Underappreciated: Robert Musil’s The Man Without Qualities

Burton Pike, editor and translator of Robert Musil’s titanic though unfinished novel, The Man Without Qualities, discusses the philosophical and aesthetic ideas circulating in pre-war Viennese society as depicted in the novel. Podcast here. The discussion bears a striking resemblance to Percy’s concerns — no surprise there. Also check out David Auerbach’s commentary on Pike’s “Robert Musil: Literature as Experience.” More on Pike here



Philosophical Literature

H/T to a kindred spirit “Infrequent literary reflections by an analytic philosopher” for bringing the slowly but surely growing secondary literature to my attention. Since it was through Kafka that my latent philosophical impulse was first generated, I’ve always wanted to write a piece on some aspect of his work. I have however been granted an opportunity to write on Musil for an upcoming conference – that will be this summer’s project. Paul writes:

I linked in my previous post to some items that connect Wittgenstein to literary themes.

Duncan Richter has a post about Wittgenstein and Kafka. In the comments to that post, there are recommendations of some additional work that involves Kafka and Wittgenstein. Richter refers to Rebecca Schuman’s paper, ‘”Unerschütterlich”: Kafka’s Proceß, Wittgenstein’s Tractatus, and the Law of Logic’, which has now appeared in The German Quarterly. I know of one fictional work that puts Kafka and Wittgenstein together (very briefly). It’s a story by Guy Davenport called The Aeroplanes at Brescia.

Last fall, Ben Ware published ‘Ethics and the Literary in Wittgenstein’s Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus in the Journal for the History of Ideas. Ware there ‘explores the connections between the literary and the ethical in the book,’ and argues that ‘Wittgenstein hoped to achieve a practical rather than cognitive transformation in his readers’ lives.’

On another German lit front that involves Wittgenstein, Gwyneth Cliver’s 2008 dissertation, Musil, Broch, and the mathematics of modernism, has two chapters on Wittgenstein.


There Will Be No More Great Ideas

Here is a review by David Winters on Mark Reed’s recently published Robert Musil and the NonModern.

There’s something about The Man Without Qualities that seems to resist conclusive criticism. Something not so much unfinished as uniquely continuous; infinite. The reason the novel is unlike anything else you’ll ever read is because it goes on reading itself when you’ve finished reading it. Any kind of critical account would miss that mark, and how could a critic hope to catch up with a book that’s always outrunning its readers? Musil’s novel never will require to be read in order to exist. It will go on regardless, forever essaying itself, perfecting itself.