en raken verwikkeld in een eindeloze zoektocht, anderen hebben juist een TOTAAL geloof in de waarheden van hun tijd maar zullen daarin op tragikomische wijze worden ontgoocheld. Mijn ietwat retorische vraag luidt dan: is de situatie voor ons wezenlijk anders?

Die kritische inslag is zonder meer belangrijk, en levert veel mooie weemoedige of juist totaal hilarische passages op. Ja, er valt in dit boek ook veel te lachen. "De man zonder eigenschappen" is zonder meer zeer geslaagd als satire en als ontmaskering van al te pretentieus geloof in al te zwaarwichte en vastgeroeste waarheden. Maar mooi vind ik vooral dat het zoveel meer is dan alleen dat: het boek is (zoals ik al zei) ook een prachtige beschrijving van essayistisch denken, en van subtiele psychologische processen. Door zijn stijl en inhoud laat het dus een beweeglijke manier van denken, beschouwen en voelen zien die althans PROBEERT te ontkomen aan al te verstarrende definities. En in het derde en laatste deel van dit boek komt Musil met een bijzonder intrigerend waagstuk op de proppen: hij tast daar op essayistische wijze de mogelijkheden en onmogelijkheden af voor een nieuwe soort van extase, vervoering en mystiek. Nee, niet een nieuwe religie met een nieuwe waarheid of een nieuw godsbeeld. Wel een nieuw intens soort TOTAAL meeslepend enthousiasme waarin het 'ik' even al zijn grenzen overstijgt en nieuwe verbindingen voelt met de wereld die hem omringt. Te vergelijken met liefdesgevoel dat door zijn enorme heftigheid alles opslokt zodat de geliefden totaal 'van de wereld zijn' en even alle houvast verliezen, of met de ervaring van mystici dat de grenzen tussen hun 'ik' en de ander of de buitenwereld geheel vloeibaar worden. Dat alles krijgt dan zijn uiterst voorlopige en veranderlijke vorm in de werkelijk prachtige gesprekken tussen Ulrich en zijn lange tijd verloren zuster Agathe, die een soort nieuwe 'unio mystica' trachten te bereiken buiten de maatschappelijke orde om. Dit behelst dan ook nieuwe (uiteraard voorlopige) syntheses tussen erotische liefde en 'broeder-zuster liefde', tussen rationeel en wetenschappelijk redeneren (waar Ulrich een exponent van is) en meer intuitief redeneren (wat meer de kracht van Agathe is), tussen exacte helderheid en de onbestemdheid die eigen is aan mystiek en gevoel, etcetera. Dat lukt weliswaar niet, of in elk geval niet helemaal, vanwege allerlei innerlijke twijfels bij m.n. Ulrich en omdat zo'n nieuwe 'unio mystica' te complex is om ooit praktisch verwezenlijkt te kunnen worden. Maar naar mijn gevoel maakt dat de zoektocht van Ulrich en Agathe m.i. juist extra intrigerend. Ze tasten alle uithoeken van hun gevoel en verstand af op zoek naar een nieuwe soort vervoering en nieuwe wijzen van voelen en zien, zonder te weten of dit resultaat zal opleveren en wat dit eventuele resultaat dan zal zijn. Maar het GAAT hen in mijn beleving ook niet om het resultaat: het gaat om het essayistische zoeken en om alle onverwachte nieuwe vergezichten die deze zoektocht onderweg toevallig zal gaan opleveren. En DAT vind ik dan weer heel inspirerend om als lezer te kunnen volgen.

Een geweldig boek dus, een van de geniaalste die ik ooit las. Een aanstekelijke en vaak hilarische satire, waarin mooi wordt gespot met al te star geloof in al te absolute waarheden. Maar vooral een briljante demonstratie van essayistisch denken, en daardoor een ongelofelijk precieze en minutieuze verkenning van allerlei heel uiteenlopende aspecten van ons verstand en ons gevoel. Ik heb er zo'n beetje een hele vakantie over gedaan om het te lezen. Maar juist daardoor was dit qua leeservaring mijn meest schitterende vakantie ooit!
Profile Image for Arne-Jan.
272 reviews1 follower
July 16, 2017
Wat ongelofelijk jammer dat Musil zijn levenswerk nooit heeft kunnen voltooien. Aan de andere kant geeft het feit dat je een onvoltooid boek leest ook de mogelijkheid om zelf het vervolg in te vullen, wat in dit geval ook heel goed mogelijk en zelfs uiterst interessant is om over na te denken.
Meer dan drie jaren heb ik erover gedaan om de drie delen te lezen, met diverse andere boeken tussendoor. Wat was het vaak een beproeving. Wat moest ik een hoop teruglezen. Niet zozeer terugbladeren hoe iets ook alweer zat, maar gewoon losse zinnen, gedachtegangen en alinea's. Want wat is het boek complex. Ik heb de - soms voor mijzelf vervelende - tic dat ik een eenmaal geopend boek moet uitlezen... Maar in dit geval ben ik ongelofelijk blij dat ik die eigenschap heb. Bovendien heeft het boek al vanaf de eerste bladzijde ook een vreemde aantrekkingskracht. De hele setting in het oude Wenen vlak voor de Eerste Wereldoorlog draagt daartoe bij, als lezer natuurlijk wetende dat deze oorlog is uitgebroken. Hoe zou de auteur omgaan met dat gegeven, terwijl juist hoop centraal staat bij de in eerste instantie sympathiek lijkende Parallelactie. De ontwikkeling van dit maatschappelijke initiatief tot een nietszeggende praatclub en papieren tijger is fascinerend vormgegeven. Het indrukwekkendst zijn echter de schitterende karakters. Generaal Stumm, Moosbrugger, Diotima, Arnheim, Walter & Clarisse, Rachel, noem maar op, ze zijn allemaal even boeiend. De persoonlijkheden gaan vooral leven door de filosofisch aandoende discussies die Ulrich en anderen met en over hen hebben. Een dergelijke stijlvorm heb ik niet eerder ergens gezien. Het verhaal geeft ook goed de machteloosheid weer van individuen, hun persoonlijke relaties en de reikwijdte van beslissingen. De relatie met Agathe, zijn zus, ontwikkelt zich op de achtergrond juist als lichtpuntje, maar wel met een zeer donkere rand.
Ik heb het boek geïnterpreteerd als aanklacht tegen de eigenbelangen van mensen en groepen, maar misschien nog wel meer als aanklacht tegen de naïviteit. Het kon op deze manier niet anders dan dat er oorlog zou komen. En we kennen allemaal de geschiedenis...
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
885 reviews19 followers
December 25, 2017
I spent all of March 2017 reading this translation of Musil's masterwork (Eithne Wilkins and Ernst Kaiser, 1954) alongside the latest translation by Sophie Wilkins, 1995. After a staggered start, I overlapped two chapters in one, then two chapters in the other, always re-reading a chapter I'd just finished in the "other" version.

A brilliant novel depicting a time and place via a multitude of characters, upon which floats the strange disaffected character of the Man Without Qualities. While perhaps never intended, the novel's lack of conclusion, it's never arriving, is its perfect conclusion. The earlier translation showed a bit more prudery and seemed more circumspect, while the later translation was looser, more informal. Both suffered at different times with English gaucheries and inelegant sentences when trying to translate the long, long, complex sentences Musil employed.
Profile Image for Şehriban Kaya.
377 reviews16 followers
March 9, 2019
Niteliksiz Adam 3'te de Paralel Faaliyet devam ediyor ancak Ulrich babasının ölümüyle gittiği baba evinde çocukluğundan beri görmediği kız kardeşi Agethe ile karşılaşıyor. Ayrı ayrı yerlerde yetiştirilen iki kardeş birbirlerine ikiz kardeş kadar benzer oluşlarına çok şaşırır. Aralarındaki çekim ise erkek kız kardeş arasında olması Ulrich'in sorgulamalarını artırır özellikle ahlak üzerine olan sorgulamalarını. Kız kardeşi kocasından ayrılmak istediğinden koca evine dönmeyeceğini söyler ve Ulrich'in evine taşınarak onun çevresine ve Paralel Faaliyet toplantılarına dahil olur.
14 reviews
November 14, 2020
To allow yourself an indulgence in this book (and the earlier volumes) is to understand that these are books about everything and nothing, with a richness and fulfillment of something that should be tapped into as to remain as enjoyable as it is. This book is like the conclusion of a fine dining experience, the trip home from an exotic place, the exit door of a museum of art, the end of a long walk in nature. It’s hard to articulate the magnitude of what this and earlier volumes can have on a person, but you know the effect is there. The beauty in trying to explain this unexplainable phenomenon causes more diversity of vocabulary, more angles of observation, more introspective to self understanding until you have a richness in the world that mirrors the world presented here. This is how these volumes operate.

Ultimately, this book doesn’t have a plot or an endpoint from a traditional sense. I think it can be argued the characters ramble on and on about details and there’s a lack of action relative to the amount of detail given. But isn’t that was life is? I’d argue that people read fiction to get away from the mundane of life, the boring of the everyday. These volumes show that it’s the opposite! There’s immeasurable beauty and articulation in life itself and those events. And thats what this book does so damn well.

I grouped this review with the other volumes before it. I don’t think there any differences in strength nor weakness between them, as the events that unfold and the reflections given are to the change in the event itself, but not of the curiosity and in depth analysis.

These books in a way can be a coming of age, it’s not something I can recommend for the younger audience. It’s for someone that has begun to ask questions that can only come with the realization of their own mortality and purpose. I can’t recommend this enough for someone interested in what this book has to offer.
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