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The Man Without Qualities: Volume I (1/2)
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The Man Without Qualities: Volume I

(The Man Without Qualities #1)

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4.33  ·  Rating details ·  2,975 ratings  ·  240 reviews
A Sort of Introduction and Pseudo Reality Prevails
Paperback, 725 pages
Published December 9th 1996 by Vintage (first published 1930)
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Lisa The English translation has been published in a two-volume set and a three-volume set. So the length of volume one depends on which set your particula…moreThe English translation has been published in a two-volume set and a three-volume set. So the length of volume one depends on which set your particular volume one belongs to. (less)

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Vit Babenco
Dec 14, 2016 rated it it was amazing
The first volume of The Man Without Qualities comprises two parts: A Sort of Introduction and Pseudoreality Prevails and those consist of one hundred and twenty three short chapters. And every chapter reads as a vivid fable or an acrid anecdote. And together these particolored tiles constitute a variegated mosaic of a brilliant farce which shows a wholeness of a complete book.
What the novel’s like?
But do you know what it's like? It's like traveling second class in Galicia and picking up crab lic
...more
Jimmy
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
Szplug
Apr 02, 2010 rated it it was amazing
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
Lee Klein
Aug 04, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
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
Michael Finocchiaro
UPDATE: new article about Musil, great read!

https://unherd.com/2020/09/the-last-g...

In the Man Without Qualities, Robert Musil created the perfect corporate everyman, a Dilbert for the early 20th C in the crumbling Austro-Hungarian empire. With an incredibly precise wit and penetrating insight, his protagonist Ulrich - who reminded me of Castorp in The Magic Mountain - has no personality but rather derives it from the freaks around him. Nymphomaniacs, neurotics - all the manifestations of a corr
...more
Jessica
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
Stephen P(who no longer can participate due to illness)
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
AC
Apr 29, 2013 rated it it was amazing
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
Dec 22, 2008 rated it it was amazing
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 Di ...more
Michael
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
William
An empire declines.

The first volume of an unfinished monolith by Austrian writer Robert Musil. This is a narrative just as well as it is a totalizing inquiry into the degeneration of power, value, and meaning. The constancy, willfulness, and symbolic relevance of our thought is both pollution and fecundity, an encounter with the price of freedom and non-freedom. Existence is being in its reflection, the faces in the crowd are the only tethers to the exchange of information between one another.
...more
Tim Edison
Jan 09, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
Rarely have I read a book, such as this, where I am not completely certain what the book is about but am still utterly absorbed by it. The title of the book provides the most accurate summary. The first in a trilogy, it really is about "A Man Without Qualities" who is also known as Ulrich.

"It is not difficult to give a description about this thirty-two-year-old man, Ulrich, in general outline, even though all he knew about himself was that he was as far from all the qualities as he was near the
...more
Luís
Often classified among the major works of the 20th century, I have sometimes been tired of it. But of what then? How can such a book (and let's say "volume 1"), which by far condenses the questions and the potentialities, the contradictions and the fears of the beginning of the 20th century, be boring? And indeed, after almost 1000 pages of intellectual dithering, we are flushed. We talk about progress, feelings, Ideas, the meaning of life or the sense of humanity, to mention only that.

The writi
...more
Nick
Aug 10, 2007 rated it it was amazing
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
Eddie Watkins
Jul 02, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: austrian-fiction
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. ...more
Christopher Robinson
Just finished this, the first volume, and now onward into the second.

Magnificent so far. I’ll do a (slightly) more proper review upon finishing the second volume. But in the meantime, I’ll just say that I’m in love with this book and I’m kicking myself for having put it off for so long, for being needlessly intimidated by its bulk. It may be huge, it may be densely packed with ideas, rich with intellect, verbose and fragmentary, but reading it does not feel like “homework.” Despite its abundanc
...more
Aasem Bakhshi
Life has stopped me somehow to embark upon the six (or is it seven?) volumes of Proust, or tomes of Mellville or Cervantes as yet , but having the opportunity to read Musil's masterpiece while I am still alive was an amazing experience. Its like somehow being able to make a little sense of the tragic complexity of this life before after-life. But this tragedy is modern in all its dimensions. I am not sure how it would ever be possible to reproduce the literary experiment of Musil in all its comp ...more
Andrew
There's a lot to unpack here...

I guess the first thing I would compare The Man Without Qualities to is The Magic Mountain, and it likewise features people arguing about ideas in German, but it really is a different beast. Rather than a mountain refuge, Musil sets his novel in glittering prewar Vienna, with a sensational tabloid murder providing much of the background, and at its center is an indifferent, skeptical, directionless, but pretty damn bright guy who tries to figure shit out, using the
...more
Evan
Oct 08, 2007 rated it it was amazing
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
Dan
May 28, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: read-1001
I could have given this five stars; it is a wonderful novel but War and Peace didn't end with Napoleon planning to conquer Moscow. Vol. II has 1200+ unpublished in his lifetime pages. Set in Vienna on the eve of WW I, the book is 51% novel and 49% essay. How to be "yourself" in the modern complicated mass produced world is the still timely search of the book's main character. ...more
rocinante.lit (Robert)
Nov 11, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Volume one of this literary leviathan is a book that inspires reflection and demands immersion. It is not a novel in the conventional sense. The plot plays a negligible role, in fact the most beautiful sentences and passages often contributed not at all to the plot.

Anyone even just vaguely familiar with this novel has likely heard it referred to as a "novel of ideas". While many novels certainly possess a degree of philosophical rumination/exploration few, if any, that I've read have made this t
...more
Scott Gates
Aug 14, 2010 rated it did not like it
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
Jul 03, 2012 rated it really liked it
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
Leah Kalmanson
Jul 19, 2007 rated it it was amazing
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
Ben
Mar 19, 2018 rated it it was amazing
It seemed to Ulrich that with the beginning of his adult life a general lull had set in, a gradual running down, in spite of occasional eddies of energy that came and went, to an ever more listless, erratic rhythm. It was very hard to say what this change consisted of. Were there suddenly fewer great men? Far from it! And besides, they don't matter; the greatness of an era does not depend on them. The intellectually lackluster 1860s and 1880s, for instance, could no more prevent the rise of a Ni ...more
Scott Cox
Mar 28, 2020 rated it really liked it
The venerable Samuel Johnson once opined Milton’s Paradise Lost is a novel that “none ever wished it longer than it is.” The same could be said for Robert Musil’s “The Man Without Qualities.” This review covers Volume I (Parts I and II), 725 pages in total (Part III is a second volume, ending at page 1,129). Describing Musil’s writing is a challenge in itself. The work has been variously described as modernist, philosophical, and experimental. Indeed, there is not much of a plot, unless one cons ...more
Lisa
Sep 26, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: fiction
This is an incredible series, one worth reading more than once. The characters are so unique and beautifully drawn. The language is lovely and the perspective on this time in history is very interesting.
Josh Friedlander
Pretty much every page has lines like this:
In the country, he thought, the gods still come to people. A man matters, his experiences matter, but in the city, where experiences come by the thousands, we can no longer relate them to ourselves; and this is of course the beginning of life’s notorious turning into abstraction.

Which in theory is awesome. Much like The Magic Mountain (Thomas Mann was a big Musil fan), this is a novel of ideas, where the characters are mostly just props who represent d
...more
Simon Robs
Dec 15, 2015 rated it liked it
Early on in this book an exchange between some central characters discussing "Ulrich" ostensibly "The Man Without Qualities."

"Walter was stymied; he groped, wavered. Suddenly he burst out: 'He's a man without qualities!'
What is that?" Clarisse asked, giggling.
Nothing. That's just it, it's nothing."

"Consider what he's like: He always knows what to do. He knows how to gaze into a woman's eyes. he can put his mind to any question anytime. He can box. He is gifted, strong-willed, open-minded, fear
...more
C. Quabela
Mar 11, 2011 rated it it was amazing
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
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Reading 1001: The Man Without Qualities, Vol 1 Jan through April 23 28 May 01, 2021 10:23AM  
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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 The First World War. When Austria became a part of the Third Reich in 1938, Musil left for exile in Switzerland, where he
...more

Other books in the series

The Man Without Qualities (3 books)
  • The Man Without Qualities: Volume II
  • The Man Without Qualities: Vol 3

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