The definition of a soul: “That which crawls away and hides whenever someone mentions algebra.” (Man Without Qualities)
“Robert Musil’s works fascinate me until this day … and what I learned from him was the hardest thing: that one can undertake a work that will take decades, without knowing if one can ever finish it, an undertaking that consists mainly of patience, that assumes an almost inhuman stubbornness …” (Elias Canetti)
Despite the fact that Robert Musil (1880 – 1942) is one of the most important writers of the last century, The Man Without Qualities has been voted most important book of the 20 th century in the German language, there are still more people that have this book on their book-shelves than have actually read it.
September 2003 a new biography of Robert Musil, written by Karl Corino, is published by Rowohlt publishers. It is a beautiful book, including notes, timetable and index more than 2000 pages. Read a review in in the Neue Zuricher Zeitung (In German). Karl Corino himself wrote an article on the hard years of Musils exile in Switzerland (in German too).
Corino spent a good part of his life researching the life and works of Musil. From the introduction it appears that, like The Man Without Qualities, a biography on Musil can never be complete. Notes, letters, diaries were lost during his lifetime, childhood friends refused to talk about Musil out of bitterness, or a psycho-analytic refused to disclose information out of professional discretion, Martha Musil would not release information that could be essential to the biography. There were some good finds too: manuscripts that Martha had sown onto her jacket and were found after her death, or letters that were discovered in a dark, nearly forgotten cellar. It is only fitting that a biography as exhaustive as this one is incomplete.
This site tries to give some background information on the life and works of Robert Musil. This can, among others, be found in a concise biography, essays on his literary works and selections from his diaries. It is neither finished nor complete.
Characteristic for the works of Musil is his irony, the exactness of a mathematician (which he was) the ever changing points of view, the influx of the modern age and technique upon the modern day man. A conscientious use of language to express his thoughts (in his diaries he called himself monsieur le Vivisecteur) are coupled with a encyclopaedic knowledge of culture and criticism thereof and a psychological mystique.
In The Man Without Qualities he tries to portray a modern man who has to live in and cope with a changing world. In contrast to former generations, the modern-day-man cannot afford himself, or be described in terms of ‘qualities’, as Musil calls it, for all the known certainties have been replaced by a greater diversity; there is no longer a single point one can focus on. The German word ‘Eigenschaften’ is less ambiguous: it literally means ‘characteristics’.
In Young Törleß a story of passion and cruelty of youth situated in a military academy is told. A story in which, as critics later stated, the rise of fascism was already present.
Posthumous papers of a Living Author is a collection of contemplations, short stories and drafts he wrote between 1922 and 1935, when he was not working on his largest work of fiction.
On this site you can find a concise biography in five chapters, a timeline, a collection of portraits, a collection of essays on the work of Musil, a bibliography, and of course some excerpts from his major literary works.
Also, excerpts from his diaries can be found on these pages. His diaries form a sort of intellectual playground, in which Musil kept track of all his thoughts, feelings, and literary ideas. The excerpts taken from his diaries reflect his development as a person and as a writer.