It is comforting to be surrounded by a personal library, containing as it does a history of your intellectual passions. The problem is those books when opened now probably won’t recreate your original passions. Musil wonders why.
If, as is the case from time to time, you happen to reencounter a play or a novel which twenty years ago grabbed hold of your soul, along with the souls of many others, you experience something which has actually never been explained, since apparently everyone takes it for granted: the sparkle is gone, the importance has disappeared, dust and moths fly off at your touch. But why this aging must take place and what exactly is altered in the process, this no one knows. The comedy of all art anniversaries consists of the old admirers making solemn, uneasy faces, as if their collar-button had slipped down behind their shirt front.
It is not the same as reencountering a flame of your youth who has not grown any prettier over the years. For in the latter case you no longer even comprehend what once made you stutter, although at least it has something to do with the touching transitory nature of all earthly pursuits and the notoriously fickle nature of love. But a work of literature that you reencounter is like an old sweetheart who for twenty years has been embalmed in alcohol: not a hair is different, and not a fleck of her rosy epidermis has changed. A shiver rolls down your spine! Now you are supposed to be once again who you were: one semblance demands another. It is a stretching torture, in the course of which the soles have remained in place, but the rest of the body has been twisted a thousand times around the revolving world!……It is, we realize, if appearances do not deceive, related to fashion. Fashion, after all, is not only marked by the one characteristic, namely that you find it ridiculous in retrospect, but also by the other, that as long as a fashion lasts, you can hardly imagine taking seriously the opinions of a man who is not dressed from head to toe just as ridiculously as you yourself are. I would not know what in our admiration of antiquity could shield a budding philosopher from suicide, if not the fact that Plato and Aristotle wore no pants; pants have contributed far more than you might think to the intellectual development of Europe, for without them, Europeans would most likely never have gotten over their classical-humanistic inferiority complex vis-à-vis the antique…But what conclusions may we draw from the fact that it is just as ridiculously unpleasant t look at old fashions (so long as they have not yet become costumes), as it is ridiculously unpleasant to look at old pictures, or the outmoded façades of old-style houses, and to read yesterday’s books? Clearly, there is no other conclusion except that we become unpleasant to ourselves the moment we gain some distance from what we were. This stretch of self-loathing begins several years before now and ends approximately with our grandparents, that is, the time to which we begin to be indifferent. It is only then that what was is no longer outdated, but begins to be old; it is our past, and no longer that which passed away from us. But what we ourselves did and were lies almost completely in the realm of self-loathing….How are we to make sense of this? Apparently inherent to the nature of temporal matters is a certain degree of exaggeration, a “superplus” and superabundance. Even a slap in the face requires more rage than you can be accountable for. This enthusiasm of“now” burns up, and as soon as it has become superfluous, it is extinguished by forgetting…Only great art, that indeed which alone, strictly speaking, merits being called art, constitutes an exception. But the latter has never really fit that well in the society of the living. (Art Anniversay, 82-86)