Saturday, September 17, 2011

On Ludwig Klages, Mysticism, and Irony

I just read Heinz-Peter Preusser's brilliant (!) essay in the new Musil-Forum on the influence of the philosopher, mystic, psychologist, poet, Ludwig Klages on The Man Without Qualities (Die Masken des Ludwig Klages: Figurenkonstellation als Kritik und Adaption befremdlicher Ideen in Robert Musils Roman Der Mann ohne Eigenschaften). Preusser reads beyond most other studies by examining the constellation of ironic distance effected by Musil's practice of distributing one person's ideas or characteristics among many different characters in the novel. While, in other words, Klages is known to be the source for the absurd prophet Meingast in the novel, this doesn't simply mean that Musil discredited Klages' philosophy. In fact, Preusser demonstrates that the opposite is true, that, in fact, Musil's concept of "the other condition" is clearly traceable to Klages' book on cosmogonic eros. While this in itself is not a new discovery, Preusser's presentation makes a strong argument for seeing this influence not as a count against Musil's mystical tendencies, but, rather, as an incentive to reevaluate the centrality of the "other condition" and its accompanying realms of the aesthetic, the contemplative, etc., in the novel. Preusser claims that a deeper understanding of Klages' idea of the "pathic" personality as basis for the novel's philosophical tendencies would provide a new and very different reading. While he does not explicitly say what this reading is, it is clear that this reading involves a reevaluation of Musil's relationship to mysticism and of his ultimate ideas about the "other condition" and, as Preusser's last sentence suggest, of the essential role of aesthetics in Musil's philosophical world picture. Indeed, Preusser writes early on in his essay that anyone "who reads the novel carefully"will notice that Ulrich distances himself from the polarization of exact and non-exact  as the novel progresses, and that, contrary to a general assumption that Musil and Ulrich are rational logicians and scientific thinkers, Musil makes clear that there had always been something inside himself (and his hero) that resisted logic and the directed drive toward something worldly, pragmatic, rational.
 Preusser has done the hard and probably none too pleasant work of slogging through Klages' prose to provide us with a complex and nuanced analysis of his idea of the "pathic" condition, a state of mind wherein the Self dissolves and gives itself up to something higher, to the world-all, the image, nature, or something which Klages considers an ur-phenomenon. While we can clearly see the relationship of this lifting of the boundaries of self, this will-lessness or qualitilessness, as similar to Musil's "other condition," the idea that there could be some absolute primary form, an essence, or Ur-image is, I would argue, a fundamentally tricky issue in the novel and, of course, in Modernist philosophy. Preusser passes over it without too much comment, but it certainly bears more analysis. Preusser clarifies that the "pathic"condition is, like "the other condition," fleeting and unrepeatable, but he does not discuss that this fleetingness is in constant tension with the idea of a constant truth or single Ur-phenomenon.
In addition to the "pathic" as model, Preusser discusses the model of Klages' "cosmogonisher eros," an eros which is not directed to possession and not driven by desires. It is an eros traceable in many descriptions within the novel, particularly in the love between the siblings Ulrich and Agathe, which is often described as a longing without end, a non-grasping, ego-less love which culminates in a unio mystica, a "Verschmelzung"or melting of the separated individuations of Ulrich and Agathe, but which cannot possibly last.
Preusser traces the biographical foundations of the Meingast character to Klages' personality (as well as another real figure by the name of Siecynski), but shows that Klages' ideas themselves are not present in Meingast. Klages' ideas appear elsewhere in the novel, distributed through various voices and persons as a sort of camouflage which allows Musil to utilize the ideas while distancing himself from those aspects of them which he found distasteful or disturbing. This distancing includes, as Preusser points out, moments in Musil's notes where he specifically writes that Ulrich rejected Klages' ideas; but rather than take these comments at face value as most readers have done, Preusser more subtly elucidates the pattern of Musil's ambivalence, which continually critiques that which he holds dear. By looking at the whole novel and Musil's earnest handling of Klages' ideas, we see these occasional criticisms dramatically called into question. In similar fashion, in my forthcoming book, I warn against reading isolated passages in Musil's notes and drafts out of context. While there are passages where he declares the "other condition" a failure, or where he considers giving up all that had ever seemed meaningful to him, within the larger context of the novel drafts, these statements read as ambivalence, perspectivism, and temporary testing of positions, if not a camouflage of irony. Of irony, Preusser writes, "it always carries along that which it wanted to throw off". Indeed, as Antonio Porchia writes, "Not believing has a sickness, which is believing a little". In Musil's case, as anyone who reads the novel and its many drafts carefully will see, the proportion may actually be turned on its head, despite our modern prejudice against aesthetics, mysticism, and the irrational, despite Musil's careful camouflage and ironic distance, despite his training as scientist and mathematician. The sheer amount (numerically, objectively measurable) of earnest and sympathetic involvement, in his notes on the many sources which influenced his concept of the "other condition," in the similarly traceable presence of these ideas in the novel itself, along with an objective assessment of Musil's commitment to art, to being a "Dichter" instead of a philosopher, logician, scientist, or mathematician, is evidence enough that he took the realms of mysticism, poetry, the irrational, very seriously,i.e., more than "a little," despite their occasional association with even sloppy thinkers, and murkiness. Preusser's analysis of the masks of Ludwig Klages is a detailed close reading of  Musil's complex process of transmission which may be read as an object lesson in carefully reading Musil. I wish I had the time to translate the whole thing for you!

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