Monday, October 31, 2011

Burton Pike's new translation of Gerhard Meier's Isle of the Dead

I am reading Burton Pike's new breathtaking translation of Gerhard Meier's Isle of the Dead. Meier was a Swiss writer who lived from 1917-2008, who, after spending 6 months in a tuberculosis sanatorium, began to devote his life to writing, leaving his job at a lamp factory. Meier's  is a newly discovered voice for the English reader; and Pike's translation is an epoch-making occasion. Pike writes in the introduction, by way of context: " Isle of the Dead is a subtle novel about a meticulously detailed world. What distinguishes it from other modern novels, from the works of Robert Walser and Thomas Bernhard for instance, is that it is written from the heart; it does not convey an alienation from life but a sense of wonder,expressed with wit and humor, and beneath the wonder, regret" (vi). This is a particularly suggestive comment to me.  Pike does not mention Musil (with whose prose and moods he, of course, as the primary translator and the editor of The Man without Qualities, is quite intimate), but it would be illuminating to consider where on the scale of alienated-wonderfilled Musil hovers. Despite copious counts of cynicism and alienation in Musil's work, there is, for those with ears to hear, a rapturous ecstasis present in The Man without Qualities qnd Musil's other works, and a resistance to abandoning altogether the oft-maligned search for meaning and significance. Meir, who died at the age of 91, also makes me wonder what would have happened had Musil lived another 30 years or so. Pike mentions the influence of Proust on Meier, and the epigraph to Isle of the Dead is from Flaubert. There is, thus, a conscious aestheticism in Meier which is more submerged in Musil, yet present as well. It seems, so far, to be an elegy to correspondences, memory, time, and the way in which the brain collects, arranges, and connects all of the impressions and events of life--through the medium of poetry, or through movement, or perhaps through stillness, as the main speaker, Bauer, muses.  I have not finished Isle of the Dead yet, but wanted to announce the book's publication here and give a few tastes of Meier's prose in Pike's version:

" 'So the blowfly flies onto the porch, Bindschaedler, against a window. Begins to wriggle. A spider comes, a little one, from the upper window frame. Spider and fly have at each other, violently, briefly.  The spider withdraws, not before having wrapped up the fly. The blowfly wriggles as well as it can. Light mixes in, the clouds, the leaves. The blowfly gets more and more tangled up. Works free! Drops a few centimeters. Remains dangling. The spider is there. Wraps up the blowfly. Disappears back above. Leaves dance on the ground, in the air, vibrate on twigs. On the hillside cherry trees gleam. Farther down, pear trees. Here and there the hillside is greening. The blowfly wriggles and wrig--...The spider retreats. Comes closer to the blowfly from below, from behind. Bites! The blowfly twitches. The twitching ebbs. The spider withdraws. The fly is dangling dead in the room.--Cones of light fall now on this, now on that part of the staffage. Three, four, five pear trees sparkle, phosphorize. Then some plum trees. A cherry tree. Clouds come up over the Jura mountains, parallel to them, on the westwind'"(15).

" ' And everything, Bindschaedler, everything turns and turns. Now one thing is up, the other is down. And you fish in this confusion for a little point, just a single life, in order to extract it together with other little points, other lives, the way one pulls out fish, trout for example, on a hook; of course with the result that their lives ebb away in death throes.' Bauer blew his nose.
      ' I like to walk through this part of town. --Do you see all those things over there? Discarded parts from building the railroad, presumably. And through them the sky, at times bare, overcast, putting on its stars: firefly-lights above the field full of parts. I like walking through it. And if I were a photographer, Bindschaedler, these iron bones would be sold commercially so people could decorate their walls with them,' Bauer said, at the same time passing the back of his left hand across the fence of palings dividing the field of parts from the street, dividing it from the row of trees too, which consists (as mentioned) of maples with ball-shaped tops that reminded one of the head of a woodpecker tapping the trunk of a cherry tree, hopping in reverse from top to bottom.
     [...] " 'This field of parts, Bindschaedler, has become for me the Field full of Bones hanging on the west wall of the soul (opposite the Three Women with Winter Asters),' Bauer said smiling, this time letting his wedding ring glide across the latticework, which made a noise as if a woodpecker were tapping directly on one's brain case.
     I said to Bauer that perhaps the soul resembled that little house on the Ulica Dabrowiecka in Warsaw that contains a collection of some seven thousand artworks, which Ludwig Zimmerer, the owner, declared a paradisical cage. The constant stream of new pictures compels a constantly new, technically sophisticated space-saving presentation, so that from behind and below something can still be conjured up" (26-7).

Die Toteninsel [Isle of the Dead] by Arnold Boecklin, 1880

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Musil at Work

   Image from the Klagenfurter Ausgabe of a page of  Musil's many many drafts.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Still Lives

An Excerpt from Part IV of my Slowly Forthcoming Book:

Musil began writing the different versions of the chapter “Breaths of a Summer’s Day,” as early as 1937 or even 1934; and, in an almost perfect circling, he was still working on the chapter on April 15th, 1942, the day he died. In these chapter drafts, which feature what appears to be a profusion of more metaphors per paragraph unmatched in any other section of the novel, Ulrich and Agathe continue their “holy conversations”. These conversations are part of an epic deferral of physical consummation in their gated garden, which comes to represent an island excepted from normal time and space, a sort of shimmering framed still life. All still lives, Ulrich explains, in one of the many “Umschreibungen” (circuitous re-writings) which he essays in order to both approach and avoid their significance, paintthe world of the sixth day of creation, when God and the world were still by themselves, with no people!” (MwQ 1325).  This is practically the image of their garden, cut off from society, its requirements, its morals, its temporal and spatial laws. And yet there are two people in the picture, in their garden. These two people, although separated from the world by their garden fence, by the special mission which they have assigned themselves, and their exceptional state of shimmering stillness, are both alive — circling, fountaining — moving within an enclosed area. And Musil’s novel, despite its resistance to action, is still a sort of a narrative existing in a sort of time, or many different sorts of time (progressive, essential, subjective, objectively measurable, non- linear) ― a novel made up of seemingly infinite small enclosed areas of infinitude ― and decidedly not a painting of a bowl of fruit. The two people walk around within the confines of their garden, in circumnavigations, like Rilke’s caged “Panther,” who “moves in the smallest possible circle,” and whose stride “Is like a dance of force around the center/ Of a great numbed will”.
Although the will is numbed, or deferred, it may still, at any moment, break out of its cage into violence and action; no wonder the need for bars. Ulrich and Agathe’s cage is self-created (or created by their author) out of more than the garden fence; it is made of their infinitely expanding and contracting discourse, by the almost obsessive accumulation of metaphors and likenesses, by words themselves, words which play games with time and its “flowing ribbon, the rolling staircase with its uncanny incidental association with death” ( MwQ 1190), a discourse which repeatedly, always, once again, once again, once again recharged “the conversation once more like a flywheel [..] giving it more energy” (MwQ 1325 ). If the appetitive way of life leads to war, action, grasping, destruction, and the inevitable dulling of passion, infinite (or almost infinite) deferral via a thousand-and-one-night’s strategy of words is a natural strategy. The association with Adam and Eve before the Fall ― before the Act ― is also unavoidable. To take a bite of the apple (even if fictional, painted, safe, deferred) in the bowl on the table would thus have the most extreme consequences. Appetite, muses Ulrich, is always a bit ridiculous ― and how much more so, he continues, when it is appetite for a painted lobster. Yet, as often is the case with Ulrich, his irony hardly masks the serious stakes and the terror involved in setting the wheel of time spinning, of starting the roll of the inevitably downhill-bound roll of life. Were the fruit not painted, but real, it would, like Shakespeare’s medlar pear, be “rotten before it was ripe” — for “Bleiben,” as Rilke reminds us again, “ist Nirgends” (“There is no stopping place”), except perhaps in the work of art.
Deferral of action here is a reflection on considerations about the relationship between forms of art (painting, still life, novel writing) and the relationship between art in general ― as eternalization ― and life, with its active, grasping, devouring movement. Faust’s re-writing/re-translation of the beginning of Genesis may serve as a far off chorus. Goethe’s protagonist reads aloud from the book: In the beginning was the Word. Then he tries another translation: In the beginning was Meaning. And then he comes to the mystic third: In the beginning was the Act! And his alchemical incantations transform thought into word into deed, indifference into passion, possibility into tragedy or possible redemption. Faust’s 18th century metaphysical struggle begins with the transformation of a word and the work of the ultimate Author, thereby circling back to the Ur-moment, never quite coming to absolute resolution, remaining still engagingly inconclusive. The tension between the triad of word, meaning, and act is never quite resolved, not even in Musil’s Modernist text which consciously grapples with the quicksilver conflict. Faust, rather like Ulrich, is a jaded man crying out against a world gone hollow, a world that has lost its significance and value, a world of books and learning, yes, but also a world of flesh and love and the supposed rewards of social success. Goethe’s play, like Musil’s novel, is an existential essay, which asks serious questions about time, meaning, and the relationship between art and life, questions about word-magic, desire, and indifference ― questions with which Musil would still be grappling over a century later. The unresolved and unresolvable struggle, the Faustian striving itself, in its insistence upon maintaining a fruitful space between knowledge and mystery, self and other, art and life, time and death, still and moving, may actually constitute the energetic frisson of all great works of art. And this frisson is created and maintained by Musil’s experiments with the endless possibilities and necessities of metaphor-making.

" All still lives paint the world of the sixth day of creation, when God and the world were still by themselves, with no people!” (Musil)

Friday, October 7, 2011

Grit and Ina van Elben’s dancing-machine at the Tingel-Tangel Theatre, 1931

G  l  e  i  c  h  s  c  h  a  l  t  u  n  g  ?

Grit and Ina van Elben’s dancing-machine at the Tingel-Tangel Theatre, 1931

Another Aphorism on "Gleichschaltung"

From the collection of Musil's largely unpublished aphorisms and texts appearing in the forthcoming translation of Amann's Robert Musil: Literature and Politics:

1) The word
            It marks the strangeness (it will be difficult for foreigners to understand it) of what is happening today in Germany, that this word Gleichschaltung, which plays such a large role in it, cannot be directly translated into other languages.   This word was suddenly there one day out of nowhere for the not-yet-National Socialist Germans.   Lamps, machines are gleichgeschaltet [switched into conformity; switched into alignment] —and Germans.   Difference between norms and similarities.   It has active and passive meanings in psychiatry.   Levers and similar mechanisms, electric currents ein- und auschalten [switching on and off].   Schaltwerk [control unit].  Schalthebel [switching lever].
            In general:  Gleichstrom [co- or parallel current]:  a current whose direction remains the same.   There is a Batterieschaltung [accumulator switch] for galvanic elements, next to and following one another.  One speaks of (different) modes of Schaltung in dynamo machines.  Likewise in an electrical lighting system.
Schalten, middle high German.  To push, tow (esp.  a ship), into movement, to force.   In new high German becomes = to steer; old high German scaltan = to push, new high German.   Schalter =  sliding sash from middle high German schalter (schelter) = bolt.   Schaltjahr [leap year] already in old high German because of the day that is pushed forward.   (to push is also a basic meaning of schalten) [Walten really = being strong] see Gewalt (violence). 
            Incorporating of the Verwalten [powers/administration].  Permeation with National Socialist spirit and National Socialist form.  Permeation with a spirit (and therein lies the difference from norms).


This is one of two aphorisms attempting to define the new National Socialist term, "Gleichschaltung," from the collection of Musil texts in the forthcoming translation of Amann's Robert Musil: Literature and Politics (discussed below):

Gleichschaltung.   Another measure of the strangeness of what is happening today with the German spirit is that a word has come into usage for a large part of these happenings which presents the native speaker with no less difficulty than it does a foreigner.   “Schalten, ” the action word at its foundation, belongs to the older history of the German language and had possessed in the present day only a weakened life, so that there were indeed many derivations of it in use, while it itself was somewhat petrified and only used in specific situations.   So one can say, for example, that someone schaltet free (disconnects or isolates) from something, but the simple sentence one schaltet, no longer carries a complete meaning.   On the whole, the word is most often seen in the formula “schalten und walten, ” which means something to the effect of to manage and to have a free hand, but which is spun with a bit of poetical moss.   One grasps that there is some romanticism behind the idea of using the word schalten.   Its original meaning signifies to push, tow, set in motion, force.
            This romantic word has the most modern of children.   A Schalter is something at the train station, namely a ticket office, and something having to do with electrical room lighting signifies a little window that one can push open and closed, but also there is, in an electric power station, something called a large “Schalt- board”.
            According to Der Tag of December 24th 1935 the “National Socialist Party Correspondent” writes:  “The judgment in the Reichstag arson trial, whereby Torgler and the three Bulgarians were set free on technicalities, is, according to the people's feeling for justice, a flat-out false judgment.   If the judgment had been delivered in accordance with the true justice which should again be valued in Germany, it would have had a different conclusion.  The entire basis and conducting of the trial, which was witnessed by the whole Volk with growing dissatisfaction, would, however, have had to have been different”.   These “technicalities” consisted of the fact that the state court of law could not be convinced that the grounds of the charges were sufficient.
            Every feeling, every unchecked person is radical.  A component of the law arises here:  the law must also protect the law-breaker!   Otherwise a lie will be punished by the death penalty.   See for example the condoning of castration for exhibitionists (Der Tag December 24, 1935) put at the discretion of the judge.
            On the other hand:  legal punishment is really a tolerating of the crime; this has its price.  One must “pursue” the crime”; this is what the strong state demands; utilize every means until it is exterminated.   (And the argument that the prohibitive effect does not increase along with the cruelty of the punishment? )

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Philip Payne's Review of Klaus Amann's book: Robert Musil: Literature and Politics

As some of you know, I have been working on translating Klaus Amann's book, Robert Musil: Literatur und Politik into English. Philip Payne, the distinguished British Musil scholar and translator (among other things, he translated the Basic Books edition of the Musil Diaries (edited by Mark Mirsky), and recently was the chief editor of Camden House's Companion to the Works of Robert Musil), has been helping me by doing the laborious and thankless work of editing my translation. In the process, in order to gather his thoughts about Amann's astounding book, he found himself writing the following informal review of the book. Perhaps English readers will enjoy it as a sort of preview of the book and analysis of the forthcoming translation. Here, then, is Philip Payne's informal (i.e., unedited and lacking some citations) commentary on Klaus Amann's book.         

Klaus Amann, Robert Musil, Literatur und Politik, Reinbek bei Hamburg: Rowohlt, 2007

Which German-speaking author is best qualifed as a literary guide to the borderlands between culture and politics in the early twentieth century? Thomas Mann perhaps with his striking, if strikingly odd, defence – in Bekenntnisse eines Unpolitischen (Confessions of an unpolitical man) -- of a separate path for German ‘Kultur’, which he contrasted with ‘effete’ French civilisation (and his public transition to social democracy after World War I)? Bert Brecht, as a  Marxist attacking capitalism, nationalism and militarism? Hermann Hesse, standing up as a pacifist on the outbreak of World War I in the face of the ovewhelming majority who enthused about the war? Or Robert Musil who wrote in 1935: ‘Ich habe mich zeitlebens der Politik ferngehalten, weil ich kein Talent für sie spüre’ (271) (All my life I have kept clear of politics because I don’t feel I have any gift for it).
                So here we have it, from the horse’s mouth – Musil an unpolitical author. Well yes, but.... Given wars, revolutions and upheavals, how could he, a critical and sensitive writer and intellectual, have lived through the first part of the twentieth century and not take issue with what was going on in German and Austrian politics? In Robert Musil, Literatur und Politik, Klaus Amann forces us, even in the face of Musil’s self-critical remark, to reconsider Musil’s relationship to politics. Amann has selected several texts by Musil that bear directly or indirectly on politics. Some have only appeared in print or electronic text since Musil’s death. They are taken from the period from the Machtergreifung in 1933 to around 1937, the time when Musil was contemplating leaving Austria for exile in Switzerland. These include: ‘Bedenken eines Langsamen’ (Concerns of a slow man), reflections on Germany and National Socialism in 1933; ‘Der Dichter in dieser Zeit’ (1934) (The creative writer in these times), a lecture that Musil gave as Vice-President of an Austrian off-shoot of an association of creative authors that had been banned in Germany and in which Musil analysed the cultural mood in Germany and Austria at a time when writers were under pressure to declare their political allegiance;[1] a speech to the Paris ‘Kongress zur Verteidigung der Kultur’ (Paris Congress in Defence of Culture), a conference organised by Soviet Communists in 1935 designed to focus European-wide intellectual opposition to National Socialism. (Here Musil was booed because he expressed the view that all political movements -- those of the left as much as those of the right -- should respect the independence of artists and writers and not attempt to subordinate or even align their creativity to any political campaign.) I would have liked Amann to include a successful lecture that Musil gave in Vienna in 1937 entitled ‘Über die Dummheit’ (On stupidity). It is not overtly political and the irony is so refined that the formulations in the lecture are sometimes obscure for readers today, but their significance and their bearing on National Socialism were clear to the contemporary audience.
                I had always felt that Musil had heart and head in just about the right places where politics were concerned – he was liberal in outlook, a humanist with a strong sense of the need to defend the individual (note: 273) against the pressures of any collective, aware of his responsibilities to his fellow humans, and throughout his life a student of moral issues. This last concern did not make it any easier to keep his marriage vows (but any lapses might be seen as a point of similarity with many professional politicians). His sympathies did not overlap with the programme of a single political party and strayed beyond classical divisions of right and left. He leaned temporarily in the aftermath of World War I towards the ‘National Bolshevists’. In a draft essay ‘Politisches Bekenntnis eines jungen Mannes’ (Political confession of a young man’)[2] he called himself a ‘konservativer Anarchist’ (conservative anarchist). He wanted society to go beyond the market and replace or reform the institutions of the old society using insights from the new scientific disciplines. These hopes were integral to the thinking behind Musil’s major novel, Der Mann ohne Eigenschaften (The Man without Qualities).[3] Despite his instinctive radicalism he intended his novel to contribute to the processes that, over time, lead to cultural progress.[4]
                Given Musil’s drive to finish his novel over the last two decades of his life, it was easy for me, and I suspect for many others, to overlook the importance of politics for Musil. Here Amann’s book helps readers to a more balanced judgment. The slightly longer section of the book is Amann’s authoritative and enlightening introduction. Most of Amann’s commentary is concerned with the 1930s but he starts with a short section on Musil’s response to mobilisation for World War I. Musil like so many others was caught up in a mass frenzy of enthusiasm for war. This is perhaps less surprising than it appears because Musil, like millions of others, considered that war promised transformation: the selfish individual would discover selflessness and self-sacrifice; greed, status-seeking, hierarchies, hypocrisy, deceit would no longer dominate society. Musil hoped that this new world would be a host to what he called ‘der andere Zustand’ (the ‘other’ condition). However, Musil struggled for much of the latter part of his life to express what he understood by this. He wanted his readers, his fellow-Europeans, to set aside ‘Sorge’, the ever-present, nagging anxieties that affect normal people in their normal waking reality. ‘Sorge’ had come about through rationality with its essential and efficient but also divisive and neurosis-inducing ‘naming of parts’. Beyond this, only a step beyond but difficult to access, lay another world entirely: harmonious, mystical, whole -- ‘der andere Zustand’.
                In Der Mann ohne Eigenschaften, Musil presents civilisation as being impelled by warring forces in dynamic opposition – Gewalt (violence) and Liebe (love). ‘Der andere Zustand’ is part of the latter whereas the world that Musil experienced at first hand all around him favoured Gewalt. At the end of World War I Germany and Austria-Hungary collapsed and the pre-war hopes for renewal came to nothing in what Musil termed a ‘babylonisches Narrenhaus’ (GW, 1088) (Babylonian madhouse) of ideologies.  Musil’s post-World-War-I literary and intellectual activities – work on plays, reviews, essays, and his main novel – were directed towards finding a way for society to move towards the utopia (and he knew that it was no more, no less than a utopia) of ‘der andere Zustand’. Society resisted the attempts by intellectuals to influence its development – a coherent collective effort, a ‘geistige Organisationspolitik’ (GW, 1058)  (policy of intellectual/spiritual organisatio) might, however, overcome the inertia.
We move forward with Amann from the aftermath of World War I to the early thirties, to the rise of National Socialism and the Machtergreifung (the seizure of power by this movement). In Germany and, inevitably both through proximity and shared culture in Austria, no-one could escape politics any longer even if, like Musil, they had managed to do so before.
                Before I continue, a few words on Amann as a guide to Musil and politics. His qualifications as Austrian professor of literary history are complemented by his directorship of the Robert Musil Institute for Literary Research in Musil’s birthplace, Klagenfurt. With Walter Fanta, Amann has recently published the new electronic edition of Musil’s collected works. (Reference) He is an expert in whom the reader of this work soon feels he can place confidence for the clarity of his prose and his sound judgments. Amann gives an account of the complexities of political culture in Austria throughout the nineteen-thirties: the dissonances between the local, the regional, the national, the clash of the clerical with the secular, the bloody fighting between the forces of conservatism and social democracy, interest groups jockeying for status, the tensions of ethnicity, the struggle for and against union with Germany, all predicated on the traumas of World War I and the transition at the end of this war from the pomp of empire to the claustrophobia of a small republic.
                Thus Amann’s commentary prepares the reader for the Musil extracts in the latter part of this book some of which have only just been published in the electronic edition of Musil’s works.[5] From 1933 on, Musil made notes on Nazism which he was experiencing at first hand in Berlin as he worked on Der Mann ohne Eigenschaften. Some readers may be disturbed by occasional diary entries in which Musil comments quite coolly on National Socialist activities including book-burning. Here he adopts the attitude he felt appropriate for a creative author since detachment from the contemporary world was essential. While National Socialist pseudo-ideology characterised Musil as an Aryan, he distanced himself from racism; ‘Ich glaube nicht an den Unterschied des deutschen Menschen vom Neger ‘ (1364), he wrote.  Musil’s wife, Martha, was Jewish. The impartial observer that we meet in Der Mann ohne Eigenschaften and in some diary entries was balanced by the husband concerned for the wife he loved.[6] In Musil’s ‘Bedenken eines Langsamen’ (‘Concerns of a slow man’) he writes of the uprooting of the rule of law, of the loss of the division of powers and of concern for the rights of man, and the replacement of equality of all human beings with persecution on grounds of race. He was struck by the way that Germans had almost casually surrendered these values. Why did this happen, he asked? His answer: Germans had lost their sense of the worth of these values – and reason, arguments, were nothing when stripped of ‘Affekte’, the emotional charge without which they were just words.[7] With the collapse of the Weimar Republic they had lost their power to engage the majority. Intellectual activity requires feeling to be effective or, as Musil expressed this ‘Geist besteht aus Verstand, Gefühl und ihrer gegenseitigen Durchdringung’. (‘Geist [spirit / intellect] consists of understanding, feeling and the way each finds its way into the other’.[8] Whereas the values of democracy had been drained of the energy of commitment, the National Socialists had channelled the power of the unconscious to their own ends. Musil expressed this as follows: ‘Wenn die Affekte zensurlos sind, wie im Traum, so schaffen sie radikale Bilder’ (If the emotions are uncensored as they are in dreams they produce radical images).[9] The National Socialists, Musil noted, had been successful through campaigns whose violent imagery released powerful emotions. (These images had precipitated the young along the path of National Socialism; pursued to its end, this would to the Holocaust.) Writing before the War, Musil had wondered whether such ‘Affekte’ (feelings) could be mobilised in the interests of culture and ‘Geist’.[10]
                 ‘Der Dichter in dieser Zeit’ (The creative Writer in these times) was Musil’s lecture to mark the twentieth anniversary of the SDSOe in 1934 – this was an association for authors that had originally been founded in Germany in 1910 but had later been dissolved by the authorities in the Third Reich in 1933. Its Austrian off-shoot had survived. Amann shows us how this lecture had caught the mood of Austrian authors of the time, expressing their sense that culture was above the realm of politics. Writers, artists and creative individuals should point ways in which society might evolve; creative writers should neither serve the interests of parties in power nor take directions from officials. While Germany was changing so quickly, Austria seemed to Musil almost like a Noah’s Ark of German culture (see p.249). The folly of authors submitting to the dictatorship of politicians was shown in the events following a speech by Musil to the Writers’ Congress in Paris in 1935. The Soviet Union had created an anti-fascist bloc of Communists, Socialists, and some liberals. Those behind the scenes at the Congress insisted on uncritical support for this so-called ‘Volksfront’ (popular front). In his speech, Musil argued that representatives of culture should not defer to politicians. ‘Kultur ist an keine politische Partei gebunden’ (p.273)  He was booed for tarring Communism with the brush he had used for National Socialism. Musil’s notes in preparation for the speech indicate that he was aware that he would face an audience hostile to his views. Another delegate, Bodo Uhse, publically criticised Musil for being a bourgeois decadent. Amann notes that Uhse had been a National Socialist before joining the Communist Party – perhaps this was where he learned not to allow the truth to spoil a politically expedient point. Brecht wrote a sceptical letter to the artist George Grosz about the Congress: ‘wir haben soeben die Kultur gerettet. Es hat 4 Tage in Anspruch genommen und wir haben beschlossen, lieber alles zu opfern, als die Kultur untergehen zu lassen’ (We have just rescued culture. It took 4 days and we have resolved to sacrifice everything rather than allow culture to perish).[11]
Subsequent developments seem attuned to Brecht’s irony. Johannes R. Becher was involved in the organisation of the 1935 Congress. During World War II he was arrested and imprisoned in Russia, then after the War released and rehabilitated in the German Democratic Republic; there in his will he stipulated that no streets be named after him or statues erected, but that, instead, his works be promoted; after his death, inevitably, statues were erected, streets were named and Becher’s works shared the fate of the German Democratic Republic and passed into virtual oblivion. Like Becher, a number of other German delegates at the Congress were later imprisoned and some executed in Stalin’s Russia. In retrospect, Becher and others might have been more sympathetic to Musil’s views on the links between culture and politics. Amann quotes Brecht again, giving poetic form to the dangers are faced by authors in totalitarian states:

Dem, der gewürgt wird
Bleibt das Wort im Halse stecken.
Stille breitet sich aus und von weitem
Erscheint sie als Billigung.

(Someone being throttled
Cannot utter a single word.
Silence spreads and, from a distance,
It looks just like approval.)

But Musil, as Amann shows conclusively, was not one of the servants of the word who were throttled into complete silence. Musil avoided the mud-slinging, the dishonesties, the compromises, the short-term manoeuvring that is expected in the field of politics, but also made a significant contribution to the wider political debate in his times despite the personal dangers that were involved for his work, for himself and for his wife. 


[1] The SDSOe.
[2] (GW, 1009-1015, p.1011),
[3] Reference
[4] (reference).
[5] Reference
[6] (On the contribution of Jews to German intellectual life – B. eines L., see p.170; Musil also realised in 1933 how antisemitism was a vital component of National Socialist ideology.  – B. eines L., p.175.)
[7] (Add note on Affekte? See B.eines L., p.174)
[8] (Letter in 1931 to Adolf Frisé, B. 494).
[9] Diaries: (T 724)
[10] (Quote p.174 re Zweiteilung.)
[11] (Brecht, Briefe, July, 1935, p.510)