Friday, May 23, 2014
Philosophy of a Shoe Factory
I couldn't resist sharing this draft translation of an unpublished Musil gloss on standardization from 1924-1926. It will be part of the collection of pieces I am translating for Contra Mundum Press.
Philosophy of a Shoe Factory
I have the propaganda insert of a daily paper to thank for these ideas; it was as thick and large as a folio volume and concerned itself with nothing but the development of the technology, the organization, the social services, the economic, political, and moral foundations of a shoe factory. It is the largest shoe factory in the world. It fabricates ___. It serves___needs of the world. It employs___workers. It nourishes __people. It is no small thing. Some people would say, such reading is more valuable than a novel. I can’t quite contradict them. But since I love novels, I would first like to look at the shoe factory from this stand point.
For older readers, who grew up before we were standardized, an explanation is required: in industrial terms, standardization means that everything that can be made just as easily alike as differently is made in the same unified way by all factories. That has great advantages, clears away a completely pointless disorder, cheapens and makes life a pleasure. If one wants to change the ink ribbon of a typewriter, one no longer has to search for a store that sells just one type of ribbon, because all typewriters will have ribbons of the same width and length, and if one loses the rubber on a pedal of one’s bicycle, one no longer will find 400 different kinds of pedal rubber advertised at the bicycle shop, among which precisely the one you want is missing, the one that you have in an isolated exemplar on the second pedal. A great number of things are already being standardized, screws, fittings, apertures, armatures, construction parts for pipelines, hospital supplies and laboratory apparatus, tools, luggage, and a great deal more is being standardized, there are commissions bearing noble names like Fanok and Dechema, and we stand at the beginning of a great spiritual movement, which the Renaissance will have nothing on.
It should thus be allowed to make a few preliminary predictions about the time when the standardization movement will not only refer to products, but people too. There can be no question but that the standardized person will have many advantages when compared to the unstandardized, but despite the fact that energetic attempts to attain this goal are underway, unnecessary obstacles still stand in its way. Let us start by asking ourselves, what would the standardized person look like? He would be interchangeable. Since today all beautiful people are thin here, but fat in the orient, the submission of nature to uncertain diameter can be settled. The same thing can be said of the standardization of specific degrees of height, which the ready-to-wear industry will demand from parents; the Japanese already breed large oily wrestling types alongside the dry-broad-small jujitsu types with special diets. Man will change by his clothes every quarter of a year, but will always look the same; even that has almost been attained today; the need for luxury can easily be stereotyped by determined levels of workmanship, just like the tax rates, and in a very refined society one’s rank can be symbolized (satisfactorily) by a price tag that reveals that one paid three times as much for one’s suit, even though it is the same suit.
These are simple problems. But aren’t the good person, the moral, the normal, the useful person, are not the ideal patriot, the disciplined ideal party member, the perfect citizen already standardized people? Visions of the future are herewith opened up for all standardizing institutions. What they already have always done, they will now do with the aid and the unquestioned authority of science and technology. The current of the times is taking a direction that serves their purposes, the remains of the individual are polished away. Love, this ancient forest of eccentricity, will become an utter embarrassment. Who today can still say “you, only you,” with a good conscience? Everyone knows that the correct formulation is “you, you typical”.