Read The Man Without Qualities by Robert Musil Online


"Musil belongs in the company of Joyce, Proust, Kafka, and Svevo. . . . (This translation) is a literay and intellectual event of singular importance."--New Republic....

Title : The Man Without Qualities
Author :
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ISBN : 9781447211877
Format Type : Paperback
Number of Pages : 1130 Pages
Status : Available For Download
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The Man Without Qualities Reviews

  • Matt
    2019-05-19 04:09

    This book is huge in every respect. It is a culmination and at the same time marks a decisive point in my reading life. For the books from the same league as this one, the bar is now set quite high.Musil's AshesIn this special case I think I have to say something about the author and the way the book was published: The novel remained fragmentary. Robert Musil died of a stroke while working on the last part in April 1942. At this time he lived with his wife in exile in Switzerland near Geneva, almost penniless and nearly forgotten. Only 18 people attended his cremation before his wife scattered the ashes of her husband in a forest. His books were banned in Germany since 1933 and also in his native country Austria after the Anschluss in 1938. Although the Musils just barely came to make ends meet and had to live on charity, he continued to write on his Magnus Opus. The first volume was published in 1930. The second volume (1933) appeared only half because Musil had withdrawn a part of the manuscript, but the publisher still wanted "something" to sell. The third volume appeared posthumously in 1943, initially in a rushed version compiled by Martha Musil, which was later (November 1952) revised and updated by Musil admirer and archivist Adolf Frisé. That's the one I read. All this was possible because Robert Musil had produced an extraordinary bundle of 12,000 sheets with 100,000 notes, chapter drafts, and cross-references. Approximately 75 of the total of 270 chapters at the end of the novel are thus marked as "draft", "early draft" or "study". These chapters still carry a copyright, the rest (about 70% of the novel) don't, and are therefore to buy in many different versions, at least as an e-book, for small money. I have started with a cheap Kindle version, but then quickly switched to a hardcover (5th edition, 1960), to be able to actually read everything of this fascinating work.The PlotWhat is the book about? It's set mainly in Vienna in the period from summer 1913 to the "July crisis" in 1914. The Austrian Emperor Franz Joseph I. will celebrate his 70th jubilee in 1918. For this occasion, the so-called Parallel Action is started: Representatives of all social groups are expected to contribute ideas on how this festive event can be celebrated. Among this group is Ulrich, the titular man without qualities, who, after military service and studies in the fields of engineering, mathematics, philosophy and psychology, want to take a year long vacation from life, doing basically nothing. Ulrich makes a large impression on the group with his profound and philosophical thoughts. One sentence about him sums up his character (at least as far as the first part of the novel goes):Alles, was Ulrich im Lauf der Zeit Essayismus und Möglichkeitssinn und phantastische, im Gegensatz zur pedantischen Genauigkeit genannt hatte, die Forderungen, daß man Geschichte erfinden müßte, daß man Ideen-, statt Weltgeschichte leben sollte, daß man sich dessen, was sich nie ganz verwirklichen läßt, zu bemächtigen und am Ende vielleicht so zu leben hätte, als wäre man kein Mensch, sondern bloß eine Gestalt in einem Buch, von der alles Unwesentliche fortgelassen ist, damit sich das übrige magisch zusammenschließe, – alle diese, in ihrer ungewöhnlichen Zuspitzung wirklichkeitsfeindlichen Fassungen, die seine Gedanken angenommen hatten, besaßen das Gemeinsame, daß sie auf die Wirklichkeit mit einer unverkennbaren schonungslosen Leidenschaft einwirken wollten.Everything that Ulrich had called over time essayism and the sense of possibility, as opposed to the pedantic accuracy, the demands that you should have to invent history, that you should live ideas- rather than world-history, that you should seize which can never be quite realized, and perhaps to live at the end not like a human, but merely like a character from a book, omitted from all non-essential to ensure that the rest magically comes together, - all these, in their unusual worsening reality hostile versions that had adopted his thoughts, had this in common, that they wanted to act on reality with an unmistakable relentless passion.[translated by me]Ulrich's settings will change later on, after he's reunited with his long lost sister Agathe.Style and Meta-StyleMusil's view on the early 20th century is always precise, his diction stringent, literary, and often satirical/ironic. The prose is dense in many places, which has repeatedly forced me to take brakes from reading to process the material. There is no coherent plot actually. The narrative is repeatedly interrupted and gives the impression of volatility, especially in the second part. The style is essayistic and is also called a "novel of ideas". Musil drives these things to extremes – deliberately. The search for ideas he lets the protagonists make themselves. Essayism is Ulrich's preferred form of expression, and he even says so himself. The volatility reflects the state of the society and is found as a theme in the plot. I find this approach pretty awesome, although I have to admit that readers can also be put off by it.More themes, more peopleThere are so many themes in this book that it's impossible to name them all and hard to pick the right ones. Maybe it's enough if I just list the most serious terms here. Any of these topics is treated more or less in detail, whether by the characters, or in the above mentioned essay-like fashion:Truth vs. PossibilityLunacy vs. NormalityIngenuity Soul and SpiritScience and MysticismEmotions, Instincts, LoveLogic and MindLanguage, Words, and the lack thereof[Not often, but several times, etymological considerations about the respective (German) words are made. How to translate this, is beyond me.]There is an illustrious cast of additional characters around Ulrich, representing all walks of life. Many of them I will remember for a long time: A lunatic murderer, a count, a salon lady, a Jewish banker, a Nietzscheian philosopher, an Aryan hooligan, and many more. One of my favorite characters is General Stumm von Bordwehr, who is anything but stumm (German for "mute"). I mention him, because he is, as far as I know, the only one who reappears in another book by another autor: Die Hochzeit der Einhörner (The wedding of the unicorns). The list of real people who appear in The Man Without Qualities, is also quite long: Archimedes, Strindberg, Murillo, Clausewitz, Dalai Lama, Velázquez, Swedenborg, Dostojewski, Drake, Franz von Assisi, Nietzsche, Flaubert, Homer, Balzac, van Helmont, Fichte, Goethe, Tolstoi, Stendal, Claudius, Maeterlinck, Michelangelo, Novalis, Bismarck, Rosegger, Platon, Raffael, Rilke, Emerson, Chamberlain, Lagerlöf, Freud, Mann, van Gogh, Raleigh, Zarathustra.The Writer's workshopLike I said, the last 30% of the novel contain merely chapters with drafts and studies (although what Musil calls a "draft", some authors would be lucky to have as a final version). I like this part of the novel for two reasons: The reader can sneak a peek at the writer's workshop. Some early drafts and studies unveil Musil's thought processes pretty clearly. This I find most fascinating. The other reason is that the actual story somehow withers. Although unintentional, this reflects the state of the pre-war society in a way. Everything kind of falls apart, but no one actually cares too much while Europe slithers into the seminal catastrophe.In my edition there is also an addendum with additional fragments, early studies, so called "sheets of ideas", unpublished forewords, afterwords, and a short CV. Those are also very interesting to read and I even consider to buy Musil's complete work on CD-ROM, the Klagenfurter Ausgabe, which will hopefully be published this year, and will contain everything Musil has ever written and even includes facsimiles of his hand written notes.The Magic MountainI don't remember how this book found me, and when I started it I had no idea what to expect. Reading this huge book was like climbing a mountain, a magic mountain as it turned out to be. There are steep sections and shallow ones, there are all kinds of things to marvel at along the way. If you don't rush it, take some brakes, breathe, you'll eventually get to the top, and the view from there is terrific. Comparing the book to a magic mountain is not accidental. I read Thomas Mann's novel not too long ago, and I liked it very much, but I have to say it pales in comparison to Musil's work, although both books have a lot in common too. Thomas Mann said about Musil in 1939:»Es gibt keinen anderen lebenden deutschen Schriftsteller, dessen Nachruhm mir so gewiß ist.«»There is no other living German writer whose posthumous fame is as certain to me.«[translated by me]Unfortunately this prophesy didn't work out for Musil. But it should have.________________Update 10/12/15I just learned that work on the above mentioned Klagenfurter Ausgabe has been canceled! It's said to be replaced by an open-access-portal called Musil Online in autumn 2016.We shall see...________________This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

  • Edward
    2019-04-24 06:12

    The Man Without Qualities is an unusual novel. More a work of philosophy than fiction, the Socratic interactions of its two dozen or so characters provide the framework for Musil's philosophical investigations. These conversations, deep and varied in scope, are the fat formed about the scant bones of the ineffectual Parallel Campaign. The philosophical musings are usually quite abstract and esoteric, though sometimes a little (understandably) absorbed in the specific concerns of the time. Nonetheless, this is a masterful work, and well worth reading.However, The Man Without Qualities is not a polished or consistent book. Musil's approach to the novel is haphazard, full of diversions and distractions, and a disregard for conventional narrative structure. Even the Parallel Campaign, which is at the core of the novel, is abandoned for long intervals, and is rarely developed in any significant way. All this gives the impression that a completed Man Without Qualities would have to be several times longer than the already dense, 1100 pages of this unfinished version. However, resolutions of plot and thought being so rare within the novel, perhaps its incompleteness is perfectly aligned to its natural state. This is a complex and enigmatic novel, which defies simple analysis.Musil was consumed by this book, which he worked on at some personal cost until his death. Being unfinished, there is some cohesive, unifying quality, which it lacks. Nonetheless Musil absolutely deserves full credit for what he has achieved; for his breadth of ambition and dedication to the ideal of producing the singular, great artistic work of which one is capable.

  • James
    2019-05-19 02:10

    A comic novel. A modern novel. A novel of ideas and more. This is without a doubt my favorite novel and one that both encapsulates and foreshadows the the development of the modern condition. Musil's scientific mind is able to present a humanistic view of the world of Ulrich and the rest of the characters that inhabit this novel. Continuously inventive and invigorating for the reader, the writing is so precise and the argument Musil makes about Ulrich and his situation so intricate that it is intellectually and aesthetically involving even before it becomes emotionally so.On rereading Musil I have come to an appreciation of why he may have found it so difficult to complete the project, for his protagonist, Ulrich - the man without qualities - was so definitely a man who considered the unlimited number of possibilities before acting. As Musil said, "What is seemingly solid in this system becomes a porous pretext for many possible meanings; . . . and man as the quintessence of his possibilities, potential man,"(p. 270); the task before him must have seemed daunting. The result - he left thousands of pages of manuscript unfinished, unedited, unpublished at his death.At the end of the first volume of The Man Without Qualities Ulrich has just learned of his father's death and is seen heading for the train station to return home to attend to his duties. This is an ending of sorts, at least for this seven hundred page prelude to the remainder of the novel. It is a prelude that includes introductions to a roster of characters who, unlike Ulrich, portray characteristics that place them definitely in 1913 Vienna where we find most of them participating in a centennial celebration referred to as the 'Parallel Campaign'. Beside this campaign we also see glimmerings of the rise of the 'new' Germany that would emerge after the Great War which remains only, an unmentioned, possibility.Through the whole of the first volume Ulrich both meditates internally and interacts with the other characters regarding the nature of this world and its activities and, most importantly, the possibilities facing him - the 'what if' or subjunctive nature of life. This can be summarized briefly as a discussion of the difference between the precise measurement of the modern scientific view of man and the imprecision of the artistic or more spiritual view. The society presented in the novel is particular, yet universal and in that society Ulrich is the most universal individual. As the first volume of this rather uneventful story edges toward its close suddenly several events erupt to bring some of the action into focus. These lead to a moment where Musil brings Ulrich and the reader face to face to contemplate "the narrative mode of thought to which private life still clings,". This mode of thought may give one the "impression that their life has a 'course' (that) is somehow their refuge from chaos." (p. 709) Or we may believe that it is not an impression, but a reality made through our creation of our own life through our actions and influences ("Man is not a teaching animal but one that lives, acts, and influences." - Goethe).

  • Darran Mclaughlin
    2019-05-16 00:07

    This is the greatest demonstration of human thought I have ever encountered. It demonstrates that the novel can be the best method for deciphering and analysing the human condition and the nature of existence that we have, over and above philosophy, history, politics, psychology, sociology or any other ology you care to mention. His range is breathtaking, encompassing the intellect, the erotic and the spiritual, he is funny and at times sublime, and his prose is perfection. If you are the kind of person who feels an urge to take on the big beasts of the novel such as Moby Dick, Ulysses, War and Peace or Don Quixote, for god's sake read this. Anyone who finishes this book will know that they have had one of the most rewarding and important experiences of their cultural life.

  • Maximilian
    2019-04-26 04:08

    I'm not one for superlatives, but this has to be the greatest novel I have ever read, hands down (even including the Brother's Karamazov - it is almost as if this book carried the former's concerns into the 20th century, evolving them in the process). The characters, situations and philosophical discussions have a level of complexity and observational depth that I have never before encountered, and at times I almost found it hard to grasp that such a work could have been written by a single human consciousness. The conflict between modern rationality and science and the less tangible subjective world of feeling, morality, art and spirituality is one that Musil truly understood and battled, and his attempt to forge a solution is admirable to say the least. Given that I just finished it, time is needed for its effect to fully sink in; I will return with more developed thoughts, but this was a truly life changing experience. The book has lost none of its relevance; at the beginning of the 21st century, we are all men without qualities..

  • Orsodimondo
    2019-05-03 01:44

    IL SENSO DELLA POSSIBILITÀ Non esistono stellette sufficienti per questo libro. Capolavoro. Grande tra i grandi.Egon Schiele.L'ho letto e ripreso in mano più volte, leggendo qui e là, come un libro da consultazione. Sentendomi Ulrich, sentendomi Agathe.Musil è uno dei miei autori preferiti.Mi chiedo se senza le dritte dell'Alberto da Voghera sarei riuscito a incontrare Musil così presto nel mio percorso di lettore (inconsapevole) e con così tanto entusiasmo da parte mia.Egon Schiele.

  • Derek Davis
    2019-05-03 00:07

    This is a world masterpiece. Musil seems to me everything that Mann isn't: Totally engaged with humanity while at the same time a superb, highly nuanced commentator on his society, time and the human condition. I've also picked up the newer translation but haven't read it yet. If the big, soaring, grand, worldbeater novels, this may well be the best (well, Moby Dick?)

  • Tara
    2019-05-01 07:46

    “It’s all decadence! A bottomless pit of intelligence!”First and foremost, I’d like to make it clear that my rating is more a reflection of my personal enjoyment of this novel than of its literary merit. Musil had a brilliant mind and a startlingly innovative writing style; I worship his Confusions of Young Törless. Also, the philosophical, psychological, and political analyses contained in this book were nothing if not rigorous, intricate and formidably incisive. That said, although I knew going in that this would be a tremendously long “novel of ideas,” I seem to have overestimated my attention span for, and ability to appreciate, such a work. 1,774 pages of a book that tapered off excruciatingly slowly into a loose bundle of dry, esoteric philosophical discourses just wasn’t for me. In fact, to be brutally honest, slogging through the latter portion of this book was one of the most interminably tedious reading experiences I’ve had in a long time. I wouldn’t necessarily go so far as to label it pretentious intellectual bullshit, but that’s (mainly) because I’m a gutless wonder.At any rate, I suggest you make damn sure you’re okay with a progressively plot-less philosophical novel before you commit to it, because if it isn’t really your jam, you’ll frequently be seized by an overpowering urge to run toward the nearest living thing and kill it. For “everything split into hundreds of layers and became opaque and blurred,” and more often than not, I found myself sympathizing with Cameron’s bewilderment and despair over that Seurat painting in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off :

  • Sandra
    2019-05-22 01:53

    Nessuna altra opera letteraria finora letta -e dubito che nessuna altra mai- ha avuto in me un effetto così travolgente come “l’uomo senza qualità”. Come ho già detto ad alcuni amici, leggere Musil è stata una palestra per i miei neuroni acciaccati. E quando vai in palestra per la prima volta dopo anni di inattività, ne esci per giorni con le ossa rotte, torni a casa indolenzita, hai voglia a fare massaggi e spalmare creme lenitive! Così è stato l’approccio con Musil: difficile, difficilissimo. Mi sono trovata davanti ad una congerie di aforismi, monologhi, saggi dialogati, digressioni filosofiche, riflessioni dei personaggi, considerazioni dell’autore che formano saggi a sé stanti, di una lucidità e genialità dirompenti, con guizzi di intelligenza acutissima, di ironia pungente e momenti di poesia, di dolcezza e grazia incantevoli. Ero frastornata.All’improvviso qualcosa è scattato e dinnanzi a me si è aperto un mondo vivissimo, fatto di una molteplicità di personaggi che, grazie al perfetto disordine, alla lucida precisione del pensiero, alla scrittura impeccabile di Musil sono diventati vivi, carnalmente presenti davanti ai miei occhi, nei loro pregi e difetti, mi sono vista costruito, come una ragnatela tessuta da un abilissimo tessitore, un mondo, quello della buona società austroungarica dell’inizio del secolo XX, colta sull’orlo della sua inesorabile fine. In questo mondo ho assistito alle innumerevoli vicende che sempre sembrano condurre da qualche parte e da alcuna parte alla fine portano, a partire dall’Azione Parallela, organizzazione creata per festeggiare il regno dell’imperatore Francesco Giuseppe i cui membri sono in continuo impegnati a trovare un’Idea (che non troveranno)da porre a base dell’Azione, passando attraverso amori, tradimenti, passioni, fino alle scene piene di grazia tra i due "fratelli siamesi" Ulrich e Agathe, ad altre scene stupende per forza espressiva come la visita del generale Stumm alla biblioteca nazionale e la visita di Clarisse al manicomio criminale.Nel mondo decadente e inconsistente creato da Musil non vi è un senso o un ordine, perché –dice il generale Stumm- “… prova a immaginarti soltanto un ordine completo, universale, un ordine di tutta l’umanità, in una parola un ordine civile perfetto; ebbene, io sostengo che questa è la morte di freddo, la rigidità cadaverica, un paesaggio lunare, una epidemia geometrica”. Non vi è una legge morale, perché “la morale è fantasia”; però “la fantasia non è arbitrio…”. Vi è l’uomo immerso nelle proprie contraddizioni, e per viverci in mezzo deve avere coraggio da vendere, perché “solo così si raggiunge il massimo rendimento”.Ed ora mi sento orfana di Ulrich, di Agathe, del generale Stumm, di Diotima, anche dell’odioso Arnheim. Però vi assicuro che i miei neuroni vanno a mille.

  • Ronan Fitzgerald
    2019-05-09 01:52

    how do I review the greatest work of art of all time? how do I review a book that rubbishes the superlatives I would use to praise it? just buy this and set off on the journey through the 1100 pages.......

  • Vit
    2019-05-09 02:44

    One of a few 'Six stars books' of modern literature (there are maybe three or five of them?). The ultimate work of western dualism. Armheim vs. Ulrich, Ulrich vs. Walter, Arnheim vs. Tuzzi, Diotima vs. Bonadea, General Stumm vs. Leinsdorf, Fischel vs. Hans Sepp, Kakania vs. Prussia. Reality vs. pseudoreality. Individual spirituality vs. regulated and intelligible morality.This is the peak, or plateau, of European thought, just like Mahler is the romantic cream of the western Music. If you go through this, you will understand why Franzen is only a laughing matter and skittish entertainment.

  • Kilburn Adam
    2019-05-15 00:06

    This review is for the Picador edition. translated by Shophie Wilkins and Burton Pike.I don't know how people found books to read before the internet and Goodreads. Goodreads has been recommending me this book for a very long time. Finally I've managed to read it. Anyway about the book:This is posibilly the most accessible, inspiring, and influential philosophy book that I've read. It's also a novel. So it has a plot and characters. The book covers many concepts, themes, and ideas. Some of the themes include morality, experience, truth and opinion. There are many allusions to Nietzsche and Dostoevsky. Which I got because I've read many of their books. But unfortunately I haven't read enough Goethe to get the allusions to him. I've only actually read Faust Part 1.The book is supposedly incomplete. But without giving anything away. I found the ending more than adequate. Unlike the disappointing ending to other incomplete novels. Like The Castle by Franz Kafka. And Dead Souls by Nikolai Gogol. But like many people have said before. It's a novel of ideas so the ending isn't really that important.I'll definitely be reading this book many times again. As there is so much to absorb. That one read really isn't sufficient enough.If The Man Without Qualities had a fight with In Search of Lost Time. The Man Without Qualities Would kick it's ass.

  • Shivani Radhakrishnan
    2019-05-14 07:48

    probably the best novel i've ever read. genius.

  • Duc Do
    2019-04-25 06:02

    This is a life changing work by a life changing author. Musil inspires without trying to inspire, is wise without preaching. In the mold of Aurelius, disguised as a novel, most of those hundreds of pages are quotable. Reminds me of Dostoevsky very much, but their styles are very different.It is easy to see why his work was quickly forgotten after his death. A world races madly towards consumerism and self gratification, in the name of all sorts of ideologies, will not understand and genuinely appreciate Musil.On reading, Musil has this to say:"Hardly anyone still reads nowadays. People make use of the writer only in order to work off their own excess energy on him in a perverse manner, in the form of agreement or disagreement."Anyone who could provide such an insight is worth re-reading many times over.

  • Anthony
    2019-04-27 02:09

    This book is so inspiring, that I could rarely read more then a few pages at time. It gives you so much to think about. It is though very dense and therefore really is not an easy read. I find this book life changing.

  • Tomas Ramanauskas
    2019-04-26 06:57

    I’m always late, that’s why I’m discovering my favorite authors only in my 30s. Fante. Barth. Pessoa. Miller. McCarthy. Celine. And now - Robert Musil and his stupefyingly dense book “The Man Without Qualities”, so-called novel of ideas. It means, that no matter that my best intentions are to shower you in spoilers, 99% of it will remain unscathed.The action here is like watercolour painting - hazy, obscure. Yet the battles in inland empires of characters are fierce. A kafkaesque trick is unfolding throughout the novel: the moment you realize that you agree with everything what is written, the cube of arguments rotates and you find yourself at square one - listening to new set of reasoning. You are never firmly on the ground. “The Man Without Qualities” is overflown with duels between philosophy-action, love-pragmatism, sublimation-lust, evil-good, naivety-cynicism. Which are percolated through Ulrich’s (main hero) understanding of life and even himself. This book is a well oiled eel, impossible to catch with your bare hands, you’ll need some help. You’ll need to sweat, to think hard, to lose the train of thought, to come back few pages. The author will make you work. Yet at the end of 1000+ pages of uninterrupted intelectual stunts, I’m feeling euphoric. I've read something which is as big as one's life can get.Musil was writting this novel for his last 20 years and, just like genius is supposed to do, died in poverty, completely forgotten. Let’s unforget him.

  • Γιώργος
    2019-04-23 02:03

    Best book I've ever read. Will probably come back to it again and again over the years. The way Ulrich conceives the world depicts the complexity of life and the tremendous effort required to dive into the depths of the human psyche. Musil lands a death blow on the deterministic way of looking at things.

  • Guy
    2019-05-11 04:00

    From the first page one knows one is in the presence of a master story-teller, who will keep one keenly wondering what will happen next, and how he will next digress.It is a book to savour, and I miss it keenly all the time that I'm not reading it. Musil reminds me of Proust in his range, whimsy and delight in life, and in the elegance of his style.It is also topical, as it depicts Austrian society (specifically Viennese society in the last days of the Habsburg Empire) on the eve of the First World War.

  • Seong Min
    2019-04-25 02:03

    One of my favorite novels. Musil's magnum opus, the epitome of 20th-century literature, which shows to the limit what a novel can do.

  • Leo Robertson
    2019-05-18 02:54

    Here’s a song for you. The song is ‘Bros’ by Panda Bear, maybe you’ve heard of it. Anyway, have a wee listen to it now, a minute or so (or it'll make good background music while you read this review!) Okay, fine, it’s a breezy summery song, nothing too special. But did you hear the screaming, sobbing, racecar, owl hoots, or anything else that makes up the dense collection of samples? It’s blurry, messy, no two listens are alike. You pick up on different things each time. To me at least, listening to the song is like listening to life. I have no doubt it was written by a really clever guy.It’s this same effect that The Man Without Qualities gave me, written by a clever guy, and like reading life. Like ‘Bros’, it doesn’t really begin or end, and everything between those non-existent boundaries is a dense mess. So, quite a difficult thing to review, essentially. So you have to pick out the parts that speak to you. Back to the song for a bit, maybe you start to hear the wails, screams, animals, but then you think… is that the hiss of a snake, a match being lit, a fuse? Are those children laughing or crying? Probably depending on who you are, you catch some parts, not others, and think of them one way, and not another. This brings me on to the meaning that I applied to TMWQ. It’s about the only thing I can offer by way of a review:Pg. 188 (maybe my favourite sentence) “Arnheim had written that a man who inspects his suit is incapable of fearless conduct, because the mirror, originally created to give pleasure-as Arnheim explained it- had become an instrument of anxiety, like the clock, which is a substitute for the fact that our activities no longer follow a logical sequence”What I love about this is how it makes you seriously reevaluate two everyday objects and consider the influence they have upon you. Try covering up anything that wants to tell you the time (there’s a bloody lot of them), stop looking in mirrors. See what happens.*deep breath*Pg 328 “We can begin at once with the peculiar predilection of scientific thinking for mechanical, statistical and physical explanations that have, as it were, the heart cut out of them. The scientific mind sees kindness only as a special form of egotism; brings emotions into line with glandular secretions; notes that eight or nine tenths of a human being consists of water; explains our celebrated moral freedom as an automatic mental by-product of free trade; reduces beauty to good digestion and the proper distribution of fatty tissue; graphs the annual statistical curves of births and suicides to show that our intimate personal decisions are programmed behaviour; sees a connection between ecstasy and mental disease; equates the anus and the mouth as the rectal and the oral openings at either end of the same tube- such ideas, which expose the trick, as it were, behind the magic of human illusions, can always count on a kind of prejudice in their favour as being impeccably scientific. Certainly they demonstrate love of truth. But surrounding this clear, shining love is a predilection for disillusionment, compulsiveness, ruthlessness, cold intimidation, and dry rebuke, a spiteful predilection, or at least an involuntary emanation of such kind.”Here we have the dichotomy of science as a reasoning tool, demonstrating how little it actually helps us just to live. Man cannot live by science alone.Pg. 409 “Science is possible only where situations repeat themselves, or where you have some control over them… A cube would not be a cube if it were not just as rectangular at nine o’clock as seven…. if you had never seen the moon before you’d think it was a flashlight. Incidentally, the reason God is such an embarrassment to science is that he was seen only once, at the Creation, before there were any trained observers around.”This quote best shows where Musil tries to blend mysticism with science, which I think is a brilliant idea, and something that is considered quite a contemporary movement (David Foster Wallace stating that ‘You get to choose what to worship’, or Alain de Botton’s Religion for Atheists, all three of them are on to something).And two instances of him referencing awesome things other people said:Pg 386 “You know what Nietzsche says? Wanting to know for sure is like wanting to know where the ground is for your next step, mere cowardice. One has to start somewhere to act on one’s intentions, not just talk about it.”I love this because “wanting to know where the ground is” is introduced as preposterous, not generally how it is thought of, but it is. We take for granted when we walk that there’s something there. But maybe we all live with more risk than we think. It’s correcting the attitude. Back to de Botton, this time How Proust Can Change Your Life, he argues that when you read classics, you are collecting pairs of glasses through which you see the world with different eyes. In this case, albeit not a direct Musil quote, I think you see a world with an accelerated risk all around, in every action, which makes you feel brave, since you’ve been being brave all along, just by living. I find that empowering.Pg 1030 “The English writer Surway… distinguishes five [steps] in the process of successful reasoning: (a) close observation of an event, in which the observation immediately reveals problems of interpretation; (b) establishing such problems and defining them more narrowly; (c) hypothesis of a possible solution; (d) logically developing the consequences of this hypothesis; and (e) further observations, leading to an acceptance or rejection of the hypothesis and thereby to a successful outcome of the thinking process.”Often all skipped.I had no idea that this book was in part an analysis of ‘living scientifically’, but that part was clearly the most important to me. For obvious reasons, there’s not a lot of it in literature, at least that I’ve found. I think I’m supposed to be reading science fiction, but I find a lot of it- even the serious stuff- a bit cheesy and obvious, and as for how we’re supposed to live with science, unhelpful (yeah that is too much- and I still read science fiction, but mostly just for pleasure). I’m about to embark on a career in chemical engineering, and strongly believe it’s what I was meant to do. People were always born writers, singers, artists, never chemical engineers, although I went to a really interesting lecture where professors of the Medieval Studies department described us as modern day alchemists, so yes, chemical engineering is an innate calling, but up until recently we’ve just been untrained observers. I think that was my argument all along, or maybe Musil just helped me see it. But science and mysticism are knit together, you need not choose one or the other, and both may well be necessary for life satisfaction. This is what I got from The Man Without Qualities, but you can see the slant it has towards my opinion or attitude. The book is massive, perhaps you don’t agree with me or my interpretation, but you can at least see that intellectual exercise and depth that the book offers, and that’s still there for you to enjoy.What will you see when you put on Musil’s glasses?

  • David Bird
    2019-04-24 23:43

    When I came across this book in 1995, I had become very skeptical of the possibility of fiction expressing my worldview. Musil did. In the grand competition for 'best novel ever' I would have to put this one just slightly behind Proust's In Search of Lost Time, but this one is closer to my heart. Ulrich, the titular Man, dwells in a world that is in denial of its imminent collapse, Vienna before the first world war. It's not practical to summarize the plot, but it's also unnecessary. Musil manages to write in a way that makes the tedium of that world interesting. He writes of shocking events and evil acts without conveying, in the narrator's voice, the least shock or judgment. He manages to avoid teleology utterly. And yet he is not amoral; rather he is exquisitely moral, because he refuses to make morality simple. Musil completed the first book of the novel, which has an incredibly powerful ending. The second book opens with a profound shift in tone, and then drifts into no definite ending. Musil was harried into exile by the Nazis, and died before finishing the book, but in a way that makes the perfect ending, as the narrative explodes into fragments.

  • DoctorM
    2019-04-24 06:48

    One of the forgotten classics of the 20th century and very probably the single best book about the lost world of late-imperial Vienna, about a world where nostalgia is as much about the future as the past, where all the new art and philosophy of the years just before 1914 are gently but relentlessly undermining civilized and genteel certainties. Finely written, delightfully ironic, slowly disturbing. This is very much the book you want to take with you to Vienna. Recommended absolutely.

  • Vit Babenco
    2019-05-11 07:07

    “Revolutionary views? I'm afraid I must admit that I’m by no means an out-and-out opponent of revolutionary views. Short of an actual revolution, of course.”Even the outright reactionaries pretend to dig the new until the new starts breaking the old order of things… And The Man Without Qualities is groundbreaking in everything and in all directions. It practically revolutionises an outlook at the entire existing order of things.“The hospital aide clothed in lily-white, who, with the help of acids, thins out a patient’s stool in a white china dish in order to obtain a purple smear, rubbing it until the right hue rewards her attention, is already living, whether she knows it or not, in a world more open to change than is the young lady who shudders at the sight of the same stuff in the street.”Relativity and uncertainty principle rule in the world so everything depends on the vantage point and attitude of observer… And even the simplest thing is always seen by different people differently. “For the moment one begins to take anything, no matter how foolish or tasteless, seriously and puts oneself on its level, it begins to reveal a rationale of its own, the intoxicating scent of its love for itself, its innate urge to play and to please.”It’s exactly the way of the modern pop culture – it always attempts to lower any observer down to its vulgar level and to make one admire even the worst kitsch. And it flourishes.

  • David
    2019-05-11 23:44

    Blows your mind. Read it over a decade ago and still recovering. In a good way.

  • James Kendley
    2019-05-16 07:04

    This is an amazing window into the intellectual life of a world gone by. Brilliant, brilliant book that took weeks for me to read and will take years to digest.

  • Stephen
    2019-04-28 01:55

    I read the Picador volumes - I was in Japan at the time and I asked my late mother to send them - and I was so enraptured by the prose (in translation of course) and the content - there is so much going on, it is not just about the story - Musil was a philosopher. This work is in the league of the greatest 20th century novels, it is not a question of having to read it, it is just a question of when will you read it - and reread it.

  • Speranza
    2019-04-26 06:04

    Warning: Pathetic rambling gibberish to follow that does The Man Without Qualities no justice.Finally! My sentence is over. This book kept me imprisoned for more than two months and I am now thrown back into the real world. Prison is a strange place. It made my heart heavy, longing for the company of all those books running at large out there – piling up on my reader, staring at me seductively from my shelves, calling me from bookstore windows.Yet, as much as I craved freedom, I found comfort being boxed in between hundreds and hundreds of pages. The existence within these paper walls was monotone and illuminating at the same time. It was overwhelming at times. Sometimes it was more than what I could process. It frustrated me and it calmed me down. My inmates were an interesting bunch of people as well (if only they talked less and did more). I would probably have fallen for Ulrich in the end - I have a soft spot for wiseacres. Me and Agathe would certainly have become friends had she not left the party so suddenly and had I not been set free. Prison was actually a place of humility. It forced me to restrain my desires and it taught me that there are some subjects I know nothing about, quite a few topics I am ignorant of, many concepts I don’t understand. It taught me that perseverance pays off in the end and that confinement doesn’t necessarily mean lack of freedom. The Man Without Qualities was a hard book for me to digest. It was too boring. It was too dense. It was too long and it was too short. It was amazing. There was genius lurking in every page, in every sentence almost. I am now excited about all the books awaiting me, but a small part of me will always remain in that cell of thousands of pages, millions of words and an infinity of ideas.

  • Miloš Kostić
    2019-05-06 03:11

    Ovo je bukvalno i figurativno najveće delo koje sam pročitao. Ima preko hiljadu i po strana, ali se osećam kao da sam pročitao deset puta toliko. I još nije završeno, nažalost (ili na sreću - autor je izgleda planirao još mnogo stotina, možda hiljada stranica). Zahteva mnogo vremena i truda, mnogo traži ali još više daje. Žanr: filozofski roman; rečenice su dugačke, a zaplet zamršen. Stvarno ima mnogo filozofiranja (mnogi bi rekli i previše) ali više otvara pitanja nego što daje odgovore na njih. Glavni lik, čovek bez osobina, je ironičan i poprilično ambivalentan prema svemu. Mnogo više teksta je posvećeno razmišljanju i raspravama nego događajima, tako da su likovi razrađeni do najsitnijih detalja iako ih autor veoma često koristi da bi izneo svoje filozofske misli. U knjizi ne dominira nijedna tema a neke od njih su čula i emocijie, moral i krivica, ljudski duh i duh vremena, religija i nauka, ljubav, rat i mir i još mnoge druge.Delo sam otkrio preko Goodreadsa, gde mi je preporučen jer sam čitao roman Čarobni breg Tomasa Mana kome je vrlo sličan po stilu i koga čak i nadmašuje. Retko remek-delo, i više od toga.

  • Awrup
    2019-05-19 04:42

    A novel, yet more than just a novel, spanning many themes. A mix of fiction, poetry, essays; fantasy, aphorism, philosophy, all rolled into one, a truly modern novel. Written at the cusp of the decline of empire and the modern era. A "polyhistorical" novel. Yet, it is an unfinished work. Musil stands only in the company of few, with this epic — its condensed expanse, to paraphrase Kundera, who incidentally led me to Musil, through The Art of Novel.

  • Paul Adkin
    2019-05-18 05:03

    A superb book. One of the greatest novels of all time.