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The Novel 100
Book 27-Man Without Qualities
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Apr 09, 2012 07:13PM
I finally finished book 27- The Man Without Qualities by Robert Musil. As I set out to write this I have no idea how I am going to summarize a three volume mega novel with a philsophical bent. The first two volumes I didn't like very much, but the third volume I adored. I am not sure what that makes the average for the entire novel in terms of rating, but I guess over all it falls somewhere around a 3 star novel.
The novel, featuring a man named Ulrich who opts out of life by taking a year holiday and doing nothing but thinking through life, has very little action in it. The essential plot follows a cast of characters who have banded together for the collatoral campaign, a project that is trying to come up with one idea to symbolize the monarch's jubilee. Most of the novel consists of Ulrich playing the devil's advocate through a whole host of conversations with various people. He argues a great deal of the time from both sides of every argument which a lot of the time is highly irritating. The last novel takes place after his fathers death when he reunites with a sister he hasn't seen in years. They have an almost incestuous relationship as they both see each other as two halves of a whole. Ulrich's philosophy is finally solidified at this point in the novel.
One of my favorite tangents in the novel was Ulrich playing with the idea of soul. I actually really like the idea he has which is essentially that the soul is all the empty places inside of us not filled up by personality, societal views or personal feelings. Here are some quotes:
"Every dweller on earth has a tenth character, which is nothing more or less than the passive illusion of spaces unfilled"
" some people even think away out and beyond everything, of a God who has the missing piece of themselves in His pocket"
"all roads to the mind start from the soul, but none leads back again"
"the loved person seems to stand where otherwise there is always something missing"
"I called it the acoustics of the void"
The book also had a great deal to stay about the idea of "mystic rapture". I was ecstatic to feel what I have felt many a time (and often describe as "so excited I could scream" ) laid out in such fantastic words. It made my heart burn with the excitement the book was describing. It is for this reason, that I can't say I hate this book. It is also this idea of connectedness with the larger world beyond that makes me love literature. When you see something of yourself, outside of yourself it is very heart warming and leaves you with a feeling that all is not lost in the world.
"all moments that had meant something decisive in his life ahd left him with the same feeling"
"all decisive moments of his life had been associated with such a sensation of amazement and lonliness"
"every sort of excitement that exceeds the normal very soon mists over with a patina of melancholy, absurdity and satiation."
"They call it an undoing of self, and at the same time declare they live more fully than ever"
"The heart 'ravenous and satiated' , as they say- suddenly finds itslef in those utopian regions that lie somewhere and nowhere between an infinite tenderness and an infinited loneliness"
The book also has a lot to say about love and what it means between a man and women, but also the love of ideas. Most of the characters are in love with someone, or over the course of the novel several someones. Diotima, Ulrich's cousin is intellectually in love with a member of the collatoral campaign and debates the entire novel whether to take this into the physical realm.
The most fantastic quote that Ulrich aid to Diotima was this:
"to strip to the skin, put arms round each other's shoulders and instead of talking, burst out singing"
and also encouraged her to 'so to speak touching him under his pscyhological loin cloth without shuddering"
There were a lot more that were interesting including these;
"...had entered the territory of intimacy where one reveals oneself to the other person in all one's emotional disorder"
"When do you understand another human being? You have to play along with him"
"It goes back a very long way, this desire for a doppelganger of the opposite sex, this craving for the love of a being that will be entirely the same as oneself and yet another"
"true love-sickness is not desire for possession, but only a gentle unveiling of the wordl itself"
Finally there is a lot that talks about morality. Ulrich never really officially pins down his philsophy of life, but essentially you are never left feeling that the world doesn't have meaning or that there isn't a God. Despite several arguements about good and evil and deconstructing them Ulrich still believes that they exist. This book talks a lot about how morality should be fun and that living a life consistent with your own philosophy of life should not be boring. It left me excited about life and with a feeling that one can have a personal view of the world, still believe in some form of universal truth, but yet also be open to the differences amongst people. By playing both sides of each arguement I really feel like Ulrich comes closer to the truth about life than a lot of other people. He plays with the idea of a both/and philsophy and also that the truth lifes somehwere in between polar sides of an argument.
"We ourselves must work out the sum he sets us"
"he regarded the problem set by every human life as one of these" (a math problem with a specific answer but no general one)
"nowadays every truth comes into the world split into two mutually antagonistic falsehoods"
"perhaps they're potentially good human beings. They don't lose that even as criminals"
"Why should moral people be so dreary...when their intentions are good ought to be the most delicious, the most difficult, the most enjoyable thing anyone can possibly imagine"
"All moral propostions, "Ulrich confirmed, ' refer to a sort of dream condition that's long ago taken wing and flown away ot of the cage of rules in which we try to hold it fast"
"For him morality was neither conformism nor the sum of acquired knowledge: it was the infinite fullness of lifes potentialities"
"morality is imagination'
This book was fun, Ulrich never takes himself seriously and you feel light hearted and silly about everything the whole time. It is long, though, and daunting. Large chunks of the book at times seem unnecessary and the action is slow moving. The book also doesn't come to a conclusion either because the author never finished the novel or he purposely leaves it vague. Either way, this book is likely not for everyone. I love philosophy and playing around with ideas in my head so for that I mostly enjoyed the book.
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