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Musilblog1: Ioana Şerban: Musil and his imaginary world

Musilblog 2: Linda Bender: "Zug der Zeit" - Song "train"


Musil and his imaginary world

There is a strange peril in reading certain writers: from the blitz of their first line, they engulf you and mince you inside their universe, and they keep you trapped in there to the point that you inevitably start thinking in their own poetical language (for, even though here I talk about a novelist, his language is still a poetical one, an extremely lyrical one). These experiences – of being assimilated in the words of a novel (whether they are already written or unwritten – and, I would say, even more so in the case of the author’s unwritten words!) – seem to me as if you are kept inside the belly of a whale. Just like the prophet Jonas. In that moment, you become a prisoner of that abyss, dwelling among unspoken bits of sentences, constantly searching for and imagining a continuation, infinite possibilities of expanding the silence. Because, it is always the silence of a writer that you are munching, again and again, in your own mouth. The grains of sand in your teeth, the grains of sand and of truth, perhaps.

This happens with Robert Musil. His novel is such a biblical animal from inside which is very difficult to escape. And, in reading him, I became like a Jonas – a prophet whose fate is to cry out his thoughts and words only inside the dark echo of the whale. (Although, at times, I also resemble an Ahab who fanatically hunts for this fabulous creature from inside its very core!) And, to paraphrase Musil himself, when making Ulrich say to his sister that she is his self-love – I daresay that Musil’s novel is my own self-love.
Thus, tormented and possessed in the whale’s belly, I dived deeper in this abyss of silence and conceived my BA thesis about Musil. About the imaginary level of his novel. The three chapters of my paper (both an essay and a study) concern three of the most outstanding elements of the book: the Kakanian utopia, the pathological murderer, Moosbrugger, and – last but not least – the couple of Ulrich and Agathe. As far as I have read in critical studies about The Man without Qualities, the general focus was either on the novel’s composition and constitution, or in the scientific ideas (such as relativism or determinism, specific to the early XXth century discoveries) involved in the novel, combined with Leibniz’s theory of possible worlds. Without neglecting these views and directions, I wanted to bring an interpretation of his imaginary world in connection with the most fervent issues of modernity (the way we know it in the XXth century) – the crisis of history and the crisis of culture. Or, in other words, the problem of time and of being, in the way they mingle and create (or dissolve) the language.
In the first chapter of my work, I analyzed the manner in which Kakania was presented in the novel, focusing on some details, since I believe that the details give the flavor of this text. Drawing a comparison to the world depicted by Broch in his essay from the third part of the Sleepwalkers and to the society of the feuilleton depicted by Hesse in his masterpiece, I tried to re-create the Kakanian universe as a malign Weltanschauung. For this, I borrowed the idea of an essay of Heidegger’s – The Time of the World’s Image. In my view, Kakania illustrated the climax of that world’s image – but, in an ill manner. It represented a world which was no longer able to pay attention to the being (to the language it had to restore and reinvent) and which gradually succumbed to packing itself in all sorts of images and suppositions about what was actually going on around it. Kakania transformed, hence, into an incubator – some sort of ill-fated utopia where the appearance had to be kept, in a warm and cosy oblivion and self-hatred. Moreover, due to the title of one of the chapters – “Bonadea, Kakania. Systems of happiness” – I made a correlation between the idea of the Kakanian utopia and the image of the femme fatale (since Bonadea was – or wanted to be – part of the species of the femmes fatale!). By these, my interpretation of Kakania gained a more philosofico interpretation, along with the analysis of the imaginary I meant in the beginning.
Further on, the second chapter’s protagonist was no other than the murderer of Vienna – Moosbrugger. What I found interesting (and not studied yet) in his description was the fact that he faced a constant and terrifying problem with language. He could not speak or use the words properly, he was illiterate and an enemy of those who knew how to deal with language easily. Therefore, I interpreted him as a sort of Golem – just as the Hebrew tradition and myths state that the Golem (the artificially created being) had no power to speak. (In this interpretation, I used only some hints from Meyrink’s novel, and more from the mythological and mystical studies of Gerschom Scholem and Moshe Idel, who give several variants of such Golems).
In the end, I addressed the issue of the couple Ulrich-Agathe in terms of another possible interpretation of the phrase “man without qualities”. I related this phrase with the image of the hermaphrodite and tried to see in which way it would apply to it.
Needless to say, my work on Musil is far from being finished. It has just begun, since I gathered lots of new and inciting ideas for this project that I would love to continue (without, however, giving any definite explanation, but more in the sense of pumping new hermeneutical directions and questions to the infinite horizon of the novel).

In Romania, nevertheless, the books about Musil are few and scattered. It seems that in my country the general interest of modernity goes towards Joyce and Proust more than towards their Austrian homologue. However, there are two critical studies that I would like to mention (I chose these two because, so far, they are the only ones I managed to get and to read from Romanian authors), namely: Ion Vlad’s book The Novel of Crepuscular Universes and Cornelia Andriescu’s Robert Musil and the Modern Novel. Two books that deal with the Musilian realm in terms of novel’s construction and highly reflexive substance. It is a pity, though, that Ulrich’s creator does not benefit from the lime light of Romanian criticism as much as other modernist writers. In this context, I would obviously like to increase Romanian culture’s awareness about Musil – not in order to launch his popularity (since popularity is quite a labile term, insufficient for the difficult and engrossing reading of his novel), but to bring forth the qualities of the The Man without Qualities, so that people (and especially young literature scholars or students) would become passionate and curious in studying this complex lyrical language of a novel.

In the end, still being a fanatical prisoner of the Musilian kingdom, I indulged in making a few illustrations of the book and of its famous title phrase. The artworks I prepared are mostly in black and white – a suggestive gradation of lines and swirls stylized in a neo-modernist way in order to represent the abrupt convulsions of Ulrich’s reasoning. Inside the whale’s stomach, there are no more colors – just the extremes that combine into a foreplay of dissemination. The question popping out of my drawings is: Is the “man without qualities” the first man, an Adam bearing all the history inside him and tearing it into pieces? The answer is a mere matter of probability…

Ioana Şerban, Bukarest []


"Zug der Zeit" - Song "train"

In meiner Abschlussarbeit habe ich mich mit dem "Verbrechen" in Robert Musils Roman "Der Mann ohne Eigenschaften" auseinandergesetzt. Es ging dabei darum, zu untersuchen, inwieweit der Protagonist Ulrich in drei im Roman geschilderte Verbrechen (Moosbruggers Mord, Agathes Testamentfälschung, Ulrich-Agathes Inzest) involviert ist, und wie sich seine Moralvorstellung entlang dieser theoretischen bis praktischen Auseinandersetzung mit dem Verbrechen entwickelt.

In der ausgiebigen Auseinandersetzung mit dem Text ist mir ein Bild besonders im Kopf geblieben und das ist der "Zug der Zeit", wie Musil ihn im folgenden MoE-Zitat als Lebenskontinuum beschreibt.

"Die Sache hat uns in der Hand. Man fährt Tag und Nacht in ihr und tut auch noch alles darin; man rasiert sich, man ißt, man liebt, man liest Bücher, man übt seinen Beruf aus, als ob die vier Wände stillstünden, und das Unheimliche ist bloß, daß die Wände fahrn, ohne daß man es merkt, und ihre Schienen vorauswerfen, wie lange, tastend gekrümmte Fäden, ohne daß man weiß wohin. Und überdies will man ja womöglich selbst noch zu den Kräften gehören, die den Zug der Zeit bestimmen. Das ist eine sehr unklare Rolle, und es kommt vor, wenn man nach längerer Pause hinaussieht, daß sich die Landschaft geändert hat; was da vorbeifliegt, fliegt vorbei, weil es nicht anders sein kann, aber bei aller Ergebenheit gewinnt ein unangenehmes Gefühl immer mehr Gewalt, als ob man über das Ziel hinausgefahren oder auf eine falsche Strecke geraten wäre. Und eines Tages ist das stürmische Bedürfnis da: Aussteigen! Abspringen! Ein Heimweh nach Aufgehaltenwerden, Nichtsichentwickeln, Steckenbleiben, Zurückkehren zu einem Punkt, der vor der falschen Abzweigung liegt!" (Musil, Robert: Der Mann ohne Eigenschaften. Erstes und Zweites Busch, hrsg. von Adolf Frisé, [19. Aufl.], Reinbeck: Rowohlt 2004, S. 32)

Daraus ist der Song "Train" entstanden, den man hier anschauen/anhören kann:

Der Text des Songs greift Musils Bild auf, er beschäftigt sich in den ersten zwei Strophen mit dem Gefühl der Auswegslosigkeit, des "In-den-Lebenszug-gesetzt-seins", ohne Möglichkeit des Absprungs - oder wie im Chorus beschrieben - der Sinnlosigkeit des Versuchs rückwärts im Zug gegen dessen äußere Bewegung anzulaufen. Diese Erkenntnis soll aber nicht in eine Passivität und Abgabe der Verantwortung für das eigene Leben an eine Fremdinstanz führen, sondern (wie in der 3. Strophe beschrieben) das Potential des eigenen Handlungsspielraums innerhalb dieser gesetzten Rahmenbedingungen vor Augen führen. Bei Musil ist das der Punkt, an dem "das stürmische Bedürfnis da [ist]: Aussteigen! Abspringen! Ein Heimweh nach Aufgehaltenwerden, Nichtsichentwickeln, Steckenbleiben" (a.a.O., S. 32), im Song öffnet sich dieser reine Protest gegen die Unbeteiligtheit zu einer Erkenntnis der Gestaltungsmöglichkeiten des eigenen Lebens. ("Your are stuck inside but the rails are in your hands, you can lay them as you want - and reclaim land. As the driver you have the greatest view, it's about time, it's about you.") Diese Gestaltungmöglichkeit eines theoretischen Verständnisses der eigenen Moral-/Lebenszusammenhänge als auch deren praktische Umsetzung als Handlungsoptionen (als bewusst gewählter Wirklichkeitssinn) schlägt den Bogen zu meiner Arbeit, in der diese Wendung zur praktischen Beteiligung Ulrichs am Verbrechen (Inzest) Resultat einer theoretischen Auseinandersetzung mit der Möglichkeit einer persönlichen Moralvorstellung ist. Eine Form von "Absprung", um in dem Bild des Zitats zu bleiben.

Linda Bender, Mainz []