Friday, September 16, 2011

Robert Musil and the Nonmodern

 Robert Musil and the Nonmodern by Mark Freed

Although a British scholar has panned Freed's book on the IRMG website in a review written in German, accusing him of shallow scholarship, errors, and generally of the sin of being American, Freed's book is a fascinating attempt to bring Musil's philosophical and aesthetic thought into contact with some concerns of contemporary theory. While, indeed,  Freed's book cannot be considered a thorough reading of Musil's work or thought or of Musil's own milieu or concerns, it does make a brave leap toward incorporating Musil into contemporary theoretical and philosophical discourse where his ideas are, not surprisingly, proven to be relevant and in many ways prescient.
Freed's attempt to situate Musil in a new theoretical space which he calls the "nonmodern" is one answer to the question of whether Musil is to be considered proto-Postmodern or  unapologetically Modernist. Musil, who never liked to belong to any group or ism at all, but who recognized that we must occasionally bring slightly disparate things together to "bring beauty and meaning into the world" (if not merely to provide academics with something to argue about), really best belongs, in my own view, within the "ism" of the Modern.  Freed's book did not manage to change my mind, but it did offer some interesting insights on the question. I must admit that I found myself occasionally very frustrated over the course of reading, particularly whenever Freed seemed to be picking up ideas from former Musil scholarship without, or so it seemed, bothering to do his own deep reading or analysis of the issues. He leaned heavily on Patrizia McBride's 2006 book, The Void of Ethics: Robert Musil and the Experience of Modernity, which was a fine choice, since McBride's book is, in fact, a deep and complex reading of Musil.  Do not, in other words, pick up Freed's book for a complex fresh analysis of Musil, but rather for a freshly complex use of Musil's thought which illuminates contemporary discourse. Freed should be congratulated, not excoriated, for beginning to build a bridge between the European Germanists and contemporary American theory.
Here is a link to a blurb of Freed's book: <>.

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