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The Critical Response to Robert Musil's 'The Man without Qualities'

Tim Mehigan
Copyright Date: 2003
Published by: Boydell and Brewer,
Pages: 200
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  • Book Info
    The Critical Response to Robert Musil's 'The Man without Qualities'
    Book Description:

    The Austrian writer Robert Musil ranks among the foremost novelists of the 20th century. Despite a series of lesser but well-regarded shorter works, his literary reputation rests almost entirely on his novel 'Der Mann ohne Eigenschaften' (The Man without Qualities), a life-work in the truest sense, which became the focus of all his energies and thinking from 1924 until his death in 1942. This study analyzes the principal trends in scholarship on the novel from the 1960s to the present. It contrasts earlier criticism, which foregrounded the eponymous central character's search for identity against the background of subject theory or mysticism, with more recent criticism, which has focused on aesthetic and ethical approaches to the novel within the broader context of theories of value. A focal chapter in the study centers on the persistent difficulty critics have encountered with the idea of "Eigenschaftslosigkeit," the state of being without qualities named in the novel's title. Tim Mehigan is Associate Professor of German and Head of the Department of Germanic Studies and Russian at the University of Melbourne.

    eISBN: 978-1-57113-615-2
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-ix)
    Tim Mehigan
  4. Abbreviations
    (pp. x-x)
  5. Introduction: Parallel Actions
    (pp. 1-19)

    The appearance of the first part of Robert Musil’s Der Mann ohne Eigenschaften in 1930 with the Rowohlt-Verlag in Berlin was something of a sensation. The novel immediately aroused great excitement in literary circles, and was extensively reviewed in the press and in journals in Musil’s native Austria and in Germany. With this major new work of fiction Musil finally appeared to deliver upon the promise that had struck the literary critic Alfred Kerr upon reading drafts of Musil’s first novel Die Verwirrungen des Zöglings Törleß in 1906. Rowohlt brought out a second part to the new work at the...

  6. 1: Early Philology and Existentialist Readings
    (pp. 20-37)

    Musil’s works were rediscovered after the Second World War in an atmosphere of profound despair about the nature and direction of European society. Musil’s picture of “Kakania” had already foretold not only the decline of old European society, but also the decay of the values on which that society had been built. For this reason, the substructure on which Musil’s portrait of the last days of the Austro-Hungarian Empire had been based — Nietzsche’s analysis of a retrograde cultural development called nihilism — also shone through in the early postwar period when skepticism about the prospects for Europe was at its greatest...

  7. 2: From Social Criticism to Cultural Critique
    (pp. 38-66)

    Social questions have never been far from scholarship on Musil’s novel, even where other approaches have held sway. Identifying the moment when social criticism became a popular, and for some time even a dominant, point of departure in approaches to the novel is therefore a matter of some conjecture. Nevertheless, such a moment could be said to have occurred with the appearance of Helmut Arntzen’s doctoral dissertation in book form in 1960. Arntzen’s book, which announced a new approach to understanding Musil’s novel under the title of Satirischer Stil, has been of general significance for Musil scholarship, but it was...

  8. 3: Psychological and Psychoanalytical Readings
    (pp. 67-80)

    The psychological nature of Musil’s fiction struck Musil’s literary public from the beginning. His first novel Die Verwirrungen des Zöglings Törleß, for example, deals with the anxieties of a young schoolboy. Young Törleß finds himself unable to become master of his troubled inner state, and therefore unable to commit to action to end a campaign of brutality of two schoolboys against a fellow pupil. That these “confusions” were not confined to adolescence, but referred to wider confusions in the social world of turn-of-the-century Austria, was one reason for the immediate success of the novel. Since Musil’s later works did not...

  9. 4: Aesthetic Readings
    (pp. 81-107)

    Whereas existentialist views in Musil criticism in the postwar period cultivated an understanding of the position of the individual, social criticism adopted history as “first philosophy” in assaying conceptions of social truth. Neither view, however, could be said to have addressed adequately the question of the function of art in society. Nor did these views throw light on the special circumstances in which art is produced. These questions were taken up in aesthetic approaches, which now constitute one of the most popular pathways to understanding Musil’s novel. In the early postwar period, aesthetically based inquiry found common ground with existential...

  10. 5: The Order of Feeling: Ethical Readings
    (pp. 108-129)

    A round the late eighties a new tone could be heard in Musil scholarship. As the controversy between Helmut Arntzen and Roger Willemsen indicated, no consensus had been reached in the aesthetic discussion of the novel. In other areas of scholarship, existential critique was being displaced by social criticism, and social criticism itself had undergone transformation as a result of cultural critique, which had emerged from within it. While psychology was still an undiminished point of departure for approaches to Musil’s novel, it was the question of Musil’s ethics that now began to move to center stage.

    The debate about...

  11. 6: The Information of Communication
    (pp. 130-142)

    Literary criticism in the postwar period has been marked by two major shifts of emphasis. On the one hand, views resting on the authority of the author were displaced in the early postwar period by a wider interest in the social aspects of writing — particularly with respect to the novel. By the early 1970s, questions focused on the individual and individual identity had to some extent given way to a concern about the social whole, and, increasingly, the directions being pursued by that social whole. This new emphasis on social concerns, however, did not end all interest in the author,...

  12. Editions of Der Mann ohne Eigenschaften
    (pp. 143-144)
  13. Musil Bibliographies
    (pp. 145-146)
  14. Works Consulted
    (pp. 147-174)
  15. Index
    (pp. 175-185)