May 17, 2008

Musil's World without Qualities

Musil's Man without Qualities is a book almost impossible to review. The difficulty is not due only to the book's length and blurred boundaries (it was never finished by the author himself and various existing editions incorporate more or less of the material that was left by the author at various degrees of completion). The difficulties are even more substantial than the impossibility to provide an adequate summary. It is not even easy to decide what genre this work, though ostensibly a novel, quite belongs to. And even allowing that it is in fact a novel, that it is telling a story, one will find it exceedingly difficult to determine quite what the story is. It would not be far-fetched to claim that this is perhaps rather a protracted philosophical essay in the guise of a narrative, say, a fictionalized version of Husserl's Crisis of European Sciences. But it is also a political novel, at least in sense of suggesting some of the political context of modern man's predicament. In the narrative, the ‘man without qualities’ does refer to an actual person, Ulrich, as much of a main character as the novel ever gets. But at the same time, the whole world of the novel is strangely ‘without qualities’, without firm point and characteristic. And this is also Musil's main subject matter, the strange sense of doomed pointlessness which pervades Central Europe during his lifetime. One of the worst lifetimes, too, a human being could have ever been awarded.

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Posted by david at 02:07 PM | Comments (0)

Into our Hearts of Darkness

Joseph Conrad's novel The Secret Agent, a less well-known piece than his notorious Heart of Darkness (to become the Francis Coppola film as Apocalypse Now), but with sufficient renown still to have merited a Japanese translation, poses as fiction with elements of black humour combined with a spy story and a political thriller of sorts. But the looks may deceive, and seen in the context of the author's other works, the portrayal of paradoxically tragic consequences of a complex interplay of hidden human motivations, The Secret Agent may well be read as another profound inquiry into the darkness of our hearts. And in this respect it matters little that the novel is set in the dull lazy backwaters of Victorian England, rather than in the exotic wilderness of black Africa.

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Posted by david at 01:56 PM | Comments (0)