|Goethe, the Genius|
Further, while we talk of un-doing, and destabilizing, and of many voices, I think it is important to remember the value of the individual voice. Musil, certainly, was fiercely opposed to the blotting out of individual voice by the coming reign of collectivism. The much vaunted death of the author is not just a death of hierarchy or authority, but arguably death to choice, responsibility, voice. (It is also another way of saying: birth to the critic, for when the genius author is slain the critic puts himself or herself above the artist or at least drags the artist down to the level of the mob). Musil's work is adamantly authored. And while his form of ordering is wildly non-linear, it is not without form. The form of his creation is utterly in harmony with the so-called content of his "message". My perspective on this is in no way opposed to a very traditional "new criticism" approach to looking at art. It is connected for me with Blake's confluence of form and content in the individual genius's expression. And there, I've used the word, without any irony intended: Genius. Musil was not intent on knocking the genius off his (or her) pedestal. He just thought he was unjustly under-appreciated and that those easier to understand, more pleasing authors, those "Grossschriftsteller" (or big shot writers) needed to be taken down.
I always go back to Carlo Ginzburg's introduction to The Cheese and the Worms, where he exposes the tendency of some post-modernist critics to be more interested in the oppression of voice than in trying to give voice back to the oppressed. Ginsburg writes, referring to Foucault's exposure in his History of Madness of the "exclusions, prohibitions, and limits through which our culture came in to being historically," that "what interest Foucault are the act and criteria of exclusion, the excluded a little less so". Ginzburg goes on to write that Foucault's method in his next books was probably influenced by Derrida's "facile and nihilistic objections to the Histoire. Derrida contended that it is not possible to speak of madness in a language historically grounded in western reason and hence in the process that has led to the repression of madness itself. Basically he maintained that the Archimidean point from which Foucault embarked on his research neither can nor does exist. At this point Foucault's ambitous project of an archeologie du silence becomes transformed into silence pure and simple---perhaps accompanied by mute contemplation of an aesthetic kind". Ginzburg, as embodied by his own attempt to map the "cosmos of a sixteenth century miller" (the sub-title of his book), prefers to let the subject speak as much as possible, even in the suspect language of the "oppressor".
Musil was well aware that there was no more Archimidean point, but that did not mean for him that there was to be no more meaning or no more possibility of communicating or no more genius. In place of the stability of objective reality (which had already been smashed hundreds of years earlier by Kant), the creative ethical subject must constantly call new worlds into being, always hearkening back to our shared cultural and poetic language of images and ideas, always communing with the things people have cared about from the beginning of time, in awe at the cave paintings sketched on torch-lit walls 30,000 years ago, in human-communion with the fears and wishes of medieval superstitions, in admiration of the noble questions raised by Antigone and in recognition at the base jealousies and brutalities of warring and violating gods. We were not born yesterday, although we are always being born again. And though our language may be a bit stiff, and certainly encrusted with centuries of crustaceous assumptions and cliche's, it is also a treasure horde of wonder (even if it has been plundered, stolen, appropriated; it has also been studied, translated, loved, quoted, respected). Especially in this era wherein language is shrinking, and wherein so-called educated people know shockingly less about the history, artifacts, literature and beliefs of the past than in previous centuries, wherein the average American reads one book a year (the Bible, the da Vinci Code?), we would do well to remember that culture is not our enemy; arguably collectivist conformity is a greater danger than individual expression; any thoughtful articulation of the experience of being human is a gift. Golden coins, as Thoreau remarks. To discard gold because it is old, or "another's brass," is nothing but wasteful, criminal even. As Musil wrote, "All bullies and braggarts begin with the assumption that we had too much culture, that, in other words, we were already in a state of excess culture and its decline, while in reality we had too little culture". The critic is dead! Long live the genius!