Tuesday, February 3, 2015




My newest essay, "Ethics and Aesthetics are One: The Earnestness of High Modernism in Wittgenstein and Musil" is up on Numero Cinq.  Here is a link to the whole text: 

http://numerocinqmagazine.com/2015/02/02/ethics-and-aesthetics-are-one-the-earnestness-of-high-modernism-in-wittgenstein-and-musil-genese-grill/

But meanwhile, here is an appetizer: 


These two thinkers lived almost side-by-side on Rasmofskygasse in Vienna for about a year sometime between 1920 and 1921, possibly without ever making each other’s acquaintance. They were both snobs who craved discourse; both were scientists who had more faith in art than in philosophical logic; both were individualists who were suspicious of collectivism and resisted joining groups or being categorized into positions or ideologies[4]. They both rejected externally-imposed morals and social judgments in favor of a personal rigorous ethics and conduct of life. They both had ambivalent relationships with the scientific positivists of the Vienna Circle. In contrast to the members of this circle, both wanted to connect philosophy and science with aesthetics and ethics and make it meaningful for human life[5]. Both resisted theory in favor of experimental empiricism. Both had mystical experiences as soldiers in World War One, leading to puzzling relationships with something they both sometimes called “God”; both were mathematicians suspicious of mathematics; both were engineers and inventors; empiricists and idealists; pragmatists and utopians. Both looked to anthropology to present alternative possible ways to live; both loved Dostoevsky; both worked and wrote in a non-linear,[6] inter-disciplinary fashion; both liked to go to the movies. Both of them were obsessed with using language precisely; but both rejected language skepticism, while acknowledging the limits of language and knowledge; and both saw metaphor as the best possible mode of expressing certain experiences and truths. Both were so committed to the experimental method and a resistance to closure or final solutions that they were almost pathologically unable to finish their works. They are exemplars of a special breed of idealist-realists—a group of people who throughout history have simultaneously hugged the surface of the real “what is” while reaching for the ideal “what could be”; thinkers who have labored to establish what can and cannot be known or spoken, thinkers who have eschewed what Musil called “Schleudermystik” (wishy-washy mysticism) and Wittgenstein called “transcendental twaddle,” and, at the same time, kept at bay a nihilistic relativism or void of all values. (Other thinkers in this cadre include Thoreau, Blake, Novalis, and Nietzsche).

Monday, December 22, 2014

New Edition of Hyperion


The newest edition of Hyperion: On the future of Aesthetics, including some excerpts from my forthcoming collection of translations of Musil's short prose, is up and available for reading or download at these various sites: 

http://contramundum.net/hyperion/


Please enjoy and spread the words! 

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

The Hermit living in a Novel

I just found this wonderful sentence in some notes Musil wrote around 1914 (thus early on in his conception of his own novel) in a musing about the difference between novels, novellas, and dramas:

Why does no one write a novel of 25000 pages? An ancient forest of a novel, wherein one could live like a hermit lives in God?

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Contra Mundum Wants You!


Contra Mundum's newest birth, The Selected Poetry of Emilio Villa
    As you all know, it is extremely difficult in this day and age to keep a small independent press alive, especially one publishing translations of obscure books, like my own current translation/collection of Robert Musil's Small Prose (forthcoming in 2015 with Contra Mundum).
   Contra Mundum Press has a new plan to keep thriving and to keep being able to publish these important works--a plan that would depend on your subscription/donation to the cause for the next three years. In exchange you will get three free books a year and a discount on any other books you want, and the satisfaction of knowing that you are helping keep a small press alive. Since I will be publishing translations of Robert Musil  with Contra Mundum (one every year or every other year for the next 5 or 6 years or so), you can be sure to get free copies of new Musil, as well as many other interesting books.

Here are the official details:
 

Contra Mundum Press (CMP) is a New York based boutique publishing house dedicated to the value and the indispensable importance of the individual voice. Our catalog includes poetry, literature, drama, philosophy, film criticism and essays. In the future, we intend on expanding it to include works on architecture, music, & other fields.

In order to reach our next stage of development, CMP is currently seeking at least 300 donor/subscribers to promise to commit to offering $100/year to the press for a period of three years. In return, each donor/subscriber will receive three books/year of his or her choice as well as a 15% discount on any other books they wish to purchase.

When achieved, this will generate a guaranteed $30,000 per year for the press and enable it to devote further funds to design, editing, marketing, and to offering needed advances to translators and editors. Some of these funds will also be used to create a new website more in line with the character of the press, as well as to purchase translation rights necessary to further expanding our catalog. This support will also help CMP to establish an even more prominent global presence over the next several years and to further extend its impact.

While it is nothing like an exhaustive account of our projects & critical reception, the following précis indicates the scope & reach of CMP, as well as our development – in the space of 30 months – into an independent publisher whose work has been heralded in the pages of The Guardian, The Times Literary Supplement, The Paris Review, The Quarterly Conversation, & the Los Angeles Review of Books

As a press that models itself on Goethe’s notion of world-literature, CMP’s focus is global. To date, we have published translations from Sumerian, French, Hungarian, Italian, and German. Additionally, we have published several world premiere books (both by Fernando Pessoa), two bilingual books (French–English; German–English), several multilingual books, and we will also be publishing translations from Turkish as well as other languages.

Since publishing our first book in January of 2012, CMP has received awards from the Hungarian Book Foundation, the French Embassy (Hemingway Grant), TEDA (a Turkish literary foundation), and the Austrian Ministry of Education, Arts, & Culture. Our translators include distinguished and world-renowned figures such as Mary Ann Caws, Tim Wilkinson, and Stuart Kendall as well as new translators like Genese Grill (NEH recipient and the only English-language representative of the International Robert Musil Society) and Dominic Siracusa (recipient of the Raiziss/de Palchi Fellowship for his translation of Emilio Villa).

While many if not most presses do not credit their typographers, CMP has reinstituted the colophon to give such due recognition. Meticulously conceived by Alessandro Segalini, each CMP book is typeset in a clear, balanced, & precise manner and nobly spaced, making them eminently pleasurable to read, beautiful objects in their own right.

The global vision of CMP extends beyond its publications to events staged in New York, Budapest, Berlin, and Karlovy Vary, including a retrospective of Elio Petri’s films curated in collaboration with the Italian Institute of Culture and Arsenal (Institute for Film and Video Art). Most recently, in 2014, our author Josef Winkler was invited to both the Austrian Cultural Forum in NYC and to the PEN World Voices Literary Festival. For a complete list of our publications and further info about the press, download our catalog here:

http://contramundum.net/about/


*

If you wish to lend us support, payments can be made via Paypal to: info@contramundum.net (those without a Paypal account can still pay via credit card thru the Paypal site), or by sending a check to CMP at:


Contra Mundum Press
P.O. Box 1326
New York, NY 10276
USA



To note some forthcoming highlights, in the fall and winter of 2014 we will publish Fellini’s Making a Film and the first ever translation of Miklós Szentkuthy’s legendary Prae. Some publication highlights of 2015 include Robert Musil’s Short Prose, vol. 1 of the letters of Otto Dix, and Turkish modernist Oğuz Atay’s While Waiting for Fear. We have also agreed to publish the writings of internationally renowned Hungarian-German cinematographer and director Fred Kelemen, who also shot films for Béla Tarr, and are currently negotiating to acquire the rights to a number of books by Jean-Luc Godard.



Contra Mundum Press contramundum.net/

Saturday, June 28, 2014

The Schoolboy Gavrilo Princip, who shot Franz Ferdinand on June 28th, 1914, 100 Years ago Today, and the Danger of the Writer



 Here is a passage from Musil's notebooks:


Preface to a Contemporary Aesthetics[1]

[End of 1935 or beginning of 1936]

Princip, the student who, in 1914, with his pistol shots so enraged the venerable Great Powers that they attacked each other, was secretly a Serbian poet, and this was something from which the Great Powers have not recovered to this day; and the man who saw to it, through his spirited, but stubborn and somewhat one-sided attributes, that this War had no end, namely Georges Clémenceau, obviously had a poet living inside him — a poet who didn’t get enough air, who had become rather poisonous and who influenced the politics of his master in the direction of his own prejudices.  I also know of a fairly good light novel written by Mussolini before he came to power one that might be read in any familyand this successful statesman, despite his real fame, is now having a play that he wrote produced.  Is it a surprise that he is every inch an artist, as many of his admirers assert!   The German revolution, further, yielded, soon after its victory, the remarkable phenomenon of the publication of dramas and novels written by many of its leaders and deputy leaders that had not been heard of before — providing an insight that no revolution up to this time has offered.  In a word, one must remind those irredeemably blind people who despise literature that even Nero set Rome on fire once, and this not just because he was mentally ill, as is maintained, but above all because he was a writer.  Their respect for writing will increase if they notice that not only amateur writers, writing dilettantes, but also writers who for one reason or another never fully managed to devote themselves to writing, have set the world on fire.

Compared to them, the real or fully developed writers are not dangerous in any way and, aside from spiritual theft, bourgeois bankruptcy, and offences against public decency, have never done anything serious at all.  The source of restlessness in the kind of people who destroy worlds is transformed in these writers to a quietly burning and nourishing hearth-flame and they make a well-ordered export business out of the adventures of their fantasy.  So if one wants to prevent revolutions, one must encourage the writing of literature; and Germany’s erstwhile revolutionary party, the Social Democrat Party, had actually put that into practice, by placing good novels in all their libraries, while having their librarians warn the workers against reading them, because these writings were nothing but opiates intended to put the revolutionary proletariat to sleep.  It was admittedly a surprising success, for the party of these strictly controlled revolutionaries has been hounded out of Germany, in the most passionate fashion, by a party whose members enjoy the reading of novels to an inordinate degree even if they aren’t the best novels by a party, indeed, whose members even write novels themselves.

It is probably dangerous for revolutionaries to read good books or to admire beautiful pictures.  Science, too, is dangerous for them; they prefer popular science, and attend lectures in educational clubs which provide them with a prospect of solving the world’s mysteries.  The well-known assertion that the arts and sciences flourish in peaceful times can obviously be turned on its head, and is then still capable of demonstrating a relationship between cause and effect; for it is the blossoming of the arts and sciences which makes the times peaceful, insofar as it divests them of something whose loss puts the driving forces of history to sleep.  Nietzsche has already made clear this reciprocal relationship in his comment: “no one can spend more than he has: that is true of an individual, it is true of a people.  If one spends oneself for power, for power politics, for economics, world trade, and military interests — if one spends in this direction the quantum of understanding, seriousness, will, and self-overcoming which one contains, then it will not be available for the other direction.  Culture and the state — one should not deceive one’s-self about this — are antagonists: ‘Kultur-Staat’ [culture-state] is merely a modern idea.   The one lives off the other, the one thrives at the expense of the other.  All great ages of culture are ages of political decline: what is great culturally was always unpolitical, even anti-political.”[2] Remarkably, Nietzsche forgot to include fantasy in the list of shared provisions on which both politics and culture feed, although fantasy is precisely what an adventurer, a creative writer, a politician, an historian, a philosopher and a soldier must have in common and which they must, at mutual expense on the part of these many sides, give one-sided shape to; one could even say that they all must also have a certain level of intelligence in common.  But what does their fantasy amount to if it doesn’t attain to this level?  Are they then devoid of fantasy?  Is their fantasy stupid?  Or do they have a criminal fantasy?  Do they have the fantasy of bad men or that of bad novels? 

Nietzsche, in making his assertion, had decline caused by over-refinement dancing before his eyes and this assertion expresses a basic rule about the division of spiritual energies, which, by the way, tends to be most attractive in its most extreme cases; this is so because in a perfect state there would be no place for the strenuous music of Beethoven, and because conversely politics would have to disappear under perfect cultural conditions.  If one returns, however, to what can actually be experienced, the above observation says nothing more than that a people cannot be simultaneously political and spiritually creative, thus happily arranging for the non-creative people to enjoy the greatest degree of spiritual freedom of action, since it says nothing at all that would contradict the possibility that a people could be, at one and the same time, spiritual and lacking in political creativity.  So we are going to investigate how culture and politics get in each other’s way:  this is how, today, we might begin the preface to an aesthetics.




[1] The following translated by myself. —Trans.
[2] From Twilight of the Idols, sect.  4: What the Germans Lack” -Trans.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Philosophy of a Shoe Factory

I couldn't resist sharing this draft translation of an unpublished Musil gloss on standardization from 1924-1926. It will be part of the collection of pieces I am translating for Contra Mundum Press.



Philosophy of a Shoe Factory

I have the propaganda insert of a daily paper to thank for these ideas; it was as thick and large as a folio volume and concerned itself with nothing but the development of the technology, the organization, the social services, the economic, political, and moral foundations of a shoe factory. It is the largest shoe factory in the world. It fabricates ___. It serves___needs of the world. It employs___workers. It nourishes __people. It is no small thing. Some people would say, such reading is more valuable than a novel. I can’t quite contradict them. But since I love novels, I would first like to look at the shoe factory from this stand point.
We Standardize
For older readers, who grew up before we were standardized, an explanation is required: in industrial terms, standardization means that everything that can be made just as easily alike as differently is made in the same unified way by all factories. That has great advantages, clears away a completely pointless disorder, cheapens and makes life a pleasure. If one wants to change the ink ribbon of a typewriter, one no longer has to search for a store that sells just one type of ribbon, because all typewriters will have ribbons of the same width and length, and if one loses the rubber on a pedal of one’s bicycle, one no longer will find 400 different kinds of pedal rubber advertised at the bicycle shop, among which precisely the one you want is missing, the one that you have in an isolated exemplar on the second pedal. A great number of things are already being standardized, screws, fittings, apertures, armatures, construction parts for pipelines, hospital supplies and laboratory apparatus, tools, luggage, and a great deal more is being standardized, there are commissions  bearing noble names like  Fanok and Dechema, and we stand at the beginning of a great spiritual movement, which the Renaissance will have nothing on.
It should thus be allowed to make a few preliminary predictions about the time when the standardization movement will not only refer to products, but people too. There can be no question but that the standardized person will have many advantages when compared to the unstandardized,  but despite the fact that energetic attempts to attain this goal are underway, unnecessary obstacles still stand in its way. Let us start by asking ourselves, what would the standardized person look like?  He would be interchangeable. Since today all beautiful people are thin here, but fat in the orient, the submission of nature to uncertain diameter can be settled. The same thing can be said of the standardization of specific degrees of height, which the ready-to-wear industry will demand from parents; the Japanese already breed large oily wrestling types alongside the dry-broad-small jujitsu types with special diets.  Man will change by his clothes every quarter of a year, but will always look the same; even that has almost been attained today; the need for luxury can easily be stereotyped by determined levels of workmanship, just like the tax rates, and in a very refined society one’s rank can be symbolized (satisfactorily) by a price tag that reveals that one paid three times as much for one’s suit, even though it is the same suit.
These are simple problems. But aren’t the good person, the moral, the normal, the useful person, are not the ideal patriot, the disciplined ideal party member, the perfect citizen already standardized people?  Visions of the future are herewith opened up for all standardizing institutions. What they already have always done, they will now do with the aid and the unquestioned authority of science and technology.  The current of the times is taking a direction that serves their purposes, the remains of the individual are polished away. Love, this ancient forest of eccentricity, will become an utter embarrassment. Who today can still say “you, only you,” with a good conscience? Everyone knows that the correct formulation is “you, you typical”.