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The Man Without Qualities: Volume I (1/2) The Man Without Qualities: Volume I by Robert Musil
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The Man Without Qualities Quotes Showing 1-30 of 40
“…. 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”
Robert Musil, The Man Without Qualities: Volume I
“...love must be regarded as one of the religious and dangerous experiences, because it lifts people out of the arms of reason and sets them afloat with no ground under their feet.”
Robert Musil, The Man Without Qualities: Volume I
“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.”
Robert Musil, The Man Without Qualities: Volume I
“In earlier times, one had an easier conscience about being a person than one does today. People were like cornstalks in a field, probably more violently tossed back and forth by God, hail, fire, pestilence, and war than they are today, but as a whole, as a city, a region, a field, and as to what personal movement was left to the individual stalk – all this was clearly defined and could be answered for. But today responsibility’s center of gravity is not in people but in circumstances. Have we not noticed that experiences have made themselves independent of people? They have gone on the stage, into books, into the reports of research institutes and explorers, into ideological or religious communities, which foster certain kinds of experience at the expense of others as if they are conducting a kind of social experiment, and insofar as experiences are not actually being developed, they are simply left dangling in the air. Who can say nowadays that his anger is really his own anger when so many people talk about it and claim to know more about it than he does? A world of qualities without a man has arisen, of experiences without the person who experiences them, and it almost looks as though ideally private experience is a thing of the past, and that the friendly burden of personal responsibility is to dissolve into a system of formulas of possible meanings. Probably the dissolution of the anthropocentric point of view, which for such a long time considered man to be at the center of the universe but which has been fading away for centuries, has finally arrived at the “I” itself, for the belief that the most important thing about experience is the experiencing, or of action the doing, is beginning to strike most people as naïve. There are probably people who still lead personal lives, who say “We saw the So-and-sos yesterday” or “We’ll do this or that today” and enjoy it without its needing to have any content of significance. They like everything that comes in contact with their fingers, and are purely private persons insofar as this is at all possible. In contact with such people, the world becomes a private world and shines like a rainbow. They may be very happy, but this kind of people usually seems absurd to the others, although it is still not at all clear why.

And suddenly, in view of these reflections, Ulrich had to smile and admit to himself that he was, after all, a character, even without having one.”
Robert Musil, The Man Without Qualities: Volume I
tags: ch-39
“Life forms a surface that acts as if it could not be otherwise, but under its skin things are pounding and pulsing.”
Robert Musil, The Man Without Qualities: Volume I
tags: life
“And what would you do, ... if you could rule the world for a day? I suppose I would have no choice but to abolish reality.”
Robert Musil, The Man Without Qualities: Volume I
“There is, in short, no great idea that stupidity could not put to its own uses [....] The truth by comparison, has only one appearance and only one path, and is always at a disadvantage.”
Robert Musil, The Man Without Qualities: Volume I
“What is it you do, then? I'll tell you: You leave out whatever doesn't suit you. As the author himself has done before you. Just as you leave things out of your dreams and fantasies. By leaving things out, we bring beauty and excitement into the world. We evidently handle our reality by effecting some sort of compromise with it, an in-between state where the emotions prevent each other from reaching their fullest intensity, graying the colors somewhat. Children who haven't yet reached that point of control are both happier and unhappier than adults who have. And yes, stupid people also leave things out, which is why ignorance is bliss. So I propose, to begin with, that we try to love each other as if we were characters in a novel who have met in the pages of a book. Let's in any case leave off all the fatty tissue that plumps up reality.”
Robert Musil, The Man Without Qualities: Volume I
“We have gained reality and lost dream. No more lounging under a tree and peering at the sky between one's big and second toes; there's work to be done. To be efficient, one cannot be hungry and dreamy but must eat steak and keep moving.”
Robert Musil, The Man Without Qualities: Volume I
“A man can't be angry at his own time without suffering some damage.”
Robert Musil, The Man Without Qualities: Volume I
“For only fools, fanatics, and mental cases can stand living at the highest pitch of soul; a sane person must be content with declaring that life would not be worth living without a spark of that mysterious fire.”
Robert Musil, The Man Without Qualities: Volume I
tags: life, soul
“For a long time now a hint of aversion had lain on everything he did and experienced, a shadow of impotence and loneliness, an all-encompassing distaste for which he could not find the complementary inclination. He felt at times as though he had been born with a talent for which there was at present no objective.”
Robert Musil, The Man Without Qualities: Volume I
“To the mind (Geist), good and evil, above and below, are not skeptical, relative concepts, but terms of a function, values that depend on the context they find themselves in…. It regards nothing as fixed, no personality, no order of things: because our knowledge may change from day to day, it regards nothing as binding: everything has the value it has only until the next act of creation, as a face changes with the words we are speaking to it.

And so the mind or spirit is the great opportunist, itself impossible to pin down, take hold of, anywhere: on is tempted to believe that of all its influence nothing is left but decay. Every advance is a gain in particular and a separation in general; it is an increase in power leading only to a progressive increase in impotence, but there is no way to quit. Ulrich thought of that body of facts and discoveries, growing almost by the hour, out of which the mind must peer today if it wishes to scrutinize any given problem closely. This body grows away from its inner life. Countless views, opinions, systems of ideas from every age and latitude, from all sorts of sick and sound, waking and dreaming brains run through it like thousands of small sensitive nerve strands, but the central nodal point tying them all together is missing. Man feels dangerously close to repeating the fate of those gigantic primeval species that perished because of their size; but he cannot stop himself.”
Robert Musil, The Man Without Qualities: Volume I
“[...] a number of flawed individuals can often add up to a brilliant social unit.”
Robert Musil, The Man Without Qualities: Volume I
“All the knowledge that has led our species from wearing animal skins to people flying, complete with proofs, would fill a handful of reference books, but a bookcase the size of the earth would not suffice to hold all the rest, quite apart from the vast discussions that are conducted not with the pen but with the sword and chains.”
Robert Musil, The Man Without Qualities: Volume I
“And since the possession of qualities presupposes that one takes a certain pleasure in their reality, all this gives us a glimpse of how it may all of a sudden happen to someone who cannot summon up any sense of reality — even in relation to himself — that one day he appears to himself as a man without qualities.”
Robert Musil, The Man Without Qualities: Volume I
“If a person is plagued by religious doubts,as many are in their youth, he takes to persecuting unbelievers; if troubled by love, he turns it into marriage; and when overcome by some other enthusiasm, he takes refuge from the impossibility of living constantly in its fire by beginning to live for that fire. That is, he fills the many moments of his day, each of which needs a content and an impetus, not with his ideal state but with the many ways of achieving it by overcoming obstacles and incidents which guarantees that he will never need to attain it. For only fools, fanatics, and mental cases can stand living at the highest pitch of soul; a sane person must be content with declaring that life would not be worth living without a spark of that mysterious fire.”
Robert Musil, The Man Without Qualities: Volume I
tags: soul
“C’è un equilibrio precario, e l’uomo si spinge in avanti per non vacillare, come un funambolo. E poiché avanzando nella vita egli si lascia quella vissuta alle spalle, gli anni ancora da vivere e quelli già vissuti formano un muro, e il suo cammino finisce per assomigliare a quello del tarlo che, nel legno, può contorcersi come vuole, perfino tornare indietro, ma si lascia sempre alle spalle uno spazio vuoto. E in questa tremenda sensazione di uno spazio cieco, tagliato fuori, dietro a quello riempito, in questa metà che continua a mancare, sebbene tutto sia già un intero, si scorge finalmente ciò che chiamiamo anima.”
Robert Musil, The Man Without Qualities: Volume I
“The drive of his own nature to keep developing prevents him from believing that anything is final and complete, yet everything he encounters behaves as though it were final and complete. He suspects that the given order of things is not as solid as it pretends to be; no thing, no self, no form, no principle, is safe, everything is undergoing an invisible but ceaseless transformation, the unsettled holds more of the future than the settled, and the present is nothing but a hypothesis that has not yet been surmounted. What better can he do than hold himself apart from the world, in the good sense exemplified by the scientist's guarded attitude toward facts that might be tempting him to premature conclusions? Hence he hesitates in trying to make something of himself; a character, a profession, a fixed mode of being, are for him concepts that already shadow forth the outlines of the skeleton, which is all that will be left of him in the end.”
Robert Musil, The Man Without Qualities: Volume I
“For if one is partly insane, one is also, juridically, partly sane, and if one is partly sane one is at least partly responsible for one's actions, and if one is partly responsible one is wholly responsible; for responsibility is, as they say, that state in which the individual has the power to devote himself to a specific purpose of his own free will, independently of any compelling necessity, and one cannot simultaneously possess and lack such self-determination.”
Robert Musil, The Man Without Qualities: Volume I
“He was in that familiar state - not that the occasion mattered to seriously to him -- of incoherent ideas spreading outward without a center, so characteristic of the present, and whose strange arithmetic adds up to a random proliferation of numbers without forming a unit.”
Robert Musil, The Man Without Qualities: Volume I
“Air and earth form an anthill traversed, level upon level, by roads live with traffic. Air trains, ground trains, underground trains, people mailed through tubes special-delivery, and chains of cars race along horizontally, while express elevators pump masses of people vertically from one traffic level to another; at the junctions, people leap from one vehicle to the next, instantly sucked in and snatched away by the rhythm of it, which makes a syncope, a pause, a little gap of twenty seconds during which a word might be hastily exchanged with someone else. Questions and answers synchronize like meshing gears; everyone has only certain fixed tasks.”
Robert Musil, The Man Without Qualities: Volume I
“A man going quietly about his business all day long expends far more muscular energy than an athlete who lifts a huge weight once a day. This has been proved physiologically, and so the social sum total of everybody's little everyday efforts, especially when added together, doubtless releases far more energy into the world than do rare heroic feats. This total even makes the single heroic feat look positively minuscule, like a grain of sand on a mountaintop with a megalomaniacal sense of its own importance.”
Robert Musil, The Man Without Qualities: Volume I
“The one thing that remains permanently behind the times, especially because it prides itself on its steadfastness, is the human heart, most of all that of the conscientious man. The mind is never so hard, dry, and twisted as when it has a slight chronic heart condition.”
Robert Musil, The Man Without Qualities: Volume I
tags: heart, life
“Even Diotima and Amheim were shy of using it without a modifier, for it is still possible to speak of having a great, noble, craven, daring, or debased soul, but to come right out with "my soul" is something one simply cannot bring oneself to do. It is distinctly an
older person's word, and this can only be understood by assuming that in the course of life people become more and more aware of something for which they urgently need a name they cannot find until they finally resort, reluctantly, to the name they had originally despised. How to describe it, then? Whether one is at rest or in motion, what matters is not what lies ahead, what one sees, hears, wants, takes, masters. It forms a horizon, a semicircle before one, but the ends of this semicircle are joined by a string, and the plane of this string goes right through·the middle of the world. In front, the face and hands look out of it; sensations and strivings run ahead of it, and no one doubts that whatever one does·is always reasonable, or at least passionate. In other words, outer
circumstances call for us to act in a way everyone can understand; and if, in the toils of passion, we do something incomprehensible, that too is, in its own way, understandable.”
Robert Musil, The Man Without Qualities: Volume I
“All this means, then,” he threw in, “is that until further notice you refuse to be a human being!” “That’s about it. It has such a disagreeable touch of the dilettante. But,” Ulrich continued after some thought, “I am even prepared to admit something else, something quite different. The experts never get to the end of anything. It’s not only that they haven’t got to the end of anything today. But they can’t even picture the idea of their activities ever being complete. Perhaps they can’t even wish it. Can one imagine, for instance, that man will still have a soul once he has learnt to understand it completely and manage it biologically and psychologically? And yet that is the state of things we are trying to achieve! There it is. Knowledge is an attitude, a passion. Actually an illicit attitude. For the compulsion to know is just like dipsomania, erotomania, and homicidal mania, in producing a character that is out of balance. It is not at all true that the scientist goes out after truth. It is out after him. It is something he suffers from. The truth is true and the fact is real without taking any notice of him. All he has is the passion for it. He is a dipsomaniac whose tipple is facts, and that leaves its mark on his character. And he doesn’t care a damn whether what comes of his discoveries is something whole, human, perfect—or indeed, what comes of them! It’s all full of contradictions and passive suffering and at the same time enormously active and energetic.”
Robert Musil, The Man Without Qualities
“And so the mind or spirit is the great opportunist, itself impossible to pin down, take hold of, anywhere; one is tempted to believe that of all its influence nothing is left but decay. Every advance is a gain in particular and a separation in general; it is an increase in power leading only to a progressive increase in impotence, but there is no way to quit.”
Robert Musil, The Man Without Qualities: Volume I
tags: mind, power
“Science is possible only where situations repeat themselves, or where you have some control over them, and where do you have more repetition and control than in the army? A cube would not be a cube if it were not just as rectangular at nine o'clock as at seven.
The same kind of rules work for keeping the planets in orbit as in ballistics. We'd have no way of understanding or judging anything if things flitted past us only once. Anything that has to be valid and have a name must be repeatable, it must be represented by many specimens, and if you had never seen the moon before, you'd think it was a flashlight.Incidentally, the reason God is such an embarrassment to science is that he was seen only once, at the Creation, before there were any trained observers around.”
Robert Musil, The Man Without Qualities: Volume I
“A thrilling sense of having been chosen for something is the best and the only certain thing in one whose glance surveys the world for the first time. If he monitors his feelings, he finds nothing he can accept without reservation. He seeks a possible beloved but can't tell whether it's the right one; he is capable of killing without being sure that he will have to. The drive of his own nature to keep developing prevents him from believing that anything is final and complete, yet
everything he encounters behaves as though it were final and complete. He suspects that the given order of things is not as solid as it pretends to be; no thing, no self, no form, no principle, is safe, everything is undergoing an invisible but ceaseless transformation, the unsettled holds more of the future than the settled, and the present is nothing but a hypothesis that has not yet been surmounted. What better can he do than hold himself apart from the world, in the good sense exemplified by the scientist's guarded attitude toward facts that might be tempting him to premature conclusions? Hence he hesitates in trying to make something of himself; a character, a profession, a fixed mode of being, are for him concepts that already shadow forth the outlines of the skeleton, which is all that will be left of him in the end.”
Robert Musil, The Man Without Qualities: Volume I
tags: life
“Everything we feel and do is somehow oriented "lifeward," and the least deviation away from this direction toward something beyond is difficult or alarming. This is true even of the simple act of walking: one lifts one's center of gravity, pushes it forward, and lets it drop again - and the slightest change, the merest hint of shrinking from this letting-oneself-drop-into-the-future, or even stopping to wonder at it - and one can no longer stand upright!”
Robert Musil, The Man Without Qualities: Volume I

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