Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
The World as Metaphor in Robert Musil's 'The Man without Qualities'

The World as Metaphor in Robert Musil's 'The Man without Qualities': Possibility as Reality

Genese Grill
Volume: 127
Copyright Date: 2012
Published by: Boydell and Brewer,
Pages: 216
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    The World as Metaphor in Robert Musil's 'The Man without Qualities'
    Book Description:

    Robert Musil, known to be a scientific and philosophical thinker, was committed to aesthetics as a process of experimental creation of an ever-shifting reality. Musil wanted, above all, to be a creative writer, and obsessively engaged in almost endless deferral via variations and metaphoric possibilities in his novel project, 'The Man without Qualities.' This lifelong process of writing is embodied in the unfinished novel by a recurring metaphor of self-generating de-centered circle worlds. The present study analyzes this structure with reference to Musil's concepts of the utopia of the Other Condition, Living and Dead Words, Specific and Non-Specific Emotions, Word Magic, and the Still Life. In contrast to most recent studies of Musil, it concludes that the extratemporal metaphoric experience of the Other Condition does not fail, but rather constitutes the formal and ethical core of Musil's novel. The first study to utilize the newly published Klagenfurt Edition of Musil's literary remains (a searchable annotated text), 'The World as Metaphor' offers a close reading of variations and text genesis, shedding light not only on Musil's novel, but also on larger questions about the modernist artist's role and responsibility in consciously re-creating the world. Genese Grill holds a PhD in Germanic Literatures and Languages from the Graduate School and University Center of the City University of New York.

    eISBN: 978-1-57113-839-2
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

Export Selected Citations Export to NoodleTools Export to RefWorks Export to EasyBib Export a RIS file (For EndNote, ProCite, Reference Manager, Zotero, Mendeley...) Export a Text file (For BibTex)
  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Abbreviations of Works Frequently Cited
    (pp. xi-xii)
  5. Introduction: Failure to Reconcile as Modernist Success
    (pp. 1-14)

    Although Musil occasionally fantasized about what he might do after The Man without Qualities was finished, there is, in effect, no end in sight — not for the engaged reader who enters into Musil’s intellectual labyrinth; not for the scholar who may try in vain to “finish” with Musil and go on to something else; no end to the author’s textual variants, to the possibilities, the arrangements and rearrangements; and no definitive solutions to the questions earnestly posed by this sophisticated writer. Musil was halted in the endless task only by his sudden death, in mid-sentence, while re-visioning one of...

  6. 1: Circles
    (pp. 15-48)

    In exile in Switzerland, having returned in the last years of his life to working on sections of the novel he had begun decades before, Musil told an inquiring friend that he was not, it was true, moving forward with his work, but that he was, he hoped, moving deeper.¹ This paradoxical deepening is attained by a circular, doubling-back motion that does not move the reader or writer toward a conclusion but rather calls attention to an experience of presence, an aesthetic resistant to progress. This resistance to forward-progression also reflects an ethical imperative based upon the complex analysis of...

  7. 2: Repeatability and Crime
    (pp. 49-92)

    Humans both desire and tire of the security and inevitability of seinesgleichen geschieht (the selfsame happens) and long for and fear its equally inevitable interruption. This tension is palpable, again and again in seemingly infinite variation, in both the themes and the experimental techniques of Musil’s novel. Its complications are expressed only in part by Ulrich’s confession to his sister Agathe, “Ich habe auch das unstillbare Streben in mir, die Erlebnisse wiederholbar zu machen. Aber in dem Augenblick, wo sie es sind, ist die Welt materiell und langweilig. Du hast gestern ein Wort gesagt, das mich ergriffen hat: Alles, was...

  8. 3: Word Magic
    (pp. 93-118)

    In the Viennese Kunsthistorisches Museum, where Robert Musil surely must have wandered during his years in the Austrian capital, the Egyptian rooms are dominated by the figures of the sibling lovers Isis and Osiris, and, as one would expect, by artifacts representing the Egyptian fascination with the themes of death and resurrection. One of the many depictions of the corn god Osiris¹ is accompanied by a tiny hunting arrow in the shape of a back bone, which, the inscription reads, was, in larger size, often affixed to the backs of mummies. This amulet is, on its own, the hieroglyph for...

  9. 4: Still Life: (Not) Doing What Isn’t Done
    (pp. 119-156)

    Musil began writing the different versions of the chapter “Atemzüge eines Sommertags” (Breaths of a summer’s day) as early as 1937 or even 1934; and, in an almost perfect circling, he was still working on the chapter on 15 April 1942, the day he died.¹ In these chapter drafts, which feature what appears to be a profusion of more metaphors per paragraph than in any other section of the novel, Ulrich and Agathe continue their “holy conversations.” These conversations are part of an epic deferral of physical consummation in their gated garden, which comes to represent an island excepted from...

  10. Conclusion
    (pp. 157-186)

    How strong the pull toward closure is, toward “something finally attained,” may be proved by the desire to somehow end on a decisive note, to weave all the bifurcating strands into some meaningful formula or design, a form fixed at least for the moment. The multiplicity of concatenations tend to drown each other out by creating a blanket of noise, just as competing fictive events and philosophical perspectives vie for temporary predominance. The listener or reader highlights one or two correspondences or connections, emphasizing those few tones and rhythms that seem to ring out more boldly than the rest, in...

  11. Works Cited
    (pp. 187-194)
  12. Index
    (pp. 195-204)
  13. Back Matter
    (pp. 205-205)