Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Musil Thinking

Robert Musil, sketched by Martha Musil
A new edition of The Monist is dedicated to Musil as philosopher. I will try to get my hands on a copy to provide a small summary of the contents for you. But here, in the meantime, is a link to the table of contents, etc.: The Philosophy of Robert Musil - The Monist‎
and also for your thinking pleasure, a short excerpt from Musil the novelist,  musing in his novel in "A Chapter that May be Skipped by Anyone Not Particularly Impressed by Thinking as an Occupation," on how difficult it is to describe a man thinking, and already letting fall a number of significant hints on his own conceptions about the relationship between philosophy and life and art and philosophy: 

"Unfortunately, nothing is so hard to achieve as a literary representation of a man thinking. When someone asked a great scientist how he managed to come up with so much that was new, he replied: 'Because I never stop thinking about it.' And it is surely safe to say that unexpected insights turn up for no other reason than that they are expected. They are in no small part a success of character, emotional stability, unflagging ambition, and unremitting work. What a bore such constancy must be! Looking at it another way, the solution of an intellectual problem comes about not very differently from a dog with a stick in his mouth trying to get through a narrow door; he will turn his head left and right until the stick slips through. We do much the same thing, but with the difference that we don’t make indiscriminate attempts but already know from experience approximately how it’s done. And if a clever fellow naturally has far more skill and experience with these twistings and turnings than a dim one, the slipping-through takes the clever fellow just as much by surprise; it is suddenly there, and one perceptibly feels slightly disconcerted because one’s ideas seem to have come of their own accord instead of waiting for their creator. The disconcerted feeling is nowadays called intuition by many people who would formerly, believing that it must be regarded as something suprapersonal, have called it inspiration; but it is only something impersonal, namely the affinity and coherence of the things themselves, meeting inside a head.

     The better the head, the less evident its presence in this process. As long as the process of thinking is in mortion it is a quite wretched state, as if all the brain's convolutions were suffering from colic; and when it is finished it no longer has the form of the thinking process as one experiences it but already that of what has been thought, which is regrettably impersonal, for the thought then faces outward and is dressed for communication with the world. When a man is in the process of thinking, there is no may to catch the moment between the personal and the impersonal, and this is manifestly why thinking is such an embarrassment for writers that they gladly avoid it.

     But the man without qualities was now thinking. One may draw the conclusion from this that it was, at least in part, not a personal affair. But then what is it? World in, world out; aspects of world falling into place inside a head...." (I,115-116, translated by Sophie Wilkens, Knopf, 1995)

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