Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Musil, Mann

Reading Musil drew me back to Mann.

Susanna Kaysen
's On re-reading the Magic mountain, was close to my experience. That she turns out to be an author is interesting but I doubt I will read her books.

Superficial, and yet even lacking understanding, I felt the force of it. I sensed its all-encompassing quality, which I described to myself as being like a garbage pail. After I'd read it, I felt I too could write a novel, because Mann had given me permission to put anything at all into a book. After all, he'd put everything in the world into his book.
Her remark
What the book represented to me, at eighteen, was an ideal world. I was suffering from a spiritual and emotional malaise, soon to be diagnosed as Borderline Personality Disorder but in fact a kind of world-weariness typical of perfectionistic, lazy, somewhat talented characters. I wanted to get out of having to live my life. I wanted life to stop, actually. The Magic Mountain was a nine-hundred-page depiction of a life outside of life, a life, as Mann kept repeating, without responsibility, inhibition, shape, ambition, or even a sense of time. It sounded perfect to me.

also means something to me. It explained, pretty much, how I too had felt after reading TMM, a few years older than her. In my case it was manic-depression: to be in elation mode is to be out of life though not on another planet mad. Whatever is going on in your head and expressed in your actions is not much connected with what is going on around you, though not completely disconnected from it.


with the section from
pages 316-318 of the Knopf/Lowe-Porter (1958) edition, T Birch uses the section in TMM where Hans and Co. go to the flicks, illustrating something of what Susanna is talking about.

Since I am film orientated, this is a pleasing and valuable find.


Back. It is Musil not Mann I have been reading: the last 10 pages of The Man without Qualities (vol1) in sight. I was wilfully refusing to finish it off.
Began to compose some notes and then, inevitably, surfing for critques and confirmatory notions and something about the Pike translation. Should I continue with vol 2 or start vol 1 in the new translation?

Got to the place in Roger Kimball

where Musil's attitude to science comes in. I don't think reading this essay would spoil things if you haven't read the book, but could SEARCH 'scientific' to get to various mentions without having anything of the story. As an aside, we are into the science vs. technology distinction, which though obviously all of a piece in practice - one feeding off the other - are often used interchangeably by non-scientists.

Watching Akroyd's The Romantics on t.v. these last weeks primed me to recall Blake's horror at Newton splitting white light with a prism, as symbolic of what he feared science might result in, as I read this section. It brought me back to TMWQ Chapter 62 ( "Precision, as a human attitude, also requires precise action and precise living."), which was fresh in my mind. I have still got left chapter 72, the last, on science, too.

In Kimball, well explained, the artists aversion to science - as opposed to simply being scientifically illiterate which may, though, be at the root of the aversion - explained by a scientist/engineer, Musil.

Too: the thought that perhaps it is not so important to learn about the latest physics and biology - though an educated person usually feels some guilt and compunction to do some reading about it - as to tackle it through fiction and essays.

Kimball certainly gives a framework for getting to proper grips with science vs. art (and religion).

Though an atheist and scientifically-minded, it is difficult to grasp the sense of how science (Richard Dawkins) should be the means by which humans should be persuaded to give up faith. Maybe pgilosopht, history and sociology (comparative religion, and so forth) could do a better job.

If you do read Kimball then try Coetzee:

Musil and Mann
I began thinking about the way Musil and Mann looked at science (technology) in TMWQ and TMM. I only read TMM once 30 years ago but have returned many times to favourite sections. All that is left is the images of x-rays, themometers, the record player and the doctor's mumbo jumbo. In fact the science (I begin to recall) is also in Hans' reading and his attempts to observe the world scientifically. In Musil it is Ulrich as a vehicle for Musil's ideas, though half the time it not event through him but a free floating essay. If onlt Ulich was writing the bloody essays, not Musil.


I had never been completely happy with the EW/EK translation of MWQ, though knew no other. Its translation 'into the German' does not worked for me. I expect to be unhappy with the new translation because I will be able to compare the two, though Musil's ideas might be clearer and hopelfully a bit more concise. I can now imagien Musil, the man not the writer, prolix on a topic with people backing slowing out of the room...


Rooting around as I began to make some tentative notes on Musil, found critiques and commentaries such as Harvey Pekar in MetroActive:

A Writer With Qualities

Bruce Haywood's The Magic of the Mountain: A metaphor for the American college

and Tim O'Neil's review
Everyman edition of TMM.

which both revised Mann to a degree but also led to more thoughts on the Translation Problem.

3 February came across again (and more intent on reading carefully this time):

The Unfinished

an essay by George Steiner which was originally published in The New Yorker, April 17, 1995.

Here, for anyone starting this book and wondering about the title and guessing it might be a self-help manual :

Der Mann Ohne Eigenschaften. Translated into English, 'Eigenschaften' has, unavoidably, been rendered as 'qualities'. It is a rendering that omits crucial connotations of selfness, of singular appropriation to oneself, almost of 'self-possession', with all its philosophical-moral-economic attributes. 'Qualities' lets drop the decisive analogies with the ontological-psychological investigations into the ego not only in Freud but in Husserl and Heidegger. "The Man Whose 'I' Is in Search of His 'Me'" would be an absurdly awkward paraphrase, but it might be more exact.


With thoughts about translation unresolved comparing the two books (nothing so far on the web) naturally started to gel.

It can be useful to compare anything to anything provided you make a good job of it, but it was especially about (Musil = Ulrich) / (Castorp [not =] Mann) that I was interested, in the sense that at the end of vol 1, TTWQ, I was still left saying, this is not a novel (C'est ne pas une pipe?), which was never my feeling of TMM. TMM had been a book where I did not want to come off the mountain either.

A novel can be about anything, emcompass anything, as Susanna writes, which is a consolation to anyone wanting to write one: this does not mean a book said to be a novel will work as a novel. I don't think TMWQ works well as a novel because of the lack of the transcendency: all good and great novels achieve this the reading experience. How often as you read it can you honestly say: I'm there inside this book.

When I came out of the Wizard of Oz in the brightness of a Baghdad street, five years old, over fifty years ago, I wanted to go straight back in but exit doors are one way. TMM threw me into a pushing the exit-door from the outside emotion but not TMWQ (at least not so far). TMM left such an imprint on me (leave aside whether the Settembrini-Naptha sections were completely understood) it take very little to re-evoke the feel of the place and imagien how it might have been if one too was there in a similar postion to Castorp. In any case there seems to be something in the notion the more allegorical a story is the more it embeds in the reader's psyche.

I have the distinct feeling after vol 1, the point of TMWQ might have been more about the pleasure or satisfaction it gave Musil to write: that is, perhaps he lived through writing it in a way he couldn't have lived without writing it. He is known to have believed is was a great novel which would have its time. Posterity. Submergence by the author may be the reason why so many novels are not as good as they ought to be. Because you are absorbed in writing, you are taken out of life - in the way the novel can do for the reader - can cut out the authorial critical faculties.


After vol 1 of TMWQ: should more more novel writing be kept as private experience?


If TMWQ was vol 1 alone it might be possible to say TMWQ is a great book even if not a great novel. Vol 2 is in front of me. What I would really like is for someone to read the thing to me a few chaprers at a time, then discuss what has been read.


Musil and his effort might be described as a lichen; or a mycorrhiza; or even parasitism (fine line between feeding off the host and killing it off) or mutualism : as long as the writer keeps on writing (and is alive to defend his effort en train, perhaps) he and the text retain their vitality and importance. Most writers feel lost when the book is writer. Musil wrote his over 20 years and died before completing it.


Translation of another sort: Is what Musil was trying to achieve in TMWQ translating into the readers mind? Just as reading a translation from the German means reading a different novel in a culture: we couldn't completely understand unless we were German or Austrian.

I am ineluctably drawn to passages from Douglas Hoftstadter's Le Ton Beau de Marot such as as quote from Thomas Mann:

Lorsque 'elles sont belles elles ne sont pas fideles; et lorsque 'elles sont fideles elles ne sont as belle

which H. playfully turns into:

When they are beuatiful they're never dutiful; when they are dutiful they're never beautiful
though H. is dismissive of these aphorisms.


Would I think differently about Musil after the new translation? I think not: probably always view it as 2 1/2 dimensional characters stuck in between a lot of not always easy to grasp essays.


There is a
contemporary version of Thomas Mann’s The Magic Mountain by Curtis White, apparently, with the sanitarium replace by a rehab clinic!


N.B. TB was an illness you might catch through no fault of your own, but becoming an alcoholic or a drug addict is a choice of sorts. Though I guess tons of people would say there is equivalence. The fact you could catch TB and end up in an ethereal never-never world up a Swiss mountain was symbolic of being caught in a culture ('stop the world I want to get off') you felt you had no say in.

TB was a mass phenomenon. Debilitating substance abuse is on the margins even if it is used time again in literarure and film to symbolise the modern version of the classic decadence and ennui.


Eric Voegelin and Robert Musil: Literary Approaches to Spiritual Pathology
T. John Jamieson
At the head of Voegelin’s list of insightful German novelists is Robert Musil (1880-1942), whose name he often invokes in connection with the concept of “second reality,” which is Voegelin’s concept for a self-blinded condition suffered by ideologues when they substitute manufactured images for perceptions of reality, the authentic reality that everyone experiences. While Doderer, not Musil, is the novelist who uses the terminology of “second reality” explicitly, there is another exclusively Musilian concept that Voegelin finds useful in explaining ideological susceptibilities, indeed the concept that gives rise to the title of Musil’s great unfinished novel, The Man without Qualities. “Second reality” is a pathology of deformed consciousness that we might observe, not only in ideologists, but in many other people whose states of delusion nevertheless leave them ambulatory; and such is its universality that Voegelin uses the case of Don Quixote to illustrate it in his Hitler and the Germans. I find the concept of “man without qualities” harder to get at, even after reading Musil’s enormous novel. Provisionally, let’s say that a “man without qualities” is the modern man who is susceptible to conceiving his own second reality or who easily allows the ideologists and intellectual faddists of a climate of opinion to impose their second realities upon him. Whatever structure of the soul is meant by it, it is the defect of character that gives rise to indulgence in second realities. And perhaps one could find literary and philosophical antecedents for this qualityless condition, but Voegelin does not provide them; and we are left needing to read Musil in order to discern Voegelin’s intention fully.


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