A Great Author

Diotima experiences a growing feeling that the intellectual and cultural eminences at her salon are behaving more and more like ordinary people.

But when she saw princes of the cultural realm enjoying themselves as if they were just anybody, she found it had to make allowances for such a double standard. What is the underlying need, the psychological law behind this common tendency that makes men turn their backs on who they are in their professional lives? Every man is two people, and one hardly knows whether it is in the morning or in the evening that he reverts to his real self. (I,466)

She is forced to conclude that Arnheim belongs in this category.

A truly great mind, she felt, should not care quite so much to mingle with the ordinary cultural elite, nor be so ready to traffic in the fluctuating marketplace of ideas.

The truth was that Arnheim was not a great mind but only a great man of letters.

In our cultural landscape, the great man of letters has replaced the great mind just as the plutocrats have replaced royalty in the political world. Just as the regal intellect and imagination had its place in the days of great political campaigns and great department stores.The leading man of letters represents a special form of the connection between the mind and all large-scale operations. The least one may therefore expect of a great author is that he should drive a great car. (I,466)

Here we begin to wonder if Musil has in mind a specific Great Author. Could he be thinking of Thomas Mann, someone we know he disparaged?

A great author is by no means the same thing as a writer who makes lots of money. He need not necessarily write the best-seller of the year or the book of the month himself, as long as he doesn’t challenge this sort of evaluation, because it is he who sits on all the award committees, signs all the manifestos, writes all the introductions, delivers all the commencement addresses, pronounces on all the important events, and is called in whenever it is necessary to demonstrate what new height of progress have just been achieved…Our well-meaning contemporaries take the stand that having intelligence in itself is not enough (there is so much of it around that a little more or less makes no real difference; anyway, everyone thinks he has enough for his own needs), because our first priority is the struggle against stupidity, which means that intelligence must be displayed, made highly visible and operative, and since the Great Author suits this purpose better than an even greater author whom the largest number might not find quite so easy to understand, everyone does his level best to make the visibly Great even greater.

Who might he be referring to as not so easy to understand? Never mind that without Musil’s foreknowledge, Thomas Mann in 1932 started a Robert Musil Society to support the financially strapped Musil.


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