Thursday, March 24, 2022

New Previously Untranslated Musil in New Issue of Fiction Magazine

From Musil's "Story of a Regiment," based on his experiences as a soldier in WWI: "The night was dark enough to slice; anyone who groped between the houses cut with his eyes against the darkness like wood. Further off, where the field lifted, there were small dark yellow stars that gave off no light, but it was still somewhat better; a dull, uncertain illumination spread from out of the distance of space and diluted the night. Sometimes black bushes wandered slowly there in trenches or furrows or stood awkwardly still; patrols. Small messages crept or ran around the compound, signaled by the telephone’s tooting—as melancholy as the whistle of a steamboat arriving in the night. Out of these there synthesized a mosaic of small often contradictory reports, and from out of the night the enemy grew in the candlelight, as they stood across the great road to the north of the mountain, with their flanks pressed against strongly defended heights, working with feverish urgency on the arrangement of their formations. The attack was planned for the next day. But in the night the patrols reported that a fog had invaded. Then rain. The wind swept through the trenches and ditches like wet rags; then the fumes swept through the houses. Then the rain; then it stayed put in between the houses." This and other wonderful Musil pieces, previously untranslated, can be read in full in the new issue of Fiction Magazine, edited by Mark Mirsky. Mark, who edited Musil's Diaries in English, has been publishing Musil in his journal for over 25 years and published my first translations there. You can order of copy of this issue (and copies of other issues with Musil in them, translated by myself, Burton Pike, and others) on their website:
Or consider subscribing to this legendary journal!

Monday, March 21, 2022

Two New Musil Books Forthcoming

Really one brand new one and another coming out in paperback for the first time: Robert Musil: Literature and Politics: Literature and Politics presents Robert Musil’s writings on the relationship between literature and politics from World War I through World War II and elucidates his personal struggle to bear witness during the Age of Totalitarianism. In essays, addresses, aphorisms, and unpublished notes on contemporary events, Musil charts the increasing dangers to artists and ethical thinkers of extreme ideological conscription, the subtle and not so subtle changes in public and political discourse, the epoch-making events and dire existential threats of his times. Musil acts as a cultural seismographer, interrogating causes and symptoms in himself and his world, as he moves between Nazi Germany and pre- and post-Anschluß Austria, ultimately escaping to Switzerland where he and his Jewish wife, Martha, lived in exile until his death in 1942. The writings question concepts of race, identity, and nation, and untangle the complex relationship between nation and artist and between the individual and the collective, celebrating the rich and irreducible nature of individual creative work as the bulwark of a free, ethical, and pluralistic society. Klaus Amann provides an invaluable introduction to Musil’s political thought and his struggle, during the war years, to come to terms, to survive, and to find some way to bear witness. Amann recounts Musil’s political trajectory, from fairly indifferent aesthete to socially-engaged supporter of the Weimar Republic and its liberal reforms, to critic of Nazi and Communist Totalitarianisms, and as prescient sceptic about the “cultural optimism” of the Soviet experiment. Musil’s ultimate stance — as a thinker who radically resists taking final stances — is that politics endangers culture and humanity by dictating to artists how they should write, think, paint, compose, and by instrumentalizing art in the interest of ideology. This is not merely an aesthetic position, but a committed belief in the essential ethical nature of art and in art’s fundamental role as a timeless, supra-national force. Translated with an introduction by Genese Grill. This is the fourth Musil publication presented by Contra Mundum Press. And my monograph, The World as Metaphor in Robert Musil's The Man without Qualities: Possibility as Reality:

Monday, May 31, 2021

More Reviews of Theater Symptoms

Natasha Randall writes: 

Musil felt strongly that the crucial function of the arts was to incite aesthetic and ethical revelation, to disrupt a widespread moral stasis: “the most meaningful moments are those wherein we are enlivened by some mysterious thought that carries us beyond ourselves and into the vastness of the universal”. But to his dismay, and hence the titular “symptoms”, Musil saw corruption in Europe’s cultural sphere in the 1920s, a commodification, sensationalism, and a diluting of culture into the “culture industry”. He writes about the distinction between “illustrative” theatre (a theatre of tropes, artificiality and mimesis) and “creative” theatre (a living drama, a singular and complex experience). Musil, ever a master of imagery, gives it to us as “the vast difference between ossification and growth”. 

Read More Here:

Ionna Kostopoula writes: 

But what does Musil diagnose exactly? The inversion of the German Symptomen-Theater into Theater Symptoms in English harks back to the genos-eidos relation: We can, on the one hand, imagine the accumulated symptoms as cases, concrete examples, and elements of dysfunctional plays, and, on the other hand, a theater of symptoms with an inherent pathology, where the roots of the problem might go deeper than they seem. This is a differentiation crucial to Musil, who sensibly reacts to the public outcry by Viennese theater directors that appeared in the newspaper Der Wiener Tag of April 20th, 1924. From their point of view, they diagnose the crisis but also see the recovery of theater. Yet they do not seem to bother seeking the cause of this crisis. In The “Decline” of the Theater (Theater Symptoms III), Musil responds with: 

    In Vienna — dependent upon the state of the market, the disastrous franc speculation, and     the like — there is suddenly a new condition, which they call the decline of the theater. I     don’t believe in it. What is remarkable about this situation is not the continuing course of     this crisis, but the circumstances surrounding its outbreak.

Read More Here:

Maura Del Serra writes:

Questo terzo volume degli scritti completi del grande romanziere, drammaturgo, critico e saggista austriaco (1880-1942), esponente di punta del modernismo europeo, curata e tradotta in inglese con appassionata e documentata fedeltà dalla studiosa Genese Grill per la raffinata ed eclettica Contra Mundum Press, costituisce un prezioso contributo alla conoscenza dell’articolata e poliedrica opera di Musil. Un prezioso longseller non solo per la koinè anglofona – genetica od acquisita – del nostro mondo culturale globalizzato, ma, in primis, per i cultori europei ed italiani dell’alta letteratura, filosofia, drammaturgia e saggistica moderna, nei suoi fondamenti etici, espressivi e stilistici.

Read More Here:

Thursday, January 28, 2021

David Auerbach's Review of Theater Symptoms in The LA Review of Books

"THEATER SYMPTOMS: Plays and Writings on Drama is the mother lode for Robert Musil aficionados, a vital piece of the author’s canon. Containing the major play The Utopians, other dramatic material and fragments, and Musil’s theater criticism, much of it translated into English for the first time, this anthology shows Musil to be a writer of far greater range than is often assumed.

Musil was likely the most sheerly intelligent of modernist writers (which is not to say the most talented). His work entrances with its combination of rigor and passion (“precision and soul,” as he put it), yet it is also marked by significant lacunae. His magnum opus The Man Without Qualities, two sections of which were published in 1930 and 1933, was left unfinished at the author’s death in 1942. How to square that massive achievement with Musil’s equally brilliant, but radically different, earlier works, such as The Confusions of Young Törless (1906), a novella, or Unions (1911), a collection of stories? Above all, how to reconcile Musil’s deep engagement with sociological and political theorizing with his spiritual and aesthetic yearnings? Most of Musil’s contemporaries fell on one side or the other of this dichotomy: Hermann Broch tended toward the sociological, for example, while Thomas Mann embraced the aesthetic. Musil is one of the very few to have attempted to straddle this line, and for that reason alone his work is immensely valuable."


Tuesday, December 8, 2020

Publication Day Interview and Special Discount Purchase Rate: Theater Symptoms: Plays and Writings on Drama

 It's publication day for Theater Symptoms: Plays and Writings on Drama, so here is an interview about translating the book:

Also, Contra Mundum Press is offering a 23% off special until December 17th if you buy both Theater Symptoms and Unions. You can get them both for $40. flat by sending money through Paypal at

Visit Contra Mundum's web site for other delicious books to order!

Wednesday, October 7, 2020

Translating Ideas Into Images: Alessandro Segalini's Binghamton Design Class Covers Musil's Theater Symptoms

 Alessandro Segalini, the brilliant typographer and cover-designer for Contra Mundum Press, is also a professor at Binghamton College, where his lucky students have the opportunity to delve deeply into the complexities and mysteries involved in translating the ideas, mood, context of a book into a cover design that is not only beautiful, but that somehow conveys to the potential reader something important about the book. In a book such as Musil's Theater Symptoms: Plays and Writings on Drama, the challenges are increased by the manifold material within the book, not to mention Musil's own resistance to being pigeon-holed in any one movement, position, stance. 

First, Alessandro had his students read my preface and introduction to the book, and they all wrote a little bit about what it evoked for them and came up with some questions. Then I had the pleasure of visiting the class (via Zoom, of course) to talk with them about the milieu of Musil's work, the turbulent 20's, and European Modernism as well as the concerns of Musil's work in general and the particular themes and subjects in this book. It was a fascinating conversation for me, raising many intriguing questions about how complex ideas might be distilled, symbolized, represented in a single cover, about the nature of translation itself, from language to language, from verbal to imagistic, and so on. It challenged me to think about how I might distil someone as complex as Musil, and something as multi-faceted as this book into a few words or images. We came up with a few basic ideas: multiplicity, union of opposites, many-faced, lacking a solid place to stand, open-ended....

Yesterday, Alessandro sent the results to me and Rainer Hanshe, the heart and brain of Contra Mundum Press, and we three chose our favorites of the many, many very impressive cover designs. Interestingly, there was a great variety of opinions (Rainer and I chose completely different favorites, which just shows there is not always any accounting of taste). Below you will find the five finalists, along with excerpts from the artists' commentary on their process. 


This cover is by Yanfen Liang, who writes, that after long introspetion: "Finally I found a black figure, a black figure is shaping itself. This picture is called Hombre puzzle and I found it on This is like a Musil experience. Every experience of each person will become a part of the body. At the same time, one hand grasps an eye puzzle, both eyes look straight ahead as if to examine and observe, but at the same time, they are also observing themselves. In order to be more meaningful, I divided the picture into three stages, from blur to clear. This shows how the personal experience has changed and clarified thinking. I think the overall picture shows a bold observer, critic, and thinker."

This cover is by Yingyen Chen, who writes that Musil's passion for both art and criticism was an inspiration for the creation of the cover. "With the inspiration of symbolism," Chen writes, "I came up with the idea to use abstract shapes instead of  an actual image to create the design. The sharpness of straight lines, as the tenderness and elegance of art, intertwine with each other and create counterparts". Musil's passion for "writing and criticizing in such a complicated and unstable period" was a further impetus for the "dualistic and dialectic" choice of colors, shapes, and fonts. 

Brian Wissing designed this one. He writes: "The eyes in this cover were an important message for me from the beginning. It makes a lot of sense to think about relating eyes to his work. I was intending to relate the eyes with how introspective he was into his society in his writing and in his critiques. Whether you want to paint it as a good or bad thing, he was great at looking, observing and judging. The magnifying glass plays with that as well. [...] There is even the lone eye on the back cover, staring you down as you read the synopsis. While I don’t intend to make anybody uncomfortable necessarily, I do intend to hold people attention and hold their gaze". 


This cover is by Marina Stern, who writes: "My intention is for these images to express the deterioration of art and ideologies over time, and also highlight the helplessness which Musil may have experienced within his life (considering the historical context of war and censoring of the arts). The back cover depicting Perseus and the beheading of Medusa develops a metaphor between Musil's ideologies and the overcoming of manipulation, represented by Medusa. The image of a deteriorating face, and the beheading of a symbol of hate, represent Musil’s views on the arts and creativity: allowing ideas to fall into the realm of the generic, and the dissolving of arts into history mean the loss of creativity. Thus, Musil strives for true creativity and fights against the deterioration of the arts". When it came to choice of fonts and colors, Stern writes: "Hierarchy is made clear with the largest text being the title, and in close proximity the author’s name is below. Cochin was used for the front cover title, developing a powerful, strong, and semi-traditional or historical feel. Skia is used for the author’s name and back cover description. This choice is attributed to the font’s similarity to old greek writings, and also due to its readability and legibility in large blocks of text (simple sans serif style). These fonts blend well due to matching angles in certain letter forms. The paper background was another feature I added since its crinkled, imperfect texture adds to the sense of something deteriorating or flawed. Horizontal patterning on the front highlights a breaking point and deterioration of normalcy. While in back, the line highlights the statue’s gaze. The wine color choice melds with the darkness of the paper background while creating visual interest. Lastly, the positioning of the line art, including the face on the cover and face on the back, create an inward-pointing line of sight. Along the spine, the deteriorating statue looks straight ahead and outward at the reader: all lines of sight direct the viewer’s attention".

Evangeline Kontos came up with this design, explaining: "Musil spoke out against the decline of art, and even social relations, and he did so in an unequivocal manner. When thinking of design ideas to represent “Theater Symptoms”, I wanted to depict Musil’s candid personality-- his sarcasm and honesty during the uniformity during the World War. [...] The red line formed into the shape of a capital “M”, for “Musil”. The red line represented “cutting through” normalcy and repetition, as Musil strived for reformation in the art world (and social/ political issues) with a plain-spoken attitude. I drew the black lines on Illustrator and erased a path to fit the red line. I cut the edge of the red line to a sharp point that fittingly “points” to the author's text. I added a light beige background to add dullness, and to complement the monotone/repetitive lines. The red stroke stands out amongst the background, as Musil did. I used the Bely Display font for the title, as I wanted to represent a more classical feel, as Musil lived and wrote during the World War. I paired the font with Futura, a modern sans serif font that is obviously different from that of the title. The two, I believe, pair well together, and the contemporary feel of Futura suits the author. The spine features the same fonts, this time in red, that once again cut through the black lines. In all, I hope that this concept can show through to the reader, or at least compel the viewer to open the book".