Tuesday, March 24, 2020

#Musil2020 Continued amid Islands of Isolation, with Ulrich and Agathe; and also with Clarisse!

While the world reels from the shocks of the pandemic and we are all practicing physical,if not completely social, isolation, I am rereading the rest of Burton Pike's brilliant translation of a large selection of the Nachlass chapters of The Man without Qualities (from the Knopf 1995 edition), wherein the siblings, Ulrich and Agathe, remove themselves from the world in order to more perfectly concentrate on the mystical possibilities inspired in them by their metaphoric incestuous love. First they separate themselves by means of simply not going out, cutting themselves off from the round of parties and Parallel Campaign meetings, and by wandering around their garden protected by the heavily symbolic garden fence, through which they occasionally experiment with loving their neighbor by imagining becoming one with a "scoundrel" who is, as Agathe notes, as strange as death to her. But then, especially as legal troubles in the form of Agathe's husband Hagauer's attempts to get her to come back and also his more frightening inquiries into the irregularities of the will, with which Agathe has tampered, our two "criminals" run away...to a series of islands, called in some passages "the Island of Health".

These removals from the world are physical enactments of Musil's "Other Condition," which arises even amidst everyday life, in the moments of exceptional seeing and experiencing felt by the siblings. Moments when the fragmented character of the world is suddenly resolved into meaning. Moments when one can do no wrong (anything that occurs within the Other Condition, as within love, is beyond good and evil), moments when the usual sense of the arbitrariness of everything is transformed into significance. To set out to lengthen these moments into some form of duration is a dangerous business, bound to disappoint. It is also, in a strange way, the paradox of this unfinished, unfinishable novel, a sort of endless attenuation of the momentary, motivated resistance to habit and quotidian meaninglessness, an attempt to hold the moment (the one thing, remember, that Faust may not request of Mephistopheles without losing the devilish bargain: "Moment, moment, stay a while, you are so beautiful!). To live life like literature; to never do anything that is not motivated by pure will and desire. As Walter Pater so unforgettably writes, "To burn always with this hard gem-like flame, to maintain this ecstasy, is success in life". But who can stand it?

The sea is the great test for the siblings who have now become fully lovers, having worn themselves out with happiness and sexual pleasure. We do not know how long it takes for them to begin to go mad, alone on these islands (without books!) staring only into each other's eyes and into the endless sea. But we do know that the idyll does eventually begin to grow tired, so tired that even a banal art historian who stops awhile at one of the hotels provides some welcome distraction for Agathe, which disgusts Ulrich, who, nevertheless admits to finding the chamber maid attractive. As Ulrich notes, love cannot exist between two people alone. One always needs a third: to admire, to envy, to lure away. Or, two lovers who are united against the world also need the world's proximity to experience their separateness.  In the beautiful passage titled "The Three Sisters," Ulrich and Agathe talk about the world as if it were the third lover in a menâge à trois with them; a lover neither would be jealous of. But Ulrich also asks Agathe if she could imagine sharing a man with another woman. She says she could imagine it being quite beautiful--but only could not imagine the woman.

But in a note at the end of one passage, Musil writes that Clarisse soon joins the siblings who are floundering in the infinity of their own four eyes, suggesting that, perhaps, he had considered experimenting with a sexual, sensual adventure with these three characters. This scene was either not written or has disappeared. But in some of the most brilliant passages of the book, Ulrich is alone with a now fully-mad Clarisse on the Island of Health.

 Here they both lose their connection to normal reality even more than Ulrich and Agathe do, as Ulrich begins to become infected with Clarisse's vision of the world. Yet, this iteration is merely another step in the direction he had been going all along, a matter merely of emphasis. And, as such, is another conscious, even logically-grounded experiment on the nature of what is real; for the whole book has taken on this fundamental question: how do we know what is real, necessary, law, essence, truth and what is merely arbitrary, contingent, custom, habit, prejudice? Musil describes over and over the oscillation between what is (natural law, reality, what must be) and what could be (possibility, new vision, perspectivism, subjectivity), never fully abandoning what is real, but sounding its complex depths. For he was a scientist and a precise explorer amid the vast realms. What he wanted to do was to expand the map of reality, expand our vision of what is real. And the discussions of Clarisse's visions on the Island of Health are a perfect object lesson in this process of new seeing:

"For awhile, Clarisse saw things that one otherwise does not see. Ulrich could explain that splendidly. Perhaps it was insanity. But a forester out walking sees a different world from the one a botanist or a murderer sees. One sees many invisible things. A woman sees the material of a dress, a painter a lake of liquid colors in its stead. I see through the window whether a hat is hard or soft. If I glance into the street I can likewise see whether it is warm or cold outside, whether people are happy, sad, healthy, or ailing; in the same way, the taste of a fruit is sometimes already in the fingertips that touch them. Ulrich remembered: if one looks at something upside down--for instance, behind the lens of a small camera--one notices things one had overlooked. A waving back and forth or shrubs or heads that to the normal eye appear motionless. Or one becomes conscious of a peculiar hopping quality of the way people walk. One is astonished at the persistent restlessness of things. In the same way, there are unperceived double images in the field of vision, for one eye sees something differently from the other; afterimages crystallize from still pictures like the most delicate-colored fogs; the brain suppresses, supplements, forms the supposed reality; the ear does not hear the thousands of sounds of one's own body; skin, joints, muscles, the innermost self, broadcast a contrapuntal composition of innumerable sensations that, mute, blind, and deaf, perform the subterranean dance of the so-called waking state" (1555-1556).

And then, most radically questioning all that is stable and conventional, Ulrich reflects:

"The foundation of human life seemed to him a monstrous fear of some kind, indeed really a fear of the indeterminate. He lay on the white sandy platform of the island between the depths of sea and sky. He lay as in snow. Clarisse was romping an playing like a child behind the thistly dunes. He was not afraid. He saw life from above. The island had flown away with him. He understood his past. Hundreds of human orders have come and gone: from the gods to brooch pins, and from psychology to the record player, every one of them an obscure unit, every one of them mysteriously sinking after a few hundred or a few thousand years and passing into rubble and building site: what else is this but a climbing up out of nothingness, each attempt on a different wall? Like one of those dunes blown by the wind, which for a while forms its own weight and then is blown away again by the wind? What is everything we do other than a nervous fear of being nothing: beginning with our pleasures, which are no pleasures but only a din, a chattering instigated to kill time, because a dark certainty admonishes us that it will in the end annihilate us, all the way to those inventions that outdo each other, the senseless mountains of money that kill the spirit, whether one is suffocated or borne up by them, to the continually changing fashions of the mind, of clothes that change incessantly, to murder, assassination, war, in which a profound mistrust of whatever is stable and created explodes: what is all that but the restlessness of a man shoveling himself down to his knees out of a grave he will never escape, a being that will never entirely climb out of nothingness, who fearfully flings himself into shapes but is, in some secret place that he is hardly aware of himself, vulnerable and nothing?" (1557-58).

This terror in the face of the uncreated and unformed--the world like an infinite ocean, without firm delineations or rules, the modern condition of world, which Nietzsche described as a horizon (the horizon of God, traditional morality) wiped clean by a sponge---that existential terror of openness, which one avoids by flinging oneself into the predetermined forms, constructs, rules--Musil elsewhere describes them as the two dozen cake pans--is only revealed as open to us in special moments. Terrible, sublime, exceptional moments. In such states, the usual fabric of reality is torn; the usual scaffolds are seen to be merely stage props, temporary, ephemeral at best.

The point is not to deny normal reality, but to expand it. What Ulrich elsewhere calls "a tear in the paper" of normal reality, the mind loosened by a change or a vacation-mood, might precipitate the ability to see differently, though one often unfortunately loses the new insights, bit by bit as one reintegrates back into regular, dull life. A crime, too, is a means to such a tear in the paper--be it an artistic crime against formal stylistic rules, a crime against one's contemporary social morals, or a gratuitous act against expectations. A calamity such as the one we are collectively experiencing now can also incite new seeing. One does not wish for disasters, plagues, wars, or personal upheavals like heartbreak or the death of a loved one, but when they come, they do provide powerful opportunities for new seeing and experiencing.  New visions that can also lead to new ways of living and being together in the world.

Thursday, March 5, 2020

"Approaching New Consciousnesses": Interview by Greg Gerke on Musil, Translation, &c.


Greg Gerke, essayist and fiction writer, has interviewed me for The Los Angeles Review of Books. He asked wonderfully thought-provoking questions and helped me to understand some more of what I am doing with Musil and how it relates to my other work as an essayist.

GREG GERKE: You once wrote that you’d dedicated your life to Robert Musil. You’ve written your dissertation on him, translated two books of his writings, and are working on a third. Why Musil? How did this magnetism between his work and yourself come about? In your book The World as Metaphor, you talk about his “fascination with the mystical idea of the criminal act as a portal to new spiritual experiences,” something detailed in The Man Without Qualities, but already apparent in the two early novellas comprising Unions, “where acts that are normally considered abhorrent or anti-social are seen as possibly beneficial.” How does this idea play into your relation to Musil’s aesthetic possibilities?

GENESE GRILL: I remember first hearing Musil, in translation, at a reading given by Burton Pike at CUNY Graduate Center. It was the passage from The Man Without Qualities where Clarisse and Walter are playing the piano, their duet compared to the violent rush of two competing locomotives! In just a few sentences, the words had transported me from the concrete to the cosmic and back again, opening up multiple worlds and illuminating subtleties and contradictions in brilliant, rhythmically astounding prose. I went to the original German and began reading. At first, I was confused. It was like nothing else I had ever read. But in no time, Musil had gotten inside me, to the extent that all the questions his characters were asking seemed to be the very questions vital to my own existence. Here were characters who were not only searching for answers to the modern predicament of how to live ethically in a world of uncertain moorings and morals, but who were not satisfied with simplistic solutions that left out the aesthetic dimension of dynamics and chiaroscuro, the human need for a tension between what is given (status quo) and what might be (possibility) — a duality that Musil also configured as that between repeatability and crime.

READ THE REST HERE:

Greg's moving and insightful essay collection, See What I See, celebrating the aliveness we can cultivate through literature and film, and his fresh, uniquely-seen, and vivid short story collection, Especially the Bad Things, can be acquired here: https://www.thisissplice.co.uk/author/thisissplice-greggerke/ 

Thursday, February 13, 2020

#Musil2020 Days 32-45 Utopian Dreaming, the Millennium, Crime and Mysticism

Perhaps part of the reason that people tend to see Musil as a cynical satirist and scientific rationalist is that they do not continue reading The Man without Qualities beyond the first two books. One we move Into the Millennium (The Criminals), it would seem to be obvious that we are dealing with an Ulrich who is much more sympathetic to mystical experiences. And yet, there are many Musil scholars, well conversant with the entire book and the Nachlass, who feel terribly put out by the mystical passages and preoccupations of their very rational, scientific modern author. I wrote my doctoral dissertation on Musil's mysticism and it is not paranoid to suggest that the established world of Musil scholarship was not very welcoming at first to attention being drawn to such seemingly irrational matters, even if, as Ulrich explained, he was studying the road of holiness to see whether a truck could drive on it, even though Musil was clear that he was interested in something he called "Day-Bright Mysticism," and carefully ridiculed what he called "Schleuder-Mystik" (sort of like wishy-washy mysticism).

But Musil read deeply in mystical literature as well as in the psychology of primitive ritual practices and in the psychology of altered consciousness states. (You can read my general summary of all of this in a chapter called "The Other Musil," in A Companion to the Works of Robert Musil  https://boydellandbrewer.com/a-companion-to-the-works-of-robert-musil.html, which also contains many other helpful essays on Musil's life and works, in English!  But the central book, from which come many quotations and ideas discussed by Ulrich and Agathe, is Martin Buber's very popular anthology, Ecstatic Confessions, a collection of mystical writings from different traditions that influenced many Modernist writers.  The passage, "Throw everything you have into the fire, up to your shoes," for example, comes from this anthology. It is from the Sufi, Farid Attar's Conference of the Birds. Musil also read widely in contemporary mystical writings, such as Ludwig Klages's Von Kosmigonischer Eros, and despite the fact that he based the absurd character of Meingast on Klages, he took Klages's writing serious enough to explore his ideas in his notebooks and use some of them to develop his idea of 'the other condition" of experiencing. In the collection, Precision and Soul, translated and edited by David Luft and Burton Pike, Luft and Pike introduce Musil's 1914 essay, "Commentary on a Metaphysics," a review of Walter Rathenau's "On the Mechanics of Spirit," explaining that while Musil satires Rathenau (the model for Arnheim!) and his narrow view of ethics in the essay, Musil also "appreciates his attempts to describe the condition of mystical awakening that Musil would later refer to as "the other condition"". This other condition is described in detail in Musil's essay, "The German as Symptom," but Ulrich and Agathe's experiments, out beyond the border-line of what is natural, beyond good and evil, beyond the self and beyond objective rationality, are all explorations of Musil's realm of alternative experience.

I came to see, as I continued to explore the sources of Musil's brand of mysticism, that what interested him most about these models was not their religious or even metaphysical nature. He was not interested in transcending physical reality or materiality, and certainly not interested in breaking down reason, science, or clear thinking. In accordance with contemporary science and his experience as mathematician and student of physics and psychology, he wanted instead to expand the boundaries of what we consider real and true, by paying attention to moments of heightened clarity and to the role played by perception, parsing, Nietzschean perspectivism, psychic states, conceptualizing in ordering our communal reality. What this all led to, in my reading, was a fascination in mysticism as one of many models of alternative consciousness--he was also fascinated with madness!

But the central model of alternative consciousness that impelled Musil was Art. Art as the ultimate altered consciousness state, art as the impetus to heightened experience and new seeing, art as the means to make and remake and unmake our visions of the world. And, within Art, Metaphor was for Musil the ultimate powerful agent of alchemical action and reaction. (Thus the title of my book: The World as Metaphor).  Within this context, the incestuous relationship of the siblings, Ulrich and Agathe, is explained by Musil, in a letter to a disapproving reader, as the expression of a man who loves metaphors. Like and almost like, merging temporarily into one, a dissolution of boundaries, a fleeting Dionysian union of opposites.

So, Ulrich, having met his forgotten sister, his twin, his "self-love," his metaphoric other, begins to dream of the coming of the millennium, or of a golden age of paradisiacal ecstasy, wherein they could live the "motivated life," the life of literature, the heightened ethical and ecstatic state of the other condition wherein one cannot do wrong, wherein everything is flooded with meaning.  The vision is of a union of two people eventually spreading out to the whole world. He seems sometimes to dream about such an ecstatic state being lasting and permanent. But he also tells Agathe that "Belief cannot be an hour old". What are we to make of this? I write a lot about this paradox  in my book and in essays I wrote leading up to the book (you can get the gist of it here:  Metaphor as Extratemporal Moment in Robert Musil and ...numerocinqmagazine.com › 2014/02/06 › metaphor-as-extratemporal... So I will not elaborate here. But basically, the extratemporal moment, induced by the crime of metaphor (the union of like and unlike) is a timeless experience that enriches and renews normal life.

Many critics contend that Musil did not take seriously the utopia of the millennium or the other utopias he discusses in the drafts or his notes for the ending of the book. They contend that he would have shown them to be as absurd as the Parallel Campaign, which of course would end in the coming of the War. But I feel that they are judging Musil's other condition by standards which Musil, as sophisticated philosophical and scientific thinker, had long abandoned: standards of linear and limited time and space. Because the conditions of ecstasy cannot last (cannot be an hour old); because love fades, because we cannot live in a constant state of ecstatic motivation and meaning, they contend that these states are discredited and void. For Musil this was not so. These states represent the highest experiences of humankind--the experiences he denotes as art, literature, essayism, philosophical explorations of the conduct of life, of meaning, of aliveness.That they do not last is essential to their efficacy.

Their very fleetingness is part of what keeps them fresh, keeps them and us from ossifying into habit, pre-judgments, deadly acceptance of status quo. Because of their fleetingness, because of the oscillation between ecstasy and normalcy, such experiences serve to mediate between ideal and real life, between what is and what could be, between what must be and what might be. Since, as Musil knew, the utopian was the first person to be thrown out of any Utopia, because he is always imagining what could be different, the ecstatic adventurers, the criminals, the sibling-metaphoric-lover are bound to always be questioning any frozen condition of their own lives and their society's mores as a vital antidote to the soporific carelessness of what Nietzsche called "wretched contentment". The mystics, remember, often end up excommunicated by the orthodox churches or on the funeral pyre. They are criminals, artists, visionaries, utopians, vivifying sparks to light the sleeping world awake, over and over again.




Friday, January 31, 2020

#MUSIL2020 Days 29-31 On Repeatability and Crime, Congealed Metaphors, and Living Words



Chapters 113-115 were extremely important to my thinking (and feeling) about Musil. And since I have already written about them at length, I am going to just quote myself here.

The following is a long excerpt from Chapter 2 of my book, The World as Metaphor in Robert Musil's The Man without Qualities: Possibility as Reality (Camden House 2012). 


To sum up the positions: repeatability is what we find in nature; it is what we find inside our minds; it is an invented and arbitrary attempt to socialize and delimit imagination; it is the residue of unexamined received ideas; it is the echo of reverberating mythic truths; it is the starting point for experimental reinvigorating of the status quo through art and existential creativity; or it is a means of understanding the ineffable. Put yet another way: repeated forms are tiresome, excruciatingly boring, always the same; or deviations from these necessary constants can be conceived as crimes, crises, aberrations, or possible means of unraveling and rearranging all previously known forms and ideas. Musil entertained most ― if not all ― of these theories at various moments within the pages of his novel. The first part, Seinesgleichen geschieht (the like of it or selfsame now happens/pseudo reality prevails) and the second part Ins tausendjährige Reich (die Verbrecher) (Into the millennium (the criminals)), can be seen, respectively, as explorations of the way things repeat themselves (seinesgleichen geschieht) and the exceptions (conceptualized as crimes) to repeating or maintaining the status quo. Yet once this approximation is looked at more closely, a secondary question arises. Which is the crime: the process of forcing individual entities into the (possibly artificial) constructs of repeatable patterns? Or deviating and breaking out of these set structures?
According to some careful observers (such as Ernst Mach and Friedrich Nietzsche), nothing in nature ever exactly repeats itself. No two things are so like each other that they could be called by the same name or placed in the same category. It is only by leaving out or ignoring differences that we arrive at similarities, concepts, metaphors, categories. It is only by pretending that things and events repeat precisely that we can even begin to give experiences and objects names. As “belief,” in Ulrich and Agathe’s contention, “cannot be an hour old,” all “living” or meaningful entities or states of being are fleeting, eluding definition and denotation, mocking our attempts to describe and contain. The moment we have assigned a name to a feeling, a condition, or a characteristic to a person or a relationship, it has become something else altogether, something we may not even recognize. And yet we proceed, necessarily, as if things and persons and experiences were similar, same, like, predictable; as if they will act and feel and be more or less as they have acted and felt before.
While this necessarily imprecise vision or description of the world as a reassuringly constant (or frustratingly tedious, or mystically archetypal) cycle of repeatability may constitute a sort of crime against science and reason, radical deviations from these repeating patterns and expected cycles constitute another sort of crime or taboo-breaking. This transgression is thematically represented or enacted in Musil’s novel by deviations from the norm, “exceptional moments,” non-participation (as in the man without qualities), anti-social behavior (incest, forgery of a will, “dropping out” ― all committed by the sibling “criminals”); and formally enacted by the novel’s inherent resistance to closure, by its “crimes” against linearity, plot structure, and a dependable sense of reality within the fictional world.
            Repeatability and crime are relevant terms when we talk about aesthetic questions such as rhythm, dynamics, tempo, harmony, and discord. Yet, again, they are central terms for questions of ethics, action, laissez-faire conformity and revolutionary deviation or perversions. Musil’s stance as a “Möglichkeitsmensch” (man of possibility) may seem to place him soundly in the camp of existentialist agents of individual creation. But his perspective — based as much on his commitment to scientific principles as on philosophical or mystical and aesthetic presentiments — may actually be surprisingly more like that of Kant, who, as A. N. Wilson explains in his book God’s Funeral, “was trying to marry the twin truths: namely, that by the very process of perceiving and knowing, we invent our world; and also that this world has a reality of its own.”[i] In a note, Musil summarizes the paradox: “Kant: Begriffe ohne Anschauung sind leer. Anschauung ohne Begriff ist blind” (MoE, 1820; Kant: Concepts without observation are empty. Observation without concepts is blind). In another formulation he explores the question of how the phenomenological world interacts with the human mind: “In Wahrheit ist das Verhältnis der Aussen- zur Innenwelt nicht das eines Stempels, der in einen empfangenden Stoff sein Bild prägt, sondern das eines Prägstocks, der sich dabei deformiert, so dass sich seine Zeichnung, ohne dass ihr Zusammenhang zerrisse, zu merkwürdig verschiedenen Bildern verändern kann . . .” (MoE, 1435; In truth, the relationship between the outer and the inner world is not that of a stamp that presses into a receptive material, but that of an embosser that deforms itself in the process so that its design can be changed into remarkably different pictures without destroying its general coherence). The paradox is also finely stated by Nietzsche, who characterizes the “challenge of every great philosophy”: “which, when taken as a whole, always says only: This is the image of all life, and from this learn the meaning of your life! And conversely: Read only your own life, and from this understand the hieroglyphics of universal life.”[ii] As already discussed, Musil even describes an Ulrich who believes that humans do not create morality but uncover it:

Denn auch das war eine seiner Ansichten, dass die Moral nicht von den Menschen geschaffen wird und mit ihnen wechselt, sondern dass sie geoffenbart wird, dass sie in Zeiten und Zonen entfaltet wird, dass sie geradezu entdeckt werden könne. In diesem Gedanken, der so unzeitgemäss wie zeitgemäss war, drückte sich vielleicht nichts als die Forderung aus, dass auch die Moral eine Moral haben müsse, oder die Erwartung, dass sie sie im Verborgenen habe, und nicht bloss eine sich um sich selbst drehende Klatschgeschichte auf einem bis zum Zusammenbruch kreisenden Planeten sei. (MoE, 1413)

[For that too was one of his views, that morality is not made by people and does not change with them but is revealed; that it unfolds in seasons and zones and can actually be discovered. This idea, which was as out of fashion as it was current, expressed perhaps nothing but the demand that morality, too, have a morality, or the expectation that it have one hidden away, and that morality was not simply tittle-tattle revolving on itself on a planet circling to the point of implosion. (MwQ, 1534)]

This may, however, indicate more a species of wishful thinking that vainly hopes to salvage meaning for what might really be a planet spinning toward implosion. Perhaps, then, trying to ask whether Musil believed that the mind makes the world or the world the mind, or, to pose the question another way, whether individual subjective experience de-forms or in-forms the basis of reality or our functional human relation to the physical world, is simply the wrong question.[iii] As Antonio Porchia wrote, “Not believing has a sickness which is believing a little”[iv]; and with Musil, and his “friend” and protagonist Ulrich, we would do well to be sensitive to the almost constant fluctuations between the longing for solidity, repeatability, and significance, the fear of flux and meaninglessness, and the dread of monotonous, petrified dead words and experiences. Instead, then, we might look at Musil’s observations about and experiments with repeatability, mutatis mutandis, seinesgleichen geschieht, and the exceptions and interruptions to these recurring forms, in order to ask the question, not whether or which, but how, or by what process, does the human mind negotiate between these two extreme poles. How is the making of art, the writing of a novel, an especially fertile ground for practicing or carrying out this process? How, further, is this larger process repeated in all of our everyday choices, reflections, and impressions?
Significantly, this complex set of questions cannot be answered in a static context, that is, from any single or time-bound perspective. Instead, an understanding of Musil’s findings about repeatability, about its positive and negative possibilities and relationship to both art and life, to both aesthetics and ethics, is contingent upon two defining elements. These are the element of time (duration and fleetingness) and an element that I call “metaphoric transparency,” that is, the awareness of the necessarily metaphoric process of perception and description of reality. At one moment, in one form or context, a metaphor may be a cliché; at another it may be a tool for new seeing. If seen as durative fact, and not symbol, a repeated form is rigid and limiting. If understood as metaphor, it is a means to virtually infinite possibility.[v]
A pattern that endures and repeats is usually one that has outlasted its initial purpose; hence it is relegated to Musil’s realm of dead words or dead thoughts. For it is sure to always mean and be the same thing, no matter what the circumstances. A pattern that is fleeting, or experimental and not repeatable, is seen as fresh, utopian, creative, and invigorating, and belongs in the realm of living words and living thoughts so long as it does not try to last: “Worauf es ankommt, das lebendige Wort, das in die Seele greift: Voll Bedeutung u[nd] Beziehung im Augenblick, von Wille u[nd] Gefühl umflossen; im nächsten nichtssagend, obgleich es noch alles sagt, was sein Begriff enthält” (MoE, 1645; The point is, the living word, that takes hold of the soul: filled with meaning and relationship in the moment, surrounded by will and feeling; in the next moment saying nothing, although it still says everything that is contained in it conceptually ). We might also consider that the living word and the ecstatic experience it accompanies is a sort of absence of pattern, as it is characterized by a lifting of boundaries and categories, and by a Dionysian mixing of normally discrete elements. These exceptions, however, to seinesgleichen geschieht also seem to constitute a repeating pattern of their own. That pattern is dependably one wherein distinct patterns that have already been accepted are dissolved. They are, in a sense, un-moored moods, wherein the usual securities of definition and category are suspended or dissolved, but others are temporarily played with, arranged, and imagined.
In order to describe his Other Condition Musil thus gathers together examples of what Martin Buber, in his famous and popular anthology of eclectic mystical testimonials, called “Ecstatic Confessions,” finding their commonalities. Musil moves beyond even Buber’s mix of Eastern, Western, Sufi, Christian, Judaic, Protestant, and Buddhist mysticisms, associating these similar but also distinct narratives with other examples of such experiences from the realms of madness, child psychology, love, creative states, patriotism, war, the experience of art, nature enthusiasm, primitive ritual, ancient magic, Dionysian ecstasis, and more. While some may disapprove of such imprecise miscegenation of different cultures and concepts, especially under the hand of a writer and thinker valued for his precision and scientific accuracy, this “leaving out” of differences to arrive at a commonality or abstracted formal likeness is, of course, a necessary component of the metaphoric process. Finding commonality or correspondence between disparate entities, ideas, or images is precisely the criminal act of metaphor-making — an act whose processes and potentials are explicitly explained and modeled by Musil in his notes and novel.
            Associated with these other conditions of experience are those other types of anciently repeating patterns (mythologems, archetypes) that recur along recognizable lines (that is, Isis and Osiris as outline of brother and sister union; crime as holy ritual; naming as power and danger; conversion experience, eternal recurrence, and so on). These mythologems or archetypes are to be found repeatedly in Buber’s Ecstatic Confessions, along with the more personal and individual experiences described by the mystics, and Musil finds them in his studies of mental illness, love, primitive magic, social movements, nature mysticism, and art as well. They somehow seem not to lose their freshness and significance, perhaps because of the consciousness that they are to be understood as symbols (via metaphoric transparency). They invite infinite interpretation and they do not pretend to be substitutes for reality, remaining instead durative images or stories for contemplation and reverberating echo. These patterns may also endure by virtue of the action of the motif: “Motiv”, Musil writes, “ist, was mich von Bedeutung zu Bedeutung führt. Es geschieht etwas oder es wird etwas gesagt, und das vermehrt den Sinn zweier Menschenleben und verbindet sie durch den Sinn” (MoE, 1425; motif is what leads me from significance to significance. Something happens, or something is said, and that increases the meaning of two human lives and unites them through its meaning, MwQ, 1718). It recurs in different shapes, in infinite forms that share certain common themes or cores, which, however, by virtue of their changing, underline, rather than obscure, their symbolic nature and, along with this, the symbolic nature of all attempts to define and represent reality.
A posthumous early essay of Nietzsche’s, “Über Wahrheit und Lüge im außermoralischen Sinn” (On truth and lying in a non-moral sense), seems to clearly elucidate the theory of metaphoric deviation and repeatability expressed in The Man without Qualities. This essay, which passages in Musil’s novel explicitly echo in both concept and phraseology, describes Nietzsche’s genealogy of the human development of values, as a belief that all knowledge and representation of the world is metaphoric. Truth, he writes, “is a mobile army of metaphors, metonymies, anthropomorphisms, in short a sum of human relations which have been subjected to poetic and rhetorical intensifications, translation, and decoration.”[vi] Humans are constantly creating reality, constantly constructing edifices of concepts upon which really airy unstable things we foolishly rest our lives. Nietzsche writes:

Let us consider in particular how concepts are formed; each word immediately becomes a concept, not by virtue of the fact that it is intended to serve as a memory (say) of the unique, utterly individualized, primary experience to which it owes its existence, but because at the same time it must fit countless other, more or less similar cases, i.e. cases which, strictly speaking, are never equivalent, and thus nothing other than non-equivalent cases. Every concept comes into being by making equivalent that which is non-equivalent.[vii]

He then gives the example of the concept of leaf, “which is formed by dropping the individual differences” between one leaf and another, and points out that the word “snake” only designates one of the snake’s attributes, leaving out many other important characteristics, and could just as easily be used to describe a worm, whose movements also “snake.” Thus all words, when they are taken as absolute descriptions and not metaphors, are confining categorizations which threaten to limit our understanding and perception of individual objects or ideas. We use words to describe the world to ourselves and each other. Inasmuch as these words dissolve rather than illuminate differences, language becomes a force of depersonalization and conformity. As Musil laments,

Das Leben wurde immer gleichförmiger und unpersönlicher. In alle Vergnügungen, Erregungen, Erholungen, ja selbst in die Leidenschaft drang etwas Typenhaftes, Mechanisches, Statistisches, Reihenweises ein. . . . Der Kunstwille war sich schon selbst beinahe verdächtig geworden. (MoE, 1093)

[Life was becoming more and more homogeneous and impersonal. Something mechanical, stereotypical, statistical, and serial was insinuating itself into every entertainment, excitement, recreation, even into the passions. . . . The will to art had already become more or less suspicious. (MwQ, 1189)]

This conforming, mechanizing, force is, of course, related to the problem of being “without qualities,” a “Zeitkrankheit” (an illness of the times) which, like metaphor and pattern, can be both a formula for atrophying and losing of individuality and creativity, or a possibility, an openness that allows for infinite variations. The language crisis of the turn of the last century, characterized by Hofmannsthal’s “Lord Chandos Letter,” by philosophical skepticism about the relationship between words and the things they purported to signify, tended to place language under suspicious scrutiny, often culminating in a judgment of wholesale bankruptcy of language’s ability to communicate, express, or bridge the hopelessly subjective idiolect of each individual mind.[viii] At the same time, however, modernist authors, Musil in the forefront, were actively working to reenergize this suspect language. Writers and artists used the non-didactive aesthetic means at their disposal to effectively communicate subjective experience, all-too-literal, non-transferable ideas and experiences, via metaphor, image, and formal arrangement. Language can, and all too often does, enable clichéd seeing, and, indeed, a realization of the distance between words and “true” things (whatever those might be) often does create a sense of disturbance or existential nausea. Yet it is also the case, despite alienation and clear-seeing, that language has the capacity to be one of the most powerful existentially charged means of reestablishing a sense of oneness with the world and some sense of meaning. Why else does Sartre’s Roquentin decide that his only possible path to a purposeful life lies in writing a novel? Why else does Ulrich lay out his possibilities similarly under the trio: suicide, going to war, writing books?
            All too often Nietzsche’s epigones seem to have listened to only the first part of his message, and are so excited by the destruction of values and traditions and the thrill of the imminent abyss that they do not stay long enough to take in the all-important next step after the iconoclastic orgy. After the idols are smashed, Nietzsche encourages us to create more forms — forms that, as long as we constantly remind ourselves that we have created them ourselves, do not become idols but are, nevertheless, beautiful and meaningful in their very affirmation of creative energy.
While our vision of the world as solid and fixed is, according to Nietzsche, a devolution, on the one hand, from fruitful conscious metaphor-making to forgetful and rigid concept acceptance or idées reçus, he emphatically celebrates the persistence of artistic re-forming and reinventing of living metaphors that are irrepressibly at odds with the con-forming, atrophying tendency of comfort-seeking society. This creative work is ― more than the deconstructing necessary before the lifetime of rebuilding and rebuilding ― the point of Nietzsche’s critique of truth and lying. Another significant parallel to this theme is Oscar Wilde’s essay “The Decay of Lying,” which celebrates the artistic lie within the context of the reign of naturalism and realism. Artistic lying becomes, in Wilde’s hands, a form of higher truth-telling, insofar as it subtly undermines the credibility of so-called truth by its emphasis on perception, imagination, and subjectivity. Thus one of the artist’s tasks is to expand our seeing of individual objects or experiences by deliberately dissolving the boundaries or limitations of dead words or designations. As Proust’s narrator declares while speaking of Elstir’s paintings in Remembrance, he was able to discern that

        the charm of each of [the seascapes] lay in a sort of metamorphosis of the objects represented,            analogous to what in poetry we call metaphor, and that, if God the Father had created things by            naming them, it was by taking away their names or giving them other names that Elstir created            them anew . The names which designate things correspond invariably to an intellectual notion,            alien to our true impression, and compelling us to eliminate from them everything that is not in            keeping with that notion.[ix]

Emerson, in his journal, writes similarly of how language, specifically naming, emphasizes at will various attributes of reality:

      The metamorphosis of nature shows itself in nothing more than this; that there is no word in our          language that cannot become typical to us of nature by giving it emphasis. The world is a                    Dancer; it is a Rosary; it is a Torrent; it is a Boat, a Mist, a Spider’s Snare; it is what you will;              and the metaphor will hold. . . . Swifter than light, the world transforms itself into that thing you          name.[x]

While language can indeed work to obscure the very large gap between things and words, it can also bring that distance into fruitful relief. This more positive process is the part that informs Musil’s life’s work as a “Wort-macher” (word-maker)[xi] and leads him to employ the designation Vinzenz, in Musil’s farce, uses to describe his career and the creative aspect of naming described by Emerson. A word-maker, emphatically not a person who uses words already made by others, is explicitly engaged in the modernist project of reclaiming language for meaningful use. New repeating patterns are needed, new patterns that call attention to the fact that they are not to be “taken at their word,” or literally, but that they are provisional, changing, never meaning exactly the same thing to all people at all times. As Musil writes, “Gott meint die Welt keineswegs wörtlich” (MoE, 570; God doesn’t mean the world literally at all, MwQ, 388), which in no way necessarily devalues the world.
In his essay “The Poet,” Emerson makes a distinction between the mystic, who nails a symbol to one meaning, and a poet, who knows that every sensuous fact (that is, empirically perceived element of the physical world) has multiple meanings. The “poet,” in other words, knows that each individual thing can be described by a multitude of words and each word can be said to describe a multitude of things. Ulrich explains to an advice-seeking Diotima that the process of metaphor-making, described elsewhere by Proust as “eliminating from [things] everything that is not in keeping with” a chosen notion,[xii] is, indeed, the basis of literature. But, he continues, it may not be a dependable way to understand the world or how we should live, or, rather, it cannot be read as a system with consistent results in every situation:

“Haben Sie schon ja einen Hund gesehen?”fragte er. “Das glauben Sie bloss! Sie haben immer nur etwas gesehen, das Ihnen mit mehr oder weniger Recht als ein Hund vorkam.[S6]  Es hat nicht alle Hundeigenschaften, und irgendetwas Persönliches hat es, das wieder kein anderer Hund hat. Wie sollen wir da je im Leben das Richtige’  tun?” (MoE, 572, emphasis mine)

[“Have you ever seen a dog?” he asked. “You only think you have. What you see is only something you feel more or less justified in regarding as a dog. It isn’t a dog in every respect, and always has some personal quality no other dog has. So how can we ever hope, in this life, to do ‘the right thing’? (Emphasis mine, MwQ, 624)]

This surprising juxtaposition of an analysis of language with a question of right conduct is a flagrant revelation: form, words, and their relationship to our perception and our modes of expression have everything to do with ethics. As Musil repeatedly notes: aesthetics and ethics are one. The seemingly harmless process of synecdoche, taking the part for the whole or the whole for the part, is thus oddly inhibiting to discovering a right conduct of life ― “how can we ever hope, in this life, to do ‘the right thing’?” ― because we can never know, by observing generalizations, what will be the most important element in a particular case. Ulrich continues:

Oder man findet gewisse Steine und nennt sie wegen ihren gemeinsamen Eigenschaften Diamant . . . Alles hat Teil am Allgemeinen, und noch dazu ist es besonders. Alles ist wahr und noch dazu ist es wild und mit nichts vergleichbar. Das kommt mir so vor, als ob das Persönliche eines beliebigen Geschöpfes gerade das wäre, was mit nichts anderem übereinstimmt. (MoE, 572)

[Or else you find certain stones, and because of the properties they have in common they are all regarded as diamonds . . . Everything partakes of the universal and also has something special all its own. Everything is both true to type and is in a category all its own, simultaneously. The personal quality of any given creature is precisely that which doesn’t coincide with anything else. (MwQ, 624)]

Further, he compares the process to that of literature reception and literature construction. When you read, he tells his cousin: “Ihre Auffassung lässt aus, was Ihnen nicht passt. Das gleiche hat der Autor getan” (MoE, 573; You leave out whatever doesn’t suit you. As the author himself has done before you, MwQ, 625). Moving back and forth from literature to life (ironically on another level as well, since the conversation takes place within a work of literature), he concludes,saying: “Wenn wir also, wie ich gesagt habe, in der Dichtung einfach auslassen, was uns nicht passt, so tun wir damit nichts anderes, als dass wir den ursprünglichen Zustand des Lebens wiederherstellen” (MoE, 574; when we simply leave out in art whatever doesn’t suit our conceptions, we’re merely going back to the original condition of life itself, MwQ, 627). He adds that this process is true for all the concepts “auf die wir unser Leben stützen . . .” (MoE, 574; on which we base our lives, MwQ, 627). All these concepts, he writes, “sind nichts als erstarren gelassene Gleichnisse” (are no more than congealed metaphors, MwQ, 626). “Congealed metaphors” are certainly cousin to what Nietzsche calls in his essay the “residue of metaphors,” warning that “the fact that a metaphor becomes hard and rigid is absolutely no guarantee of the necessary and exclusive justification of that metaphor.”[xiii]
In precisely a “moment” within The Man without Qualities, wherein two concepts, “Gewalt und Liebe für Ulrich wieder nicht ganz die gewöhnlichen Begriffe [haben] (MoE, 591; violence and love do not have quite their conventional meaning, MwQ, 645), it occurs to Ulrich that “das Leben — zum Platzen voll Einbildung auf sein Hier und Jetzt, letzten Endes aber ein sehr ungewisser, ja ausgesprochen unwirklicher Zustand! — sich in die paar Dutzend Kuchenformen stürzt, aus denen die Wirklichkeit besteht” (MoE, 591; life ― bursting with conceit over its here-and-now but really a most uncertain, even a downright unreal condition ― pours itself headlong into the few dozen cake molds of which reality consists, MwQ, 645). The fact that two concepts temporarily lose their conventional meaning here, and that they do this within a moment, is another reflection of the fruitful and extratemporal nature of some types of metaphor. Paradoxically, the insight that is born is that metaphor can be reductive as well as rich in possibilities. These few dozen molds, which constitute one way in which people and authors metaphorically translate reality, are clearly somewhat restrictive; they seem to limit rather than expand imagination and, by association, the possibilities of literature and life. We have to differentiate however, between these “congealed metaphors,” which Ulrich mocked in his discussion with Diotima, metaphors that are more like clichés or tired concepts, and another fresher, more immediate species of newly minted juxtapositions.
Proust’s narrator, Marcel, famously, in the waiting room at the Guermante’s mansion, is inundated repeatedly by a series of metaphoric correspondences and sense-memories (paving stones, clanking spoons, textures of cloth) that make him believe for the first time that he can write. Marcel notes the sudden transmutation from real world to the realm of fairy tale after wiping his mouth with a napkin that reminds him of a towel from his past life: “Immediately, like the character in The Arabian Nights who unwittingly performs precisely the rite that calls up before him, visible to his eyes alone, a docile genie, ready to transport him far away, a fresh vision of azure blue passed before my eyes. . . .”[xiv]
The sudden perception of a fresh correspondence between two separate entities transports Proust’s narrator — and Ulrich as well —from their present time-bound world into the extra-temporal like magic. Such correspondence cannot, according to both theorists of metaphor, be bidden, it cannot be logically prepared for, but when it comes, it comes with a beatific force that temporarily blots out everything else. While there may be only limited petrified realities (heavy and fixed as stone) or formal arrangements invented out of the pragmatic necessity of the pursuance of normal life and the continuation of some semblance of narrative, there seem to be infinite possibilities for the extra-temporal legerdemain of metaphoric displacement — to effortlessly topple centuries of tradition, discombobulate time lines, or to magically translate a dreamer from a post-First World War Parisian drawing room to a hovering trans-historical magic carpet.
Metaphor― the act of making equivalent that which is not equivalent ― is a sort of  category mistake, a deviation. More importantly for the creation and valuation of literature, metaphor, as Paul Ricoeur writes, “bears information because it ‘redescribes’ reality.” “Thus,” he continues, “the category mistake is the de-constructive intermediary phase between the description and the redescription.”[xv] Metaphor, in other words, being inherent in the creation of any fictional world, involves a critique of the “real” world as prerequisite to a redescription. The destruction (as with Nietzsche) is, however, only the preliminary to re-creation. By connecting Ricoeur’s work on metaphor with his work on narrative and time, we may note that fictional time, in his conception, is a metaphoric redescription of cosmological and historical time, which explores “the resources of phenomenological time that are left unexploited or are inhibited by historical narrative . . . These hidden resources of phenomenological time,” Ricoeur continues, “and the aporias which their discovery gives rise to, form the secret bond between the two modalities of narrative [fictive and historical]. Fiction,” he concludes, “is a treasure trove of imaginative variations applied to the theme of phenomenological time and its aporias.”[xvi]
While all novels thus bear a metaphoric relationship (as imaginative variation) with reality, in The Man without Qualities and in Remembrance of Things Past we are presented with more than just two simple or self-contained redescriptions of the world. In addition to performing the normal metaphorical function vis-à-vis reality, metaphor in these works takes on a more specialized role, that of presenting further imaginative variations to the basic imaginative variation of each fictional world itself. This multiple undoing reflects strikingly back upon life from the realm of literature by its explicit questioning of all attempts to make order and to tell stories in a strictly linear order. As Musil wrote in response to a criticism leveled against the relative plotlessness of his novel, “Das Problem: wie komme ich zum Erzählen, ist sowohl mein stilistisches wie das Lebensproblem der Hauptfigur. . .” (The problem: how shall I come to narration, is as much my stylistic problem as it is the life problem of the main character).[xvii]  Both novels wage their own wars on normal reality: Ulrich, when asked what he would do if he could rule the world for the day, announces, “Es würde mir wohl nichts übrigbleiben, als die Wirklichkeit abzuschaffen!” (MoE, 289; I suppose I would have no choice but to abolish reality, MwQ, 312); Marcel, for his part, declares that art alone can reveal to us “our life, life as it really is, life disclosed and at last made clear, consequently the only life that is really lived. . . .”[xviii]
Metaphoric thinking is thus an alternative to what Ulrich describes as longing for

die einfache Reihenfolge, die Abbildung der überwältigenden Mannigfaltigkeit des Lebens in einer eindimensionalen, wie ein Mathematiker sagen würde, was uns beruhigt; die Aufreihung alles dessen, was in Raum und Zeit geschehen ist, auf einen Faden, eben jenen berühmten “Faden der Erzählung,” aus dem nun also auch der Lebensfaden besteht. (MoE, 650)

[the simple sequence of events in which the overwhelmingly manifold nature of things is represented, in a unidimensional order, as a mathematician would say, stringing all that has occurred in space and time on a single thread, which calms us; that celebrated “thread of the story,” which is, it seems, the thread of life itself. (MwQ, 709)]

Although, he continues to muse, people love the illusion of this logical ordering of cause and effect, and look to it “im Chaos geborgen” (as their refuge from chaos), he notes that “ihm dieses primitiv Epische abhanden gekommen sei, woran das private Leben noch festhält, obgleich öffentlich alles schon unerzählerisch geworden ist und nicht einem ‘Faden’ mehr folgt, sondern sich in einer unendlich verwobenen Fläche ausbreitet” (MoE, 650; he had lost this elementary, narrative mode of thought to which private life still clings, even though everything in public life has already ceased to be narrative and no longer follows a thread, but instead spreads out as an infinitely interwoven surface, MwQ, 709). In a modernist novel that has lost that “elementary, narrative mode,” one can see the function of metaphor as the creation of an almost infinite number of expanding thought moments, decentralized, non-repeating nodes, within the “infinitely interwoven surface,” which assert convincing alternatives to the comforting illusion of the “thread of the story.”


[i] Wilson, God’s Funeral, 20.
[ii] Nietzsche, Untimely Meditations, 141.
[iii] See Harrison, “Two questions immediately arise: Does this functional process of impersonal structures afford any opportunity at all for individual expression? Or is the personal, subjective domain structured just as mechanically as the setting in which it operates?” And further, in response to Ulrich’s famous statements that he would abolish reality and that God does not mean the world literally, Harrison maintains, “In fact, only when taken literally does the figurative process of life degenerate into a petrified mass of formulas, correlates of an inflexible reality principle. And that is precisely when one should think of abolishing it. One must abolish the real and ‘regain possession of unreality. ‘To regain possession of reality would mean to erase all the congealed metaphors . . . It would mean recalculating the sum of unreal and unspirited reality principles in accordance with the selective principle of artist and reader, who leave out of the story everything they have no use for.” “All of these are metaphors for metaphor itself, for experience as a figurative process, in which repossessing oneself of unreality means nothing less than restoring the ‘primal condition of life’ . . . It is easy to see that this restoration envisions art as the real task of life, art ‘as life’s metaphysical activity’ [Nietzsche]. One should stress, however, that this vision implies neither an aestheticist negation of nor subjective flight from the objective order of things. For it is the objective order itself that contains this ‘nonsensical yearning for unreality [Unwirklichkeit] as the motivating principle of its constitution.” Harrison, ““Suspension of the World,” 35–36; 41, 42.
[iv] Porchia, Voices, 9.
[v] Thomas Sebastian notes that Musil does not “distinguish precisely between metaphor and synecdoche. Both fall under the general title of analogy. To ‘leave things out’ by taking a ‘part for the whole’ is the way the ‘pseudo reality’ (seinesgleichen) comes about in which, according to Ulrich’s observations, people pass their lives. The figurative assimilation is, in fact, a necessary condition for having something to hold onto at all, for holding the chaos at bay . . . However . . . any wholeness is an oscillating figure . . . to be utterly precise, it would ultimately seem to make any order or figuration impossible. It would make impossible any meaningful action. . . .” Sebastian, Intersection of Science and Literature, 46.
[vi] Friedrich Nietzsche, “On Truth and Lying,” 874–84; here 878.
[vii] Nietzsche, “On Truth and Lying,” 878, emphasis mine.
[viii] See, for example, Walter Sokel’s discussion of Musil and Sartre and the atrophying role of language, which “blocks,” he writes, “the path to varied perspectives” (Der Weg zur Perspektivenvielfalt). Sokel, “Musil und die Existenzphilosophie Jean-Paul Sartres,” 674. “For Musil as for Sartre, language fosters that cliché-like seeing, a thinking in narrowly fixed, stable mono-meanings, with which we create the illusion that we are “at home” in the world. The signifiers are orientation signs that make the signified objects seem familiar. As soon as we become aware, from whatever cause, that that which is signified is not at all identical with the “true” things outside, the world begins to become alienating.” Sokel, “Musil und die Existenzphilosophie Jean-Paul Sartres,” 674. What Sokel does not, however, mention in this essay, is that language has another role as well, a role that determines Musil’s and Sartre’s chosen life-work as writers.
[ix] Marcel Proust, Remembrance, 1:628.
[x] Emerson, Journals and Miscellaneous Notebooks, 23.
[xi] Robert Musil, “Vinzenz and the Mistress of Important Men,” act 1.
[xii] Proust, Remembrance 1:628: “The names which denote things correspond invariably to an intellectual notion, alien to our true impressions, and compelling us to eliminate from them everything that is not in keeping with itself.”
[xiii] Nietzsche, “On Truth and Lying,” 880.
[xiv] Proust, Remembrance, 2:993.
[xv] Ricoeur, Rule of Metaphor, 22.
[xvi] Ricoeur, Time and Narrative, vol. 3, 128.
[xvii] KA: Lesetexte. Band 19: Wiener und Berliner Korrespondenz 1919–1938. 1931. Robert Musil an Bernard Guillemin, 26. Januar 1931.
[xviii] Proust, Remembrance, 2:1013.



Tuesday, January 28, 2020

#MUSIL2020 DAYS 22-28 MUSIL, CALASSO, SCAPE GOATS & SACRIFICE

Roberto Calasso
I have been reading Roberto Calasso's The Ruin of Kash alongside my daily The Man without Qualities. Even though they are very different (where Calasso is gnomic and mystical, Musil is lucid and acerbic; where Calasso is profound and devastating, Musil is light and humorous), they are also very similar, both circling around similar questions: what are the driving demonic forces that create the dynamics of societies and history? What primal and ancient instincts lay below the seemingly civilized structures of the modern world? What does it mean for modern society that we have lost our conscious connection to the mythic, the ritualistic, the religious? How much of what we do and say is a hypocritical blind cover for these ever-present and recurring forces? And, maybe most similar and most important: how do we harness these forces to reanimate ourselves and our world to be more fiercely alive and awake as if in conscious vigilance against the soporific, depressing, moribund half-life of zombie capitalism and contemporary social reality? What does sacrifice, crime, violence, language, art have to do with this possible salvation? I knew that Calasso knew Musil and honored him; but yesterday I found a passage in The Man without Qualities that must have directly influenced Calasso's work (passage below).

I am not going to try to explicate Calasso, since I am never really sure I understand what he wants or advocates in The Ruin of Kash. I am in love with the book. And when I am reading, I think I understand; but then when I awake from it and try to explain, it eludes me like a dream (which may be part of the point of what it "means"); but when he talks about Sacrifice (a central theme of the book), I think I understand the following:

Civilization has always existed in contract with something that has often been called The Divine and which might also be understood as Nature. In order to be able to live more or less untroubled by the gods or the demonic forces of Nature, people have had to sacrifice things, people, surplus to the gods or to Nature, to ward away danger and to ward away the chaotic undifferentiated ALL from which civilization and individuation springs.

Without giving something up, without sacrificing something, often violently, there can be no civilization. We tear the crops from the ground and we kill animals to eat; we break ground to build cities; we wage wars over territory and resources; we battle opposing ideologies; we separate one thing from another to make definitions; we use words to come together in communication, but these words also divide the undifferentiated. We turn Nature to our own uses, but if we do not give Nature something back, she will take it herself.

He tells the story of the end of sacrifice as ritual conscious activity, the story called "the ruin of Kash," culled from Frobenius. A long cycle of sacrificial kingship, whereby all the kings of Kash were killed along with their chosen associates whenever the royal astrologers named the day, is interrupted by the powers of a storyteller, who puts the king and the astrologers under the spell of story (of language and poetry or soma) so that they miss their vigil recording the movements of the stars. The storyteller and the king's sister (who are both bound to die with the king) are in love and they scheme to end the cycle of sacrifices. And succeed. But only for a while. The storyteller becomes the new king, who dies a normal death...but with him the kingdom of Kash and its legendary and ancient wealth and power also die. "The Legend of Kash teaches us," write Calasso, in his usual cryptic style, "that sacrifice is the cause of ruin, but that the absence of sacrifice is also the cause of ruin".

The dynamic tension between civilization and the divine, between the differentiated and the undifferentiated, is a recurring and unavoidable cycle. But the modern world has forgotten the divine and forgotten nature and is unaware that the process of sacrifice continues without our knowledge or prayers or devotion. Nevertheless, sacrifices continue; as his long descriptions of the French Revolution and the Red Terror and Counter-Revolution demonstrate. Is he saying that these blood sacrifices are bad, because unconscious or are they good because they are sacrifices? He clearly is critical of the French Revolution and what he characterizes as the equalizing totalitarian vulgarity of its proponents; but is that because they mistakenly believed that their bloodshed was rational and not mystical? That they foolishly believed that their violent acts would fix the world, once and for all, removing the bad elements and installing perpetual utopia? Calasso is clear enough on one thing: Sacrifice as conscious ritual activity or as blind secular sacrifice are both inevitable and a necessary prerequisite for being alive. Maybe that is all we have to understand. Or, more importantly: this could be a warning against ascribing to any movement or ideology which professes it will once and for all remove all dark and dangerous things; and an incitement to appreciate that without darkness and violence (in one form or another---and the question of which form is important!) we have no light and no life. To do away with difference, tension, danger is to prepare for death and a return to undifferentiated sleep. To do this prior to death is to create a dystopian land of zombies.

But, as mentioned above, I found the following passage about sacrifice in my Musil reading yesterday, which may help us to understand both writers better:

"The world apparently needs its negative entities, images of the unwanted, which attract to themselves all the disgust and disharmony, all the slag of a smoldering fire, such as life tends to leave behind. Out of all that 'could be' there suddenly crystallizes, to the stunned amazement of everyone concerned, the 'it is', and whatever drops away during this disorderly process, whatever is unsuitable, superfluous, unsatisfying, seems to coagulate into the vibrant universal hatred agitating all living creatures that is apparently so characteristic of our present civilization, which compensates for all our lack of satisfaction with ourselves by allowing us to feel that easy satisfaction so readily inspired by everyone else.Trying to isolate specific  scapegoats for the displeasure is merely part of the oldest psychotechnical bag of tricks known to man. Just as the medicine man drew the carefully prepared fetish from his patient's body, the good Christian projects his own faults onto the good Jew, whom he accuses of seducing him into committing advertisements, high interest rates, newspapers, and all that sort of thing. In the course of time people have blamed their troubles on bad weather, witches, socialists, intellectuals, generals, and in the years before the Great War, Austrians saw a most welcome scapegoat of this sort in Prussian Germany. Unfortunately, the world has lost not only God but the Devil as well. As it projects its unwanted evil onto the scapegoat, so it projects its desired good onto ad hoc ideal figures, which it reveres for doing what it finds inconvenient to do for itself. We let others perform the hard tricks as we watch from our seats: that is sport. We let others talk themselves into the most one-sided exaggerations: that is idealism. We shake off evil and make those who are spattered with it our scapegoats. It is one way of creating an order in the world, but this technique of hagiolatry and fattening the scapegoats by projection is not without danger, because it fills the world with all the tensions of unresolved inner conflicts. People alternately kill each other or swear eternal brotherhood without quite knowing just how real any of it is, because they have projected part of themselves onto the outer world and everything seems to be happening partly out there in reality and partly behind the scenes, so that we have an illusory fencing match between love and hate. The ancient belief in demons, which made heavenly-hellish spirits responsible for all the good and bad that came one's way, worked much better, more accurately, more tidily, and we can only hope that, as we advance in psychotechnology, we shall make our way back to it" (560, emphasis mine).