Monday, December 5, 2011

The Klagenfurt Edition / Klagenfurter Ausgabe (inside Musil's Brain)

One of the earliest manuscripts of the collection, Musil's diary entry on the new name he coined for himself, "monsieur le vivesecteur," 1899
For some time I have been working with the Klagenfurter Ausgabe (Klagenfurt Edition) of Musil's works and voluminous literary and biographical remains. It is a searchable, hyper-text collection in DVD form of upwards of 50,000 paper pages of versions, drafts, notes, letters, diary entries, and supplementary documents relevant to Musil's attempts. The Musil papers are supplemented by expert critical-historical commentary, indexes, and glossaries edited by Walter Fanta, Klaus Amann, and Karl Corino, three of the most knowledgeable Musil experts in the world. I don't imagine that anyone knows the details about the contents of a Musil document or the chronology of a Musil event or text better than these three men; what he read when, where he was when and with whom, which version of which passage was written first, which abbreviation refers to what or whom, who was who in the world of Austria and Germany in the first half of the twentieth century. While I am not usually one to recommend digital formats for reading, this particular project seems rather more in harmony with the author's intentions than many others, precisely because of the non-linear nature of Musil's writing and revision process. One can move effortlessly between different versions of passages (perhaps written in different decades), between facsimile photographs of the original manuscripts, replete with cross-outs, alternate words, attempts, variations, and what seem to be infinite cross-references of terms, words, concepts, authors' names, places, metaphors, ciphers, which all lead to even more connections, explorations, possibilities, correspondences. Oh, I got carried away. I meant to say, between versions in reading texts, in facsimiles, in transcriptions (which include notations about changes and markings), and commentaries, indexes, and glossaries. It really is as close as one can get to sojourning in the non-linearity of someone's brain. And what a brain, at that! One can search for and follow ideas and words through decades of associations, and watch the evolution and development of concepts and themes central to Musil's project. His "utopia of the next step," whereby no idea, event, or concept should be evaluated until seen in the context of whatever it itself creates, is an apt metaphor for this collection of ideas, just as long as one does not see the steps as leading up to a definitive destination or conclusion. In fact, one of the most interesting things about seeing the manuscripts in this way is that, despite editors' natural attempts in the past to arrange the material in a linear order, the ideas do not really develop in any mono-direction, but circle rather, out and back, out and back, so that Musil is still asking the same questions, with surprising freshness and openness, in manuscripts from the late 30's as he was asking in the early teens. Another significant aspect of this edition is that it allows one to see Musil's radical perspectivism at work, i.e, his faithfulness to examining and trying out even the most disturbing or dangerous perspectives or positions. We see him in the freedom of his laboratory experimenting with different stances and attitudes, teasing them out to their farthest connotations, comparing them to seemingly opposing stances. Like that straight line which Nicolas of Cusa speaks of in his On Learned Ignorance, we find these originally uni-directional strands curving around to create circles (the straight line becomes a circle in time), and surprising meetings, meridians, metaphors, coincidences of opposites are found. Unfortunately (but inevitably due to the gargantuan nature of the project) this edition only exists in German; but we are working on a much more modest version in English. To learn more you can look at the website, in German, or contact me to order one (they cost $199. & $6. for mailing from Austria to the USA.). What a great holiday present for your favorite Germanist!


  1. First of all, thank you so much for this wonderful blog!
    An off-topic question. Do you know of an English translation of "Isis and Osiris"? Have been looking around for it for quite a while to no avail.
    Sorry for asking this here, I could not find your mail id here on this site.

  2. That is a good question, about Isis and Osiris...I have done a translation of it, but I will have to find it...or redo it...I don't know of another! Thanks for being interested!!! My email address is please keep commenting. Nothing is off topic! -Genese

  3. Thank you for the reply. in fact, I came to the poem through a different route. In 'The Book of Franza', Bachmann uses the last lines of the poem - "Among a hundred brothers this one. And he ate her heart. . . . And she his."

    It would be really great if you can put a translation here on this blog...