An Element of Pathology

Is Clarisse mad or a prophet (or both)? She has gotten her
brother Siegmund to try to get her permission to visit Moosbrugger, but he has been unsuccessful. The two of them, along with Walter and Meingast, share a vegetarian dinner of wholesome foods and discuss her fascination with Moosbrugger.

“You were telling me about a certain Moosbrugger, that he
was a carpenter…”

Clarisse kept her eyes on him.

“Who else was a carpenter? The Savior! Wasn’t that what you
said?” In fact, you even told me that you had written a letter about it to some influential person, didn’t you?”

“Stop it!” Walter burst out. His head was spinning. But he
had no sooner expressed his protest than it occurred to him that the letter was something else he had not heard about, and growing weak he asked: “What letter?”

He got no answer from anyone. Meingast, passing over his
question, said: “it’s one of the most timely ideas. We’re incapable of liberating ourselves by our own efforts, no doubt about it; we call it democracy, but that’s merely the political term for our psychological state, our ‘you can do it this
way, but you cand also do it another way.’ Ours is the era of the ballot. Each year we determine our sexual ideal, the beauty queen, by ballot, and all we have done by making empirical science our intellectual ideal is to let the
facts do the voting for us. We are living in an unphilosophical, dispirited age; it doesn’t have the courage to decide what is valuable and what isn’t, and democracy means, expressed most succinctly: Do whatever is happening!…”

Clarisse feels that not only Moosbrugger has a special significance but also the sexual deviant they saw from their window. Meingast explains that she is not so much deluded as she is a seeker of a new truth.

“But Clarisse says: ‘It is not by chance that this man
stopped under my window…’ Now, let us try to understand her rightly. She’s wrong, for causally the incident is, of course, a coincidence. But what Clarisse is really saying is: If I regard everything as explained, then a person will never be able to  change the world. She regards it as inexplicable that a murderer whose name, if I am not mistaken, is Moosbrugger happens to be a carpenter; she regards it as inexplicable than an unknown sufferer from sexual disturbances should have stopped just under her window; and so she has fallen into the habit of regarding all sorts of other tings that happen to her as inexplicable and…” Again Meingast kept his listeners waiting awhile; his voice had become reminiscent of a man with a resolve who is firmly but warily tiptoeing up to something, and now he pounced: “And so she will do something!” Meingast ended on a strong note.

It gave Clarisse goose pimples.

“I repeat,” Meingast said, “this is not subject to
intellectual criticism. But intellectuality is, as we know, only the expression or the tool of a life that has dried out, while the point Clarisse is making may arise from another sphere: that of the will…”

Meingast could have continued talking, now that he had hit
his stride: To begin with, the idea of salvation had always been
anti-intellectual. What the world today needs more than anything else is a strong, healthy delusion” was what he had been on the point of saying, but he had swallowed it in favor of the other ending. Second, there was the concomitant
physical meaning implied in the etymology of salvation, its link with “salve” carrying an inference that deeds
alone could save, or at least experiences involving the whole person, neck and crop. Third, he had been prepared to say that the overintellectualization of the male could under certain conditions bring woman to the fore as the instinctive
leader in action, of which Clarisse was one of the first examples. Finally, there were all the transformations of the salvation idea in the history of peoples, and the present movement from salvation as a purely religious concept,
which had been dominant for centuries, toward the realization that salvation must be brought about by resoluteness of will and even, if necessary, by force. Saving the world by force happened to be his central idea at the moment. (II,905-906)

[Walter] appeared to be trying to defend himself and
Clarisse as well, from being misunderstood. Even when her notions seemed to be incoherent, he said, one could always detect behind them an element of pathology that was part of the ferment of the times; it was her most curious
faculty. She was like a dowsing rod pointing to hidden springs—in this case, the necessity of replacing modern man’s passive, merely intellectual, rational attitude with “values.” The form of intelligence of the time had destroyed all
firm ground, so it was only the will—indeed, it couldn’t be done otherwise, then it was only violence—that could create a new hierarchy of values in which a person could find beginning and end for ins inner life…He was repeating,
reluctantly and yet with enthusiasm, what he had heard from Meingast.

Musil published Into the Millenium (The Criminals) in 1932. One could hardly ask for a better summary of the cultural forces destroying Germany: contempt for democracy, appreciation of the irrational, salvation through violence, the worship of action, the creation of a strong delusion/myth and the power of the will.


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