To the in the first paragraph mentioned qualities the following can be added: Musil detests regulations: not only in literary genres and art and fashion, but also of mechanical world views, of predestined lifes. His way of writing is one of perpetual changes, a renewed reviewing of possibilities, of possible causalities, of possible backgrounds.
His search also stems from discontent. At the end of his life he looks back at the course of it and concentrates on all the moments that his life took an important turn. A central position in these reflections is his choice in favour of his writing as an academically formed author instead of a life dedicated to science, to which his family raised him. Musil lived for the moments that would take life into an newer, higher level (read, for example, The Blackbird)
His 25th diary is called: Efforts to find another being. Elsewhere in his diaries he states that Literature is a
bolder, more logically combined life, the creation or crystallisation of possibilities
This thought can be read as one of the motives of The Man Without Qualities. But also in shorter works this plays an important role. One of the Tempered Observations in his Posthumous papers of a living author the conflict between the ideal and the real is central: Black Magic deals with the conditions for the creation of art and kitsch.
From 1921 until his death Musil works almost daily on The Man Without Qualities. The first two books are published in 1930 and the third book in 1933. It will take almost twenty years for the fourth, unfinished part to be published. The novel is divided into two separate parts. The first deals with Kakanien, the Austrian-Hungarian empire and kingdom in decline, and takes place in the year 1913.
Rumour has it that Germany is preparing a celebration in honour of thirty years of reign of Emperor Wilhelm II. That same year The Austrian Emperor will be the ruler of his country for seventy years. This of course has to be celebrated more abundant, more profound than the anniversary in Germany. Austrian nobel’s realise this and attempt to organise a celebration that will capture the peoples minds forever, show the greatness of Austria and its emperor. To
make the most of the full weight of a reign of seventy years rich in blessings and sorrows as against one of a mere thirty years.
Everybody that becomes a part of the organising committee has to think of something that is the most important feature of life, of Austria, of its emperor. But of course everybody thinks of something else as being the most important feature. The irony of all this, in retrospect, is that in the year the celebration has to take place Austria ceases to be an empire, and becomes a republic. The celebration does not develop beyond its preparatory phase. The second, unfinished part of the book deals with Ulrich and Agathe, brother and sister, who meet again after many years on their fathers funeral. Their relationship appears to be almost incestuous. Ulrich’s dealings with the Parallelaktion, as the organisation of the celebrations are called, move to the background.
Ulrich is the man without Qualities. All other protagonists are ideologems. Ideas, or ideologies, are bindings that keep together peoples lives, and simplify it, because they reduce the number of reactions possible.
When life is socially bounded and individually only restricted movement is possible, it is easier. A catholic or jew, an officer, a student, a businessman, someone with a position, has in every phase of live less reactions to choose from then a free mind: it spares and collects force.
The novel describes the interactions of the different ideologies and the difficult position of the free mind in it. The presence of ideologies or bindings does not offer enough ground to declare the knowledge of mankind to something else than the study of nature. Even in natural sciences the start is a believe, a phantasy, a preconception. The first paragraph of the novel is a parody. A parody on the precision of technique and science, and on the conventional naration of the realistic novel. It opens with climatological and scientific information on a warm summers day which concludes with:
In one word, which describes the factual accurately, even if it is a bit old-fashioned: it was a beautiful day in August in the year 1913.
The accident that takes place on that day and causes an unpleasant sensation with a woman during her stroll and some pity, looses its awkward meaning after the partner has localised the cause in the breaking path of the car.
She had heard this word often enough, but she did not now what a breaking path could be, and she did not want to know; it sufficed for her that with this explanation this horrible event could be classified as a technical problem, that was not her immediate problem.
These aforementioned passages are characteristic for the tension that is often found in Musil’s work: the tangible reality and its partners: cultural conventions, feelings, ideals. There is a fourth party to be mentioned: the “sense op possibility”. Ulrichs father, a professor in law, holds tight principles:
If one wants to go through an opened door, one must take into account the fact that it has a stable post: this basic rule, by which the professor has always lived, is simply one of the demanding principles of the sense of reality.
This sense of possibility, which stands in opposition to the “sense of reality”, leads to a different kind of reasoning:
Thus the sense of possibility may be defined as the capability to think everything that might as well be and take that which is not as more important than that which is not.
This is not just the opposition between father and son, but also between Ulrich and many other personages of The Man Without Qualities.
To be continued …..