This site is intended as an informal space to share international discourse on the Austrian novelist, essayist, dramatist, scientist, mathematician, and thinker, Robert Musil, on his works, and his growing reception, and as a forum for English-speaking members of the International Robert Musil Society (Internationale Robert Musil Gesellschaft)(IRMG) as well as other interested persons.
Friday, December 30, 2011
the Other Condition & Roland Barthes' "lover's discourse"
Barthes writes of speaking amorously as expending, "without end in sight, without a crisis; it is to practice a relation without orgasm. There may exist a literary form of this coitus reservatus: what we call marivaudage". Agathe and Ulrich's "holy conversation" functions in this way as a suspension of consummation, as an endless approaching and digressing, deferring possession and the slackening of desire that follows. Indeed, there is precious little consummation in Musil's novel; most characters refrain rather than indulge. Musil's Other Condition, based on, among other concepts, Ludwig Klages' cosmogonic eros, is characterized by a desire that does not want to possess. And, of course, this resistance to possession is related to Musil's infamous resistance to closure, resistance to the little and to the great death(s). Musil makes clear that Ulrich and Agathe's hesitancy in the face of consummation has nothing whatsoever to do with morality. It is, instead, an aesthetic consideration; a lingering in longing. Although they do eventually "get it over with," the narrator remarks that compared to what had come before the consummation was nothing to speak of. In fact, it does not get spoken (or written) about at all anywhere in Musil's notes, save perhaps in a very metaphorical way. The endless pages, drafts, revisions, correspondences, variations, metaphors for metaphors for metaphors, are the real pleasure of the text--- the final possession is besides the point. In another passage in his A Lover's Discourse, Barthes looks at the distinction between two kinds of embraces, one which involves a "will to possess" and another which he calls incestuous (reminding of Ulrich and Agathe again). The embrace that does not will to possess is experienced as outside of time, like the mystical state, and beyond good and evil: "In this companionable incest, everything is suspended: time, law, prohibition: nothing is exhausted, nothing is wanted: all desires are abolished, for they seem definitively fulfilled". As Barthes writes, these two sorts of embraces (Musil might call them appetitive and non-appetitive) enjoy an oscillation back and forth, as the incestuous infantile embrace (the moment of non-linear, poly-logic presence) is periodically interrupted by "the logic of desire" (narrative, progressive, linear). Barthes writes in another passage about the impossibility of narrating one's own love, suggesting a natural incompatibility between narration and the amorous experience. The amorous moment is non-narratable, extratemporal, silent, undisclosed. Not out of any prudery or secrecy, but simply because, as Barthes writes, "amorous seduction (a pure hypnotic moment) takes place before discourse and behind the proscenium of consciousness: the amorous 'event' is of hieratic order: it is my own local legend, my little sacred history that I declaim to myself, and this declamation of a fait accompli (frozen, embalmed, removed from any praxis) is the lover's discourse". And, one might add, the poet's discourse as well. For what is a poet but a lover? Even if (especially if) his or her beloved is the world and not a particular man or woman. A lover enamored of words. How do I love thee, the poet asks ad infinitum, let me count the ways with an infinity of words. An overflow. An exuberance. An embarrassing and unseemly marivaudage of words.