Jimmy's Reviews > The Guiltless

The Guiltless by Hermann Broch
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's review
May 04, 2012

liked it
bookshelves: austria, year-1950s, male, novel
Recommended to Jimmy by: the gutless
Recommended for: the guileless

How do I rate a book whose quality and style varies from chapter to chapter, though it holds together thematically and plotwise as a novel? It's an intriguing and frustrating read.

At the end there is a "Making of" chapter that talks about how the book came into being. Turns out half of these were short stories Broch wrote at different times. He thought it would be more marketable if he tied them all together into a novel, so he wrote the other half of these with that purpose in mind. There are also a few (bad) poems in the midst as well.

Considering all that, it works surprisingly well.

Still, as expected, the stories that he had already written beforehand were much better. Ones like 'Sailing before a Light Breeze' were mindblowingly good. I can't put my finger on why I was so wrapped up in it, how it was so strange yet so familiar and irresistable to me. Broch can definitely write when he's on. But then there are chapters like 'Studienrat Zacharias's Four Speeches' which devolved into pointless diatribes and boring narration and 'The Commendatore' (both written later for the purpose of tying this book together) which were quite a bore to read.

Broch is philosophical, and it works for him sometimes. I found this passage very beautiful for instance:
This friendly warm rigidity, however, could not endure; the specific clarity, or one might say Biedermeier quality, which the afternoon light had given the overall picture, was somehow superannuated, yes superannuated, just as the garden itself and the human group that had gathered there were superannuated, projected into an almost false Indian summer, a false survival, a false rigity, which ceased to be static the moment one viewed the picture with somewhat narrowed eyes: true, even then there was no change in the primordial, light-engendered unity of all things visible, nor could there be any change; but whereas previously, on an outermost surface, as it were, motion was immobilized, so that the animal slipped into the vegetable, the realm of flowers into a realm of stone, now suddenly the reverse occurred, and where previously there had been a world of motionless contours that could at most be broken down into spots of color, there was now a world of motion in which things, regardless of their nature--stone, flower, color spot or line--were set in motion, becoming dynamic as the human mind itself, as though drawn into it, into this mind which in search of rest is forever fleeing rest and even in the storehouse of its memory does not become static, but preserves its stores only in the form of constant tension and action--creative infidelity of faithful memory--because only motion creates contours, creates things, and since even color is a thing, creates colors and a world. p. 181
Beautiful in that Wallace Stevensian way that some may find boring. And when taken too far, it definitely was boring.

But the other part of his philosophical musings seemed to be more political or something... concerned too much with hammering down a point, and came across as way too prescriptive and heavy-handed for me. Here for instance:
Yes, we, our generation more than any other, is faced with the threat that man will be cast out from his kinship with God and fall to the level of the animal, no, lower than the animal, for the animal has never had a self to lose. Doesn't our indifference, even now, mark the beginning of such a fall? For an animal may be capable of bewailing but never of help or even of willingness to help; smitten with the gravity of indifference it cannot smile. And for us the world no longer smiles; nor does the self. Our fear grows. ... Our task is too great, and that is why we arm ourselves with blind indifference. The dispersive force of our self is too great for us. Uncontrollable in its reasoning and terrible logic, it has created a world whose multiplicity has become unintelligible for us, too uncontrollable with its unleashed forces. ... p. 261
I enjoyed the last half of this book considerably less than the first half, perhaps precisely because Broch was trying to tie these different threads together a little too forcefully by the end. I really enjoyed the mysterious quality of the first half, where I couldn't quite put my finger on what he was getting at...

Also, to compare it with his fellow Austrian novelist of ideas Robert Musil... I'd say that Musil is a lot more funny and consistently excellent than Broch. But then again, this book may not be Broch's best.

One more thing, there is a passage in the 'Making Of' chapter at the end that reminded me of Mount Analogue, which was one of my recent favorites, so I wanted to share it...
For the totality of being that an art work is (by virtue of representing it), necessarily encompasses infinity and nothingness, and these two are the foundation of all conceptual knowledge, the foundation (denied to animals) of the most human of all human faculties: namely, the faculty of being able to say "I." Consequently both are irrevocably fundamental to man, though they are beyond the scope of his knowledge, in part because, though one can always think and even count toward infinity and nothingness, one can never reach them, regardless of how many steps of thought or enumeration one takes, because the ultimate foundations of existence (otherwise they would not be ultimate) lie in a second, logical sphere removed from it and accordingly cannot be grasped by the methods of the first sphere. Herein lines the absolute, unattainable in its remoteness, yet suddenly present in a work of art, immediately grasped, the miracle of the human as such, the beautiful, the first step toward the purification of the human soul. p292
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Reading Progress

May 4, 2012 – Started Reading
May 4, 2012 – Shelved
May 4, 2012 –
page 66
22.6% "With the lips that had rested on the judge's severe lips, with the lips that had once drunk the judge's breath, with these lips in which breath still shaped itself into words, the baroness now ate small pieces of roast veal."
May 22, 2012 – Finished Reading

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