Wednesday, February 06, 2013

Problems of a blogger with a post to write

I predicted that The Man Without Qualities would have something to say to readers of crime fiction (as this greatest of twentieth-century novels does to anyone), but, somewhat to my surprise, the passage I think likeliest to interest readers of the kind of crime fiction I write about here has nothing to do with the sex killer Moosbrugger and nothing to do with murder.

Rather, the pertinent reflections come in a chapter titled "Problems of a moralist with a letter to write," as the protagonist Ulrich and his sister contemplate a financial crime:
"It occurred  to him right at the start, for instance, that whenever he had taken a `moral' stance so far, he had always been psychologically worse off than when he was doing or thinking something that might usually be considered `immoral.' This is a common occurrence, for in situations that are in conflict with their surroundings these ideas and action develop all their energies, while in the mere doing of what is right and proper they understandably behave as if they were paying taxes."
 The same chapter disposes humorously of good/good and bad/bad people, proposing that only those in between, the good/bad and the bad/good, make "purposeful moral efforts." The disposition of the bad/bads might bring a blush to readers of crime novels whose villains dispose of their victims in especially graphic or artistic ways:
"For bad/bad people, who can so easily be blamed for everything, were even than as rare as they are today."
*
The Man Without Qualities is often cited as one of the greatest European novels of the twentieth century, and I've never read a better. As for one of its rivals, I once read that a humorous slogan once declared that "Marcel Proust is a Yenta." And, to tell the truth, the man could go on.

© Peter Rozovsky 2013

Labels: , ,

12 Comments:

Blogger adrian mckinty said...

Peter

Musil was unlucky to have his philosophy so clearly validated in the final years of life as his fellow countrymen enthusiastically cheered on the Corporal from Linz and his increasingly depraved acts. An evil man leading a morally indifferent people into an ethical abyss.

February 06, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Adrian, that sense of a country going quietly insane is especially clear late in the novel's second volume, after the long introspective interlude that includes Ulrich and his sister.

It's impossible to let the phrase "morally indifferent" pass without comment after reading Musil. He might have called (and maybe did call) that moral indifference a result of moral exhaustion, moral satiation, and moral hyperactivity.

I will very soon be finished with all of the novel that Musil published in his lifetime. Then I'll have the twenty chapters that he withdrew after they were already in galleys, plus all the miscellaneous sketches and incidents. It's hard to think of a problem that he did not analyze acutely and in a way still of great interest today: Sex, minorities, nations and the fragmentation thereof, corporate power infringing on politics, anti-Semitism, idealism. I am in awe of this book.

One bitter irony is that Musil had called, in 1919, for the absorption of Austria into Germany, though under circumstances very different from what eventually happened. His argument, I think, is that Austria was not a real nation and that therefore no good could home from its persistence as a country. I think the English title of the essay in which he expresses these views even uses the word Anschluss in the title. (I read the essay last week.)

February 06, 2013  
Blogger R.T. said...

Arguably, if Austria is not a nation, then few nations deserve to exist as legitimate entities in Europe (or elsewhere) now or in the future. Borders have been established and changed over time since the beginning of civilization; perhaps, therefore, the most conservative point of view would be one in which there are no borders but only one worldwide political entity. Oh, wait a minute. I am mistaken. That is more like a bizarre, over-the-top, UN concept.

Now, does this have anything at all to do with Musil? Probably not, but the previously comment regarding Austria started me on a wildly different line of thinking.

Why do you think Musil is not more of a household word/name in literature? Consider my shame! I teach literature but have no familiarity with Musil. Perhaps this says something either about formation (and changes to) the so-called western canon or about the Anglo-centric curricula that I experienced in colleges. Perhaps also Musil was writing at the wrong time and in the wrong place.

In any case, I have thrown enough provocation at you for this visit. But--here is one final comment: Oddly enough, I find nothing in Musil (based on your offerings) that intrigues me enough to read what I have been missing. Again, shame on me!

February 06, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

R.T., I may answer at greater length later, but for now consider that:

1) I may be misinterpreting Musil

and

2) Musil thought and wrote during and after the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, which he makes the case was an odd creation (far stranger, I might add, than the civilized country we know of as Austria today.) It was a nation of Hungarians, Italians, Romanians, Slavs, Slovenes--and Germans. It's hard to find an "Austria" amid all that.

I'm tempted to say that if one wants to find out what the twentieth century was about, at least in Europe, The Man Without Qualities is the place ot start.

February 06, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

On second thought, I don't think I'm misinterpreting Musil. I may, however, be giving short shrift to his conceptions of spirit and soul--eseential, he believed, but very easily misinterpreted, misused, and not easy to discuss in the small compass of a blog comment.

February 06, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

As to why Musil is not more widely read, perhaps that's because The Man Without Qualities is so long and unfinished and that its emphasis on ideas, as deft, amusing, and, when called for, chilling, as it is, does not suit the demands of a reading public high on character and sensation.

Proust's great work was even longer than Musil's. But then, I don't believe people who claim to have read all of Remembrance of Things Past.

February 06, 2013  
Blogger R.T. said...

Yeah, you got me on that one. Four volumes of Proust's "lifetime reading plan" collect dust on my shelf. I finished the first volume (Swann's Way), but ran out of steam in the second, and that was years ago. I keep meaning to resume, but I have simply watched the dust accumulate.

February 06, 2013  
Blogger adrian mckinty said...

Peter

To add to the somewhat elegiac tone. How about this wonderfully copyedited paragraph from today NY Daily News:

"Rounding out the top 10, in order, were Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez, Eagles QB Michael Vick, NASCAR's Kurt Busch, Lakers guard Kobe Bryant and Cowboys quarterback Kobe Bryant."

http://www.nydailynews.com/sports/athletes-love-hate-1-article-1.1257993#ixzz2KFvIWauE

That Kobe Bryant is a busy man. Puts Bo Jackson to shame.

February 07, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Another example of newspapers' wise personnel decisions in action.

February 07, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Are you peeved that Alex Rodriguez did not top the list?

February 07, 2013  
Blogger adrian mckinty said...

Peter

I feel that A Rod is even more repulsive than Lance Armstrong but I appreciate that this is my bias talking.

February 07, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I saw A-Rod play at Fenway Park his first week in the major leagues. A ground ball went through his legs at shortstop. I knew then he would never amount to anything.

You Yankees fans think your guys are bigger, better, more repulsive than anyone else.

P.S. I narrowly avoided commiting to cyberland one of the great typos of all time: Wankees.

February 07, 2013  

Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home