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The Man Without Qualities: Vol 1
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The Man Without Qualities: Vol 1

4.34 of 5 stars 4.34  ·  rating details  ·  1,324 ratings  ·  114 reviews
Contains: A Sort of Introduction
The Like of it Now Happens (I)

"It would be useless to attempt a synopsis of Der Mann ohne Eigenschaften, not only because of its length and complexity, but also because the real action lies not on the surface, in what the characters do (though that is often dramatic enough), but within, in their states of mind, the fluctuations of their emo...more
Paperback, Picador, 365 pages
Published 1979 by Pan Books (first published 1930)
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I’m always appreciative of a book that at first feels unapproachable to me, because this means that I can come back to it when I’m ready, when I’ve grown. This is the case with The Man Without Qualities, a book I had attempted twice last year but found hard to really get into. I picked it up again this year and started from page one, and this time it just clicked. It’s important to me as a reader to get the voice of the writer in my head just right, and it seems to me that I just couldn’t do tha...more
It is difficult to remember precisely events from 13 years ago; it would be far more difficult to remember anything clearly after a century has passed, and few people are given a chance to do so. The staggeringly uncountable amount of events great and miniature that happen in the span of a hundred years is such that I imagine even God would begin to forget or misremember things, or not be able to keep accounts straight, or ledgers in order. Empires dissolve into fragments and so do memories and...more
Amongst the most influential and powerful fictions that I have read are those born from the Austro-Germanic experience amidst the cadaverous ruins of the First World War: Thomas Mann, Hermann Broch, Franz Kafka, Joseph Roth, and now Robert Musil. One of the biggest regrets in my reading life is not having become fluent in German—although the English translators have done a magnificent job of bringing this epoch of profound reflection and soaring imagination to the English language, I can only bu...more
Among the very best I've read. No question. Up there shining a bright light in my own little personal canonical firmament. The ideal book of ideas. Fans of towering literary artistry will love this. Recommended for fans of Infinite Jest -- there's even a riff about what it means when a tennis player is called a genius. Somewhere in Extinction, Bernhard notes that Musil is the best prose writer ever in German. Fantastically drawn characters with incomparable depth thanks to such clear, fluid, ins...more
A quite remarkable book which, now having read, has immediately become a noticable portion of the furniture of my mind... A fine intoduction (for me) to the modernist ethic and the modernist aesthetic... which I've been seeking to understand (with quite some difficulty) for the past two-plus years.

All the secondary literature I've read on Modernism was essentially worthless. Since there is no thread, there really is no thesis; and hence, no real way to approach it via "scholarship". One simply h...more
David Katzman
Aug 20, 2013 David Katzman rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Fans of highly intellectual lit, don't mind minimal plot, and have significant attention spans
The Man Without Qualities is a Modernist masterpiece. An expansive book of ideas yet an intimate view into Austrian society, circa 1913. The writing (in translation from German) is erudite and sophisticated. The view into the psychology of the numerous characters is rich and insightful. The overall critique of both Austrian and human civilization is profound and sharp. There are intimations of Proust here but the language less elaborate. I'm also reminded of Fernando Passoa and The Book of Disq...more
Stephen P
It happens after the transfer. The tedium, then the lurking state of thought-rush, irretrievable perceptions. It may be for three minutes or many hours. I no longer live in time. I am alone in the small cottage. It isn't that I have anything to prove. Simply, I want to be alone with my thoughts. The absence of the weight of another person's unspoken ideas became important. Oppression has become my medium.
The transfer occurs in stages. It must be thought out first. Each stage etched into the min...more
Reading this book was the way I'd wrongly imagined reading Proust would be. That is, at the beginning it was engaging and interesting, and unlike anything I'd read. Then it started to get a little harder, but I still liked it a lot, and was enjoying myself. It has a mentally-ill felony offender! One of my favorite things! And his description of psychosis was much better and more accurate than most authors'. Anyway, at first it was exciting -- Vienna! Modernity! But then it got quite a bit less s...more
Regardless of the presence, absence or definition of plot, this work–what I’ve thus far read of it, which is the first book of the original translation–is nearly universally quotable. And to me, quotable means illuminating and illumination demands from the liver of this life to be had–in this case read, digested and perhaps regurgitated and redigested. The following example is typical; the sentences are thick with insight that is almost said in passing:

“Questions and answers click into each othe...more
Sep 24, 2007 Nick rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: people with a long attention span
Endlessly awesome. Practically plotless and hence captures the imagination purely through its profundity of ideas. The possibilites that Musil postulates through the character of Ulrich are awe-inspiring--his attack on every single way we live our lives is shocking, yet completely reasonable--but ultimately, the abstractness of these solutions cannot uphold the corporeality of an actual human life, and despite the apparent overused and scarred nature of every path that seems to stretch out befor...more
I finally finished volume 1 of this book on the first day of 2009. 730 pages, and I'm not entirely sure I could explain what, if anything, happens. Clearly, not many contemporary readers would enjoy the kind of experience this entails. My description below, written back in the summer of 2007 when I started reading it, pretty much holds. I will now add volume 2 to my "currently reading." Stay tuned for the review, which will probably be forthcoming somewhere around 2015...

My original review (summ...more
Eddie Watkins
Master of the elaborate and perfectly apt simile and an intellectual ironic comic of the highest order, I salute you Robert Musil, you AND your rarefied but highly readable novel composed of hundreds if not thousands of well-engineered lines worthy of weeklong pondering each. It may make your head swim but it'll also teach your brain how to breathe.
Phew! This is a monster. A massive book of ideas. As Mann deals with his sanatorium, Musil approaches Austria-Hungary in the early 20th century, an ancient empire marching into oblivion. Encompasses thoughts of ideologies of the era.

On to Volume 2.
Some books suck me in and I can't put them down until I've finished. Other books hang over my head like an incomplete homework assignment. This one started out like homework, but ended up as addicting as any great story. I believe I read this book over the course of a year and a half, picking it up and putting it down. The story didn't grab me at first, but I kept coming back for the great one-liners. This may be one of the most quotable novels I've ever read. In any case, it's a slow build, but...more
The first volume of Robert Musil's magnificent opus `The Man Without Qualities,' is brilliant and intricate Prussian `a la recherche du temps perdu,' though without Proust's keen appreciation of the arts. This is an epic from the mind of a mathematician and a strict analytic philosopher who becomes ensconced in the aristocracy of Austro-Hungarian Empire in the years of its final disintegration leading up to the first World War. Ulrich is the man without qualities, the sharp minded observer and p...more
Scott Gates
This is the type of novel in which the characters like to lecture each other, and the narrator (the worst character) is constantly lecturing you. Seldom is a subject mentioned for which the narrator doesn’t produce an exasperating mini-lesson. He wants to show us how things really are. There is an unpleasant (and unjustified) presumption of superiority behind such a tendency. The main character, the pouty Ulrich, is kind of like a sad replay of the “nihilist” in Turgenev’s Fathers and Sons, who...more
Loring Wirbel
Perhaps it isn't fair to review this work at the end of Vol. 1, but since Goodreads separates the two volumes, I'll give a midway assessment of the story up to now. Some reviewers rave about Musil as the missing link between Proust and Joyce, or Proust and Pynchon. I'm not so sure he's engaging enough to be considered Pynchon-on-the-Danube, but he's certainly more fun to read than Proust. In fact, this book seems very modernist for something written in the 1930s.

Our protagonist, Ulrich, 'The M...more
There are different kinds of funny. The category this book fits into includes having a smile on the face throughout, bursts of hilarity, and that serious use of comedy which reveals the absurdity of human behaviour. Written un the context of thickening fascist Europe, it's a remarkable mirror on life today. So easily the lusts of genitals, power and cruelty blend seamlessly with lofty idealisms. Entire schools of philosophy are ridiculed gently, or more accurately what is ridiculed is the nugato...more
Joseph Nicolello
Pseudoreality prevails__________________

I've been going back and forth with this first volume for about five years. It was not supposed to be that way although it is. I kept buying it, renting it from libraries, borrowing copies from other Musil admirers, reading it everywhere from broken down buses in Denver blizzards, the Brown Jug in San Francisco after a long night out while dawn crept in, on the plane to Oakland, in the particularly grotesque lower Manhattan DMV, but I always ended up passi...more
I have read some comments to the effect that Musil is not comparable to either Proust or Joyce. This is true. But only to the extent that Joyce and Proust are not comparable to each other either. Their common bond though is of course their incredible perspicacity and insight into the consequences of the modern age before anyone really knew what to make of it. Joyce gives us a perspective from the bottom of society, Proust from the bourgeoisie/middle class, and Musil from the upper (or at least w...more
Matthew Gallaway
Musil's story of the waning years of the Austro-Hungarian Empire as it walks/stumbles/runs blindly into the chasm of the first world war is a masterpiece of modern philosophy, politics, and psychology. I often found myself nodding and laughing (albeit sadly) because the events described by Musil (in prose that's a perfect combination of satire and poetry) so often seem to capture the often ridiculous, futile impulses of our present government/media/society. This was my second time through and I...more
It is only occasionally tedious. It is often very funny. Maybe when I finish it, I can live without reading Joyce and Proust.
I'm only about two hundred pages in, but this is without question one of the best books I've ever read. The author's sense of irony and keen, penetrating insight into things in general are delightful and uncanny. There are few authors whose voices have spoken to me this directly--in fact Nabokov's the only one who comes to mind at the moment.

I keep finding observations in this book that could easily be transposed to 2009 America, with only the names changed--points Musil makes about the popular...more
Nuno Martins
O primeiro e maior volume (843 págs.) já foi, entretanto já me encontro a ler o segundo volume com cerca de metade do tamanho (451 págs) e tenho a dizer que de facto este livro é uma grande obra não só em tamanho, mas como em qualidade.
Musil dedicou quase toda a sua vida na escrita deste livro e nunca o chegou a terminar, podemos mesmo compara-lo a um épico grego.
Fala das vida de Ulrich, um jovem Austríaco no ano de 1914, mesmo antes do início da I Guerra Mundial e aborda inúmeros temas, desde a...more
Zeynep K
"İnsan artık bir ağacın altına uzanıp ayak başparmağı ve ikinci parmağı arasından gökyüzünü seyretmiyor, fakat bir şeyler yaratıyor; ayrıca becerikli olmak isteyen insanın aç kalmasına ve düşlere dalmasına izin yok; o, biftek yiyip yerinden kımıldamak zorunda." 119

"Bir kez olsun sürüklendiğim yerde kalmak istiyorum," 278

" ... ve hava, bir cümlenin bitiminde doğru yere konulmuş bir noktanın sessizliğiyle doluydu." 282

"Gerçekten de, varoluşun bütünlüğünü ve iç düzenini birinci planda ancak sanat y...more
Pierre E. Loignon
J’ai rarement eu autant de plaisir à lire un roman. Les phrases sont franchement magnifiques, les paragraphes grandioses, les chapitres sublimes. Pour reprendre les paroles de Müsil à son propos, pour moi, « chaque fois qu'une parole tombait, une signification profonde s'illuminait, s'avançait comme un dieu voilé et se défaisait dans le silence. » (672) Même si il s’agit d’un roman inachevé, je suis parfaitement d’accord avec Thomas Mann qui en fait l’un des plus grands romans du XXe siècle avec...more
While a difficult read, only partly because of its length and density, this book is pretty much a masterpiece. It seems that nearly every chapter (and most are only 2-3 pp.) contains a breathtaking metaphor or an insight into human nature so exact and honest that I felt quite awed by the time I reached the end (and there's yet another volume half again as long). Musil's pre-WWI Austrian society is not so different from our own in terms of corruption and hypocrisy and he presents its flaws clearl...more
Simon Lavoie
Les traits constitutifs de la société complexe (fonctionnellement différenciée) naissante des ruines de l'ancienne stratification par ordres et essences, faits homme. Portraits frappants de maturité, d'exactitude; réconfort du déni d'originalité que Musil apporte souverainement à ce qui, conquis de haute réflexion, ou actif sourdement, agite encore et toujours nos vies.

"L['Autriche-Hongrie] était, dans l'actuel chapitre de l'évolution, le premier pays auquel Dieu eût retiré son crédit,...more
Charles Puskas
Slow reading, but worth it. Similar to Kafka's The Castle dealing with bureacracy. Focus on bourgeiose class and royalists planning to celebrate the 50th year of Emperor Franz Joseph's reign of the Austro-Hungarian War as Europe soon enters the Great War, irony, saracasm, and emerging anarchist groups with iron-willed reaction by the military. The author/narrator is caught up in the midst of all this awkwardedness.
Apr 18, 2007 Bradley rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: People like Ryan Kleeberger
Shelves: fiction
Kind of a stiff, gentrified Austrian Henry Miller. Ryan says it's brilliant and Ryan is brilliant so I guess it's brilliant. But as for now, I bow out at around two hundred pages. Maybe when I'm older and have given up drinking or rock and roll. The writing is very astute, the narrative, very witty. A trifle boring.
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Austrian writer.

He graduated military boarding school at Eisenstadt (1892-1894) and then Hranice, in that time also known as Mährisch Weißkirchen, (1894-1897). These school experiences are reflected in his first novel - The confusions of young Törless.

He served in army during World War I. When Austria became a part of the Third Reich in 1938, Musil left for exile in Switzerland, where he died of...more
More about Robert Musil...
The Man Without Qualities The Confusions of Young Törless The Man Without Qualities, Vol. 2: Into the Millennium Five Women Drei Frauen

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“…. by the time they have reached the middle of their life’s journey, few people remember how they have managed to arrive at themselves, at their amusements, their point of view, their wife, character, occupation and successes, but they cannot help feeling that not much is likely to change anymore. It might even be asserted that they have been cheated, for one can nowhere discover any sufficient reason for everything’s coming about as it has. It might just have well as turned out differently. The events of people’s lives have, after all, only to the last degree originated in them, having generally depended on all sorts of circumstances such as the moods, the life or death of quite different people, and have, as it were, only at the given point of time come hurrying towards them” 33 likes
“An impractical man--which he not only seems to be, but really is--will always be unreliable and unpredictable in his dealings with others. He will engage in actions that mean something else to him than to others, but he is at peace with himself about everything as long as he can make it all come together in a fine idea.” 15 likes
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