Monday, December 31, 2012

All arts aspire to the condition of Musil

I'll end 2012 by finishing Volume 1 of The Man Without Qualities and begin 2013 by awaiting Volume 2, due at my local independent bookstore Wednesday. My latest collection of favorite excerpts from Robert Musil's twentieth-century classic will concentrate on violence, ethics, morality, psychic balance, and other matters of especial interest to crime-fiction readers:
 “But how, Diotima wondered, can humanity provide itself even with roast chicken without violence?"
*
“Moosbrugger’s experience and conviction was that one could not pick any one thing out all by itself, because each one hangs together with the next one." [Moosbrugger is a murderer.]
*
“And yet such examples of lying ‘between’ are provided by every moral maxim, for instance by the well-known and simple one: thou shalt not kill. One can see at the first glance that it is neither a verity nor a subjective statement. We know that in many respects we keep to it strictly; in other respects certain very numerous but precisely defined exceptions are admitted. But in a very large number of cases of a third kind, as for instance in the imagination, in our desires, in the drama, or in the enjoyment of newspaper reports, we roam in a quite unregulated manner between abhorrence and allurement."

*
“Man’s feeling towards this maxim is a mixture of blockheaded obedience (including the ‘healthy nature’ that refuses even to think of such a thing, but, if just slightly deranged by alcohol or passion, instantly does it) and thoughtless splashing in a wave of possibilities."

*
“But I’m just trying to show you that people like that, who lose their balance so easily, are extremely unpleasant. Impartiality is an attitude one can only really adopt towards them when it’s someone else who is taking the beating. Then, I grant you, they bring out the very tenderest feelings in us, then they’re the victims of a social system, or of fate. You must admit nobody can be blamed for his faults if one looks at them through his own eyes. For him, at the worst they’re mistakes or bad qualities that don’t make the person as a whole any the less good. And of course he’s perfectly right.'"
*
“All the same, the result was that crime, love and melancholy had fused in her to form one circuit of ideas, one that was highly dangerous."
I'm not the only one who thinks this great Austrian writer has something to say to crime fiction readers and writers. Here's a comment David Whish-Wilson posted on one of my previous Musil posts:
Re Musil and crime (and more broadly, the human condition), I chose this quote of his to open my first novel:

"And with one foot beyond the frontier I declare myself incapable of going further. For one step beyond the point where we have halted - and we should move out of the realm of stupidity, which is even still full of variety, and into the realm of wisdom, territory that is bleak and in general shunned..."
Happy New Year!

© Peter Rozovsky 2012

Labels: , ,

4 Comments:

Blogger R.T. said...

So, how do people provide themselves with roast chicken without participating in (or being accessories to) violence?

The problem inherent in the question is the definition of violence.

If violence involves any infliction of harm to another creature, then we who are not vegetarians have a problem. If, however, violence involves malice--which seems to be the key component in most everyone's understanding of the word--then the roast chicken can be eaten without guilt.

Violence in crime novels seems to be of two forms: malicious action by the bad guys (as they upset social order), and honorable action by the good guys (as they attempt to restore social order). Now, when intent is part of the definition, you come up with moral relativism. That is not only ironic, but it is also disturbing.

It is also disturbing that so many contemporary crime novels thrive on depicting violence. Whatever happened to the golden age of crime fiction in which simple larceny without violence was enough of a premise upon which to write a character driven novel. Ah, the good old days.

January 01, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

The roast-chicken sentiment, you may not be surprised to learn, comes from a middle-class women with aspirations to intellectial aristorcracy. She is the hostess of the salon that forms the narrative thread and running joke of the section of the novel I hae just read.

But why restrict your speculations to violence in crime novels? With Musil, one can cut straight to the vegetarianism.

And if someone were, from a pure vegetarian conviction, to say ‘ma’am’ to a cow (bearing in mind that one is much more likely to behave inconsiderately to a being that one addresses as ‘hi, you!’) he would be regarded as a prig, if not a madman—but not on account of his animal-loving or vegetarian convictions, which are considered highly humane, but on account of their being directly applied to reality. In short, there is an elaborate compromise between the mind and life, one in which the mind gets at the most one half per thousand of its claims paid up, and to make up for that is awarded the title of creditor honoris causa."

January 01, 2013  
Blogger R.T. said...

Is the italicized portion from Musil?

January 01, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Yes.

January 01, 2013  

Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home