Archive for the ‘Into the Millenium (The Criminals)’ Category

Offended Child

September 18, 2011

Ulrich is pondering the source, range and meaning of the emotions. He understands the limits of a purely material explanation.

So if the scientific goal may be said to be a broad and wherever possible ironclad anchoring in the realm of nature, there is still blended with it a peculiar exuberance, which can be roughly expressed in the proposition: What stands low stands firm. In the overcoming of a theological philosophy of nature, this was once an exuberance of denial, a ‘bearish speculation in human values.’ Man preferred to see himself as a thread in the weave of the world’s carpet rather than as someone standing on this carpet; and it is easy to understand how a devilish, degrading desire for soullessness also rubbed off on the emptiness of the soul when it straggled noisily into it materialistic adolescence. This was later held against it in religiously straitlaced fashion by all the pious enemies of scientific thinking, but its innermost essence was nothing more than a good-natured gloomy romanticism, an offended child’s love for God, and therefore also for his image, a love that in the abuse of this image still has unconscious aftereffects today. (II,1245-1246)

It is then surprising if what comes to light behind the physiological explanations of our behavior is ultimately, quite often, nothing but the familiar idea that we let our behavior be steered by chain reflexes, secretions, and the mysteries of the body simply because we were seeking pleasure and avoiding its opposite? And not only in psychology, also in biology and even in political economy–in short, wherever a basis is sought for an attitude or a behavior–pleasure and its lack are still playing this role; in other words, two feelings so paltry that it is hard to think of anything more simple-minded. The far more diversified idea of satisfying a drive would indeed be capable of offering a more colorful picture, but the old habit is so strong that one can sometimes even read that the drives strive for satisfaction because this fulfillment is pleasure, which is about the same as considering the exhaust pipe the operative part of a motor! (II,1247)


The Do-Gooder

September 5, 2011

Lindner is a man who approached Agathe when she was distraught over her relations with Ulrich. She judged Lindner to be a good man. Lindner would have been pleased if she had said that directly to him. For he is a do-gooder, a pursuit he follows with great single-mindedness. (Think of the dedicated foot soldier of any leftwing party.) First, the do-gooder is the anti-Nietzsche:

As the pious soul of the Salvation Army employs military uniform and customs, so had Lindner taken certain soldierly ways of thinking into his service; indeed, he  did not flinch from concessions to the “man of power” Nietzsche, who was for middle-class minds of that time still a stumbling block, but for Lindner a whetstone as well. He was accustomed to say of Nietzsche that it could not be maintained that he was a bad person, but his doctrines were surely exaggerated and ill equipped for life, the reason for this being that he rejected empathy; for Nietzsche had not recognized the marvelous counterbalancing gift of the weak person, which was to make the strong person gentle. And opposing to this his own experience, he thought with joyful purpose: “Truly great people do not pay homage to a sterile cult of the self, but call forth in others the feeling of their sublimity by bending down to them and indeed, if it comes to that, sacrificing themselves for them!”  (II,1136-1137)

These ideas must have given him wings, for he had no idea who he had got the terminus of the trolley line, but suddenly there he was; and before getting in he took off his glasses in order to wipe them free of the condensation with which his heated inner processes had coated them. Then he swung himself into a corner, glanced around in the empty car, got his fare ready, looked into the conductor’s face, and felt himself entirely at his post, ready to begin the return journey in that admirable communal institution called the municipal trolley. He discharged the fatigue of his walk with a contented yawn, in order to stiffen himself for new duties, and summed up the astonishing digressions to which he had surrendered himself in the sentence: “Forgetting oneself is the healthiest thing a human can do!” (II,1139)

Against the unpredictable stirrings of a passionate heart there is only one reliable remedy: strict and absolutely unremitting planning; and it to this, which he had acquired early, that Lindner owed the successes of his life as well as the belief that he was by nature a man of strong passions and hard to discipline. He got up early in the morning, at the same hour summer and winter, and at a wash basin on a small iron table washed his face, neck, hands, and one seventh of his body–every day a different seventh, of course–after which he rubbed the rest with a wet towel, so the bath, that time-consuming and voluptuous procedure, could be limited to one eventing every two weeks. …and after Lindner had washed himself in the glow of stimulating examples he also took advantage of drying himself off to do a few exercises by skillful manipulation of his towel, but only in moderation. It is, after all, a fateful mistake to base health on the animal parts of one’s person; it is rather, intellectual and moral nobility that produce the body’s capacity for resistance; and even if this does not always apply to the individual, it most certainly applies on a larger scale, for the power of a people is the consequence of the proper spirit, and not the other way around. Therefore Lindner had also bestowed upon his rubbings-down a special and careful training, which avoided all the uncouth grabbing that constitutes the usual male idolatry but on the contrary involved the whole personality, by combining the movements of his body with uplifting inner tasks. (II,1140)

Truly, it shortly afterwards became one of the most popular human possibilities to subject oneself to a “regimen,” which may be applied with the same success to overweight as it is to politics and intellectual life. In a regimen, patience, obedience, regularity, equanimity, and other highly respectable qualities become the major components of the individual in his private, personal capacity, while everything that is unbridled, violent, addictive, and dangerous, which he, as a crazy romantic, cannot dispense with either, has its admirable center in the “regimen.” Apparently this remarkable inclination to submit oneself to a regimen, or lead a fatiguing, unpleasant, and sorry life according to the prescription of a doctor, athletic coach, or some other tyrant (although one could just as well ignore it with the same failure rate), is a result of the movement toward the worker-warrior-anthill state toward which the world is moving… (II,1145)


The Simplifying Effect of Stupidity

August 28, 2011

Ulrich makes progress in his thoughts on the nature of morality. He more precisely defines morality as the governance of feelings. But whereas mankind has steadily improved the governance of thought, through logic and science, the management of feelings has made little if any progress.

…He was on the verge of bringing up the neglected difference between the way in which various historical periods have developed the rational mind in their own fashion and the way they have kept the moral imagination static and closed off, also in their own fashion. He was on the verge of talking about this because it results in a line that rises, despite all skepticism, more or less steadily through all of history’s transformations, representing the rational mind and it patterns, and contrasting with a mound of broken shards of feelings, ideas, and potentials of life that were heaped up in layers just the way they were when they came into being, as eternal side issues, and that were always discarded. (II,111)

In all its manifestations, from the inspired ideas of original thinkers to the kitsch that unites all peoples, what Ulrich called the moral imagination, or, more simply, feeling, has for centuries been in a  state of ferment without turning into wine. Man is a being who cannot survive without enthusiasm. and enthusiasm is that state of mind in which all his feelings and thought have the same spirit. Your think it is rather the opposite, that it is a condition in which one overpowering feeling–of being carried away!–sweeps all the others along with it? Your weren’t going to say anything at all? Anyway, that’s how it is. Or one way it is. But there is nothing to sustain such an enthusiasm. Feelings and thought become lasting only with each other’s help, in their totality; they must somehow be aligned with each other and carry each other onward. And by every available means, through drugs, liquor, fantasies, hypnosis, faith, conviction, often even through the simplifying effect of stupidity, man is always trying to achieve a condition like it. He believes in ideas not because they are sometimes true but because he needs to believe; because he has to keep his feelings in order. Because he must have an illusion to stop up the gap between the walls of his life, through which he feelings would otherwise fly off in every direction. The answer is probably at least to seek the conditions of an authentic enthusiasm, instead of giving oneself up to transient delusory states. But although, all in all, the number of choices based on feeling is infinitely greater than whose based on clear logic, and every event that moves mankind arises from the imagination, only the purely rational problems have achieved an objective order, while noting deserving the name of a joint effort, or even hinting at any insight into the desperate need for it, has been done for the world of feeling and imagination. (II,1126)

“Isn’t it obvious?” Ulrich said in reply to Arnheim. “Today we are facing too many possible ways of living. But isn’t it like the kind of problem our intellect deals with whenever it is confronted with a vast number of facts and a history of the relevant theories? And for the intellect we have developed an open-ended but precise procedure, which I don’t need to describe to you. Now tell me whether something of the kind isn’t equally possible for the feelings. We certainly need to find out what we’re here for; it’s one of the main sources of all violence in the world. Earlier  centuries tried to answer it with their own inadequate means, but the great age of empiricism has done nothing of its own so far…” (II,1127-1228)

Ulrich knew very well that it was still unclear. What he meant was not a life of “research,” or a life “in the light of science,” but a “quest for feeling” similar to quest for truth, except that truth was not the issue here. (II,1128)

It is now 1914 and the Parallel Campaign is splitting into two well-meaning, increasingly passionate camps: the pacifists and militarists, those for universal love and those for national identity. General Stumm von Bordwehr asks Ulrich how he is to report this to his superior officers.

“Why don’t you simply report,” Ulrich responded, “that it’s the Millennial War of Religion. and that people have never been as unprepared to fight it as now, when the rubble of ‘ineffectual feelings,’ which every period bequeaths to the next, has grown into mountains without anything being done about it. So the War Ministry can sit back and serenely await the next mass catastrophe.” (II,1127)

A History of Morality

August 23, 2011

A tension has grown between Agathe and Ulrich as Ulrich wrestles with the meaning of morality, a crisis provoked by Agathe’s forging of her father’s will to exclude her husband.

“I hardly know where to start,” he said, “without boring you. May I tell you what I understand by morality?”

“Please do,” Agathe said.

“Morality is regulation of conduct within a society, beginning with regulation of its inner impulses, that is, feelings and thoughts.”

“That’s a lot of progress in a few hours!” Agathe replied with a laugh. “this morning you were still saying you didn’t know what morality was!”

“Of course I don’t. That doesn’t stop me from giving you a dozen explanations. The oldest reason for it is that God revealed the order of life to us in all its details…”

“That would be best,” Agathe said.

“But the most probable,” Ulrich said emphatically, “is that morality, like every other form of order, arises through force and violence! A group of people that has seized power simply imposes on the rest those rules and principles that will secure their power. Morality thereby tends to favor those who brought it to power. At the same time, it sets an example in so doing. And at the same time reactions  set in that cause it to change–this is of course too complicated to be described briefly, and while it by no means happens without thought, but then again not by means of thought, either, but rather empirically, what you get in the end is an infinite network that seems to span everything as independently as God’s firmament. Now, everything relates to this self-contained circle, but this circle relates to nothing. In other words: Everything is moral, but morality itself is not!’ (II,1112-1113)

But morality as a repressive force cares only about governing the emotions that play a part in maintaining social order. It ignores what it does not need.

“For centuries now,” Ulrich went on, “the world has known truth in thinking and accordingly, to a certain degree, rational freedom of thought. But during this same time the emotional life has had neither the strict discipline of truth nor any freedom of movement. For every moral system has, in its time, regulated the feelings, and rigidly too, but only insofar as certain basic principles and feelings were needed for whatever action it favored; the rest was left to individual whim, to the private play of emotions, to the random efforts of art, and to academic debate. So morality has adapted our feelings to the needs of moral systems and meanwhile neglected to develop them, even though it depends on feelings: morality is, after all, the order and integrity of the emotional life.” (II,1116)

Ulrich’s aim is always to find a way to unite reason with the soul.

…For him morality was neither conformism nor philosophic wisdom, but living the infinite fullness of possibilities. He believed in morality’s capacity for intensification, in stages of moral experience, and not merely, as most people do, in stage of moral understanding, as if it were something cut-and-dried for which people were just not pure enough. He believed in morality without believing in any specific moral system. Morality is generally understood to be a sort of police regulations for keeping life in order, and since life does not obey even these, they come to look as if they were really impossible  to live up to and accordingly, in this sorry way, not really an ideal either. But morality must not be reduced to this level. Morality is imagination. This was what he wanted to make Agathe see. And his second point was: Imagination is not arbitrary. Once the imagination is left to caprice, there is a price to pay. (II,116-117)


Overcoming Contingency

July 31, 2011

Clarisse’s emerging madness provides her husband Walter with an insight into the creative process. She, like an artist, crashes barriers and discovers new connections. Unlike an artist, her vision of coherence is purely private. Walter wants to believe Clarisse is in a type of “other condition,” but his rationality restrains him from fully communing with her.

…Something had happened! With this one notion in her head, Clarisse felt like someone emerging from a thunderstorm, still charged from head to toe with sensual energy. In front of her, a few yards beyond the bottom of the small flight of stone steps she had come out by, she saw a shiny blackbird with a flame-colored beak, dining on a fat caterpillar. There was an immense energy in the creature, or in the two contrasting colors. One could not say that Clarisse was thinking anything about it; it was more like a response coming from behind and all around her. The blackbird was a sinful body in the act of committing violence. The caterpillar the sinful form of a butterfly. Fate had placed the two creatures in her path, as a sign that she must act. One could see how the blackbird assumed the caterpillar’s sins through its flaming orange-red beak. Wasn’t the bird a “black genie”? Just as the dove is the “white spirit”? Weren’t these signs linked in a chain? The exhibitionist with the carpenter, with the Master’s flight…? Not one of those notions was clearly formed in her; they lodged invisibly in the walls of the house, summoned but still keeping their answer to themselves. But what Clarisse really felt as she stepped out on the stairs and saw the bird that was eating the caterpillar was an ineffable correspondence of inner and outer happenings.

She conveyed it in some curious way to Walter. The impression he received instantly corresponded with what he had called “invoking God”; there was mistaking it this time. He could not make out what was going on inside Clarisse, she was too far away, but there was something in her bearing that was not happenstance, as she stood facing the world into which the little flight of stairs descended like steps leading down to a swimming pool. It was something exalted. It was not the attitude of ordinary life. And suddenly he understood; this was what Clarisse meant when she said: “It’s not by chance that this man is under my window!” Gazing at his wife, he himself felt how the pressure of strange forces came flooding in to fill appearances. In the fact that he was standing here and Clarisse there, at such an angle to him that he had to turn his eyes away from the direction they had automatically taken, along the length of the garden, n order to see her clearly—even in this simple juxtaposition, the mute emphasis of life suddenly outweighed natural contingency. Out of the fullness of images thrusting themselves upon the eye something geometrically linear and extraordinary reared up. This must be how it could happen that Clarisse found a meaning in almost empty correlations, such as the circumstance of one man stopping under her window while another was a carpenter. Events seemed to have a way of arranging themselves that was different from the usual pattern, as elements in some strange entity that revealed them in unexpected aspects, and because it brought these aspects out from their obscure hiding places, it justified Clarisse’s claim that it was she herself who was attracting events toward herself. It was hard to express this without sounding fanciful, but then it occurred to Walter that it came closest to something he knew very well—what happens when you paint a picture. A painting, too, has its own inexplicable way of excluding every color or line not in accord with its basic form, style, and palette of colors, while on the other hand it extracts from the painter’s had whatever it needs, thanks to the laws of genius, which are not the same as the usual laws of nature. At this point he no longer had in him any of that easy, healthy self-assurance which scrutinizes life’s excrescences for anything that might come in handy and which he had been extolling only a little while ago; what he felt was more the misery of a little boy too timid to join in a game. (II,1005-1006)

The Rational and the Astral

July 24, 2011

Ulrich’s new millennium project has one big danger: it may become ungrounded in the actual world. Ulrich is careful to preserve rationality. Clarrisse, like Moosbrugger, is not similarly constrained by a rational boundary. Ulrich and Agathe, for instance, speak deeply about the division of the sexes and the quest for re-integration, referencing Plato’s myth along the way. Now let Clarrisse take up that theme, and witness the boundaries disappear. This exchange with Meingast is her struggling to define her mission to cultivate the hero in Walter by denying him sex, which would “murder” that hero. Note also the light this throws on her fascination with Moosbrugger, the sex murderer.

“…I attract Walter in a way that’s not quite right.”

“I can imagine,” the Master answered, this time with a sympathetic look. “There is something boyish about you.”

At this praise Clarisse felt happiness bouncing through her veins like hailstones. “Did you notice before,” she eagerly asked him, “that I can change clothes faster than a man?”

A blank expression came over the philosopher’s benevolently seamed face. Clarisse giggled. “That’s a double word,” she explained. “There are others too: sex murder, for instance.”

The master probably thought it would be wise not to show surprise at anything. “Oh yes, I know,” he replied. “You did say once that to satisfy desire in the usual embrace is a kind of sex murder.” But what did she mean by “changing,” he wanted to know.

“To offer no resistance is murder,” Clarrisse explained with the speed of someone going through one’s paces on slippery ground and losing one’s footing through overagility.

“Now you’ve really lost me,” Meingast admitted. “You must be talking about that fellow the carpenter again. What is it you want from him?”

…”Do you have much self-control?” he asked.

“Well, yes and no,” Clarisse said candidly. “But I told you, if I let him have his way, I’d be a sex murderer!” Warming to her subject, she went on: “My woman friends say they ‘pass out’ in the arms of a man.I don’t know what that is. I’ve never passed out in a man’s arms. But I do know what it’s like to ‘pass out’ without being in a man’s arms. Your must know about that too; after all, you did say that the world is too devoid of illusions…!”

Meingast waves this off with a gesture, as if to say she had misunderstood him. But now it was all too clear to her.

When you say, for instance, that one must decide against the lesser value for the sake of the higher value,” she cried, “it means that there’s a life in an immense and boundless ecstasy! Not sexual ecstasy but the ecstasy of genius! Against which Walter would commit treason if I don’t prevent him!”

…”Is what you want connected with Moosbrugger? Meingast probed.

“That’s hard to say. We’ll have to see what comes of it,” Clarrisse replied. “I’m going to abduct him. I’m going to create a scandal!”


This exchange has a kind of strange logic. We now explore the root of that strangeness, a kind of mad science of metaphor.

The double words were signs, scattered throughout the language like snapped-off twigs or leaves strewn on the ground, to mark a secret path. “Sex murder” and “changing” and even “quick” and many other words–perhaps all others–exhibited double meanings, one of which was secret and private. But a double language means a double life. Ordinary language is evidently that of sin, the secret one that of the astral body. “Quick,” for instance, in its sinful form meant ordinary, everyday, tiring haste, while in its joyous form everything flew off it in joyful leaps and bounds. But then the joyous form can also be called the form of energy of innocence, while the sinful form can be called all the names having to do with the depression, dullness, and irresolution of ordinary life. There were these amazing connections between the self and things, so that something one did had an effect where one would never have expected it; and the less Clarisse could express all this, the more intensely the words kept coming inside her, too fast for her to gather them in. But for quite some time she had been convinced of one thing: the duty, the privilege, the mission of whatever it is we call conscience, illusion, will, is to find the vital form, the light form. This is the one where nothing is accidental, where there is no room for wavering, where happiness and compulsion coincide. Other people have called this “living authentically” and spoken of the “intelligible character”; they have referred to instinct as innocence and to the intellect as sin. Clarisse could not think in these terms, but she had made the discovery that one could set something in motion, and then sometimes parts of the astral body would attach themselves to it of their own accord and in this fashion become embodied in it. For reasons primarily rooted in Walter’s hypersensitive inaction, but also because of heroic aspirations she never had the means of satisfying, she had been let to think that by taking forceful action one could set up a memorial to oneself in advance, and the memorial would then draw one into itself. So she was not at all clear about what she intended to do with Moosbrugger, and could not answer Meingast’s question. (II,1001-1002)

She is There

July 10, 2011

Musil’s metaphors are direct, bold, one might say masculine. These examples are taken from successive essays where Ulrich spends time with Bonadea (the nymphomaniac) and his sister Agathe.

The pure Diotima consoles the sexually afflicted Bonadea (“the ignoble mystery of nymphomania as a kind of female sword of Damocles, which, she said, might hang by a thin tread even over the head of a vestal virgin”) with a kiss. She “kissed her on that unchaste mouth with a heroic effort that would have been enough to make her press her lips on the blood-dripping bristles of a lion’s beard.” (II,957)

Diotima thereby develops a clinical interest in sex, reads the literature, but cannot quite apply the lessons to her men, Arnheim and Tuzzi. “…while her soul with its enigmas eluded her like a fish one tries to hold bare-handed, the suffering seeker was surprised to find plenty of advice in the books of the zeitgeist, once she had decided to deal with her fate from the physical angle, as represented by her husband.” (Ii,957)

Bonadea finds herself adopting Ulrich’s analytical style, though not with ease. “To get a really rapturous response from the love partner, the partner must be respected as an equal and not just as a will-less extension of oneself,” she went on, caught up in her mentor’s mode of expression like someone sliding helplessly and anxiously across a polished surface, carried along by his own momentum.” (II,962)

Bonadea has had a chance to mix with powerful men at Diotima’s salon and is surprised that she did so without the usual “hurricane” of glandular disturbance. ” And she thought of all the other famous men she had recently me, without even remembering whether they had short legs or long ones, were fat or lean, for all she saw in them was the radiance of their celebrity rounded out by a vague physical mass, much as the delicate frame of a young roast pigeon is given substance by a solid mass of herb stuffing.” (II,965)

Agathe has finally arrived at Ulrich’s home. He is forced to see his hodge-podge interior through her eyes and is embarrassed. He has always experience feminine company with ironical detachment. This is different and unsettling. He experiences her presence in an almost wordless, non-metaphorical way.

But in the midst of all this activity, he could only think, incessantly, that for his whole life, and up to a few hours ago, he had lived alone. And Agathe was here. This little sentence, “Agathe is here now,” repeated itself in waves, like the astonishment of a boy who has received a new plaything; there was something mind-numbing about it and, on the other hand, a quite overwhelming sense of presence too, all of which expressed itself again and again in the words: Agathe is here now. (II,973)

[Helping Agathe with her dress] Bending over close to the moving, delicate, yet full and fresh skin of her shoulders, intent upon the unaccustomed task, which raised a flush on his brow, Ulrich felt himself lapped by a pleasing sensation not easily put into words, unless one might say that his body was equally affected by having a woman and yet not having a woman so close to him; or one could just as easily have said that though he was unquestionably standing there in his own shoes, he nevertheless felt drawn out of himself and over to her as though he had been given a second, far more beautiful, body for his own.

This was why the first thing he said to his sister when he had straightened up again was: “Now I know what your are: you are my self-love!” It may have sounded odd, but it really expressed what it was that moved him so. “In a sense,” he explained, “I’ve always lacked the right sort of love for myself that others seem to have in abundance. And now,” he added, “by some mistake or by fate, it has been embodied in you instead of myself!”

It was his first attempt that evening to pass a verdict on the meaning of his sister’s arrival. (II,975)

The Fall of Man

July 10, 2011

Ulrich meditates on the nature of feelings after a chance
encounter with a supremely rationalist astronomer colleague, who asks the

“What do you think of Koniatowski’s paper?” she asks Ulrich.
Ulrich had nothing to say. “Kneppler will be furious,” she said, “but Koniatowski’s critique of Kneppler’s deduction from Danielli’s theorem is interesting, don’t’ you agree? Do you
think Kneppler’s deduction is possible?”

Ulrich shrugged his shoulders. (II,939)

In the ensuing exchange Fräulein Strastil is confounded by
Ulrich’s rejection of the truth universally acknowledged that it’s good to get
away from the city and lie about in an alpine meadow for a few days.

Fräulein Strastil doubted that he was feeling on sufficiently
elementary level.

Ulrich claimed that the only elementary level, besides eating
and love, was to make oneself comfortable, not to seek out an alpine meadow. The natural feeling that was supposed drive people to do such tings was actually a modern Rousseauism, a complicated sentimental attitude. (II,940)

This gets Ulrich thinking on the nature of feelings.

“Feeling is rare enough. To keep feeling at a certain temperature, to keep it from cooling down, probably means preserving the body warmth from which all intellectual development arises. And whenever a person is momentarily
lifted out of his tangle of rational intentions, which involve him with countless alien objects, whenever he is raised to a state wholly without purpose, such as listening to music, for instance, he is almost in the biological condition of the a flower on which the rain and the sunshine fall.” He was willing to admit that there is a more eternal eternity in the mind’s
pauses and quiescence than in its activity; but he had been thinking first “feeling” and then “experiencing”: a contradiction was implied here. For there were
experiences of action at is peak! Though one could probably assume that by the time each experience had reached it acme of radiant bitterness it was sheer feeling; which would bring up an even greater contradiction: that in its greatest purity the sate of feeling is quiescence, a dying away of all activity. Or was it not a contradiction, after all? Was there some curious connection by which the most intense activity was motionless at its core? (II942)

(This last thought recalls how, in Agathe’s heightened awareness,
“The pure light of this conscience outshone this dark point, which
nevertheless, like the core of a flame, formed its center.” (II,925))

This meditation on feelings has prepared him to attack his
central problem, Agathe’s challenge to ethics.

And suddenly, as he felt himself swing aboard the trolley,
he said to himself: “I shall have to make Agathe see that morality is the subordination of every momentary state in ouThis principle had come to him all at once in the form of a definition. But this highly polished concept had been
preceded and was followed by other which, though not so fully developed and articulated, rounded out its meaning. The innocuous business of feeling was here set in an austere conceptual framework , it was given a job to do, with a
strict hierarchy of values, vaguely foreshortened, in the offing: feelings must either be functional or refer to a still-undefined condition as immense as the open sea. Should it be called an idea or a longing?

The decent, uncomplicated thing to do would be to correct
the wrong done to Hagauer, to repent, in other words. But might there be another way to goodness?

“Putting it presumptuously,” he thought, “this means: Saul
did not make good each single consequence of his previous sins; he turned into Paul!” Against this curious logic, however, both feeling and judgment raised the customary objection that it would nevertheless be more decent—and no deterrent to more romantic future possibilities—to straighten out accounts with one’s brother-in-law first, and then to plan one’s new life…But here again Ulrich felt it was impossible to take one’s bearings from the normal conditions of goodness if one wanted to press on into the realm of unconditional goodness. The mission laid upon him, to take the first step into uncharted territory, would apparently suffer no abatement (Ii,945-946)

This mission runs the risk of bloodless sterility.

“What’s the point, in the face of all this vainglory, of looking for some result beyond, behind, beneath if all? Would that be a philosophy? An all-embracing conviction, a law? Or the finger of God? Or, instead of that, the assumption that morality has up to now lacked an ‘inductive stance,’ that it is much harder to be good than we had believed, and that it
will require an endless cooperative effort, like every other science? I think there is no morality, because it cannot be deduced from anything constant; all there are are rules for uselessly maintaining transitory conditions. I also assume that there can be no profound happiness without a profound morality; yet my thinking about it strikes me as an unnatural, bloodless state, and it is absolutely not what I want!” Indeed, he might well have asked himself much more simply, “What is this I have taken upon myself?” which is what he now did.
However, this question touched his sensibility more than his intellect; in fact, the question stopped his thinking and diminished bit by bit his always keen delight in strategic planning before he had even formulated it. It began as a dark tone close to his ear, accompanying him; then it sounded inside him, an octave lower than everything else; finally, Ulrich had merged with his question and felt as though he himself were a strangely deep sound in the bright, hard world, surrounded by a wide interval. So what was it had really
taken on himself, what had he promised? (II,948-949)

He thought hard. He knew that he had not merely been joking
when he used the expression ‘the Millennium,” even if it was only a figure of speech. If one took this promise seriously, it meant the desire to live, with the aid of mutual love, in a secular condition so transcendent that one could only feel and do whatever heightened and maintained that condition….In sum, what it more or less came to was that Ulrich believed in the “Fall of Man” and in “Original Sin.” That is, he was inclined to think that at some time in the past, man’s basic attitude had undergone a fundamental change that must have
been roughly comparable to the moment when a lover regains his sobriety; he may then see the whole truth, gut something greater has been torn to shreds, and the truth appears everywhere as a mere fragment left over and patch up again.
Perhaps it was even the apple of “knowledge” that had caused this spiritual change and expelled mankind from a primal state to which it might find its way back only after becoming wise through countless experience and through sin. But
Ulrich believed in such myths not in their traditional form, but only in the way he had discovered them; he believed in them like an arithmetician who, with the system of his feeling spread out before him, concludes, from the fact that none of them could be justified, that he would have to introduce a fantastic hypothesis whose nature could be arrived at only intuitively. That was no trifle! (II,949)

The Joy in Things

June 28, 2011

Ulrich is reading the mystics to discover the “other
condition,” that state of ecstasy where reason and emotions fuse to experience transcendent reality. Agathe comes close to that condition with no effort.

During this time and from the moment she had stayed behind
alone, Agathe had been living in a state of utter release from all ties to the world, in a sweetly wistful suspension of will; a condition that was like a great height, where only the wide blue sky is to be seen. Once a day she treated herself to a short stroll in town; at home, she read, attended to her affairs, and experienced this mild, trivial business of living with grateful enjoyment. Nothing troubled her state: no clinging to the past, no straining for the future; if her eye lit upon some nearby object, it was like coaxing a baby lamb to her: either it came gently closer or it took no notice of her at all—but no time did her mind deliberately take hold of it with that motion of inner grasping which gives to every act of cold understanding a certain violence as well as a futility, for it drives away the joy that is in things. (II, 924-925)

She looks at herself in the mirror, the way a lover might
look at her.

On the morning after her brother had left, Agathe was
already considering her appearance with great care: it had begun by accident with her face, when her gaze had landed on it and not come back out of the mirror. She was held fast, much as one who sometimes has absolutely no desire
to walk keeps walking a hundred steps, and then another hundred, all the way toward something one catches sight of and yet does not. In this way she was held captive, without vanity, by this landscape of her self, which confronted
her behind the shimmer of glass. She looked at her hair, still like bright velvet; she opened the collar of her reflection’s dress and slipped the dress off it s shoulders; then she undressed the image altogether and studied it down
to the rosy nails, to where the body tapers off into fingers and toes and hardly belongs to itself anymore. (II, 926)

This image if front of her is still Hagauer’s wife.

It now seemed odd to her that she was actually Frau Hagauer, and the difference between the clear and close relationship that implied and the vagueness with which the fact reached deep into her being was so great that she seemed to herself to be standing there without a body while the body in the mirror belonged to Frau Hagauer, who was the one who would have to learn to cope with its having committed itself to a situation beneath its dignity. Even in this there was some of that elusive pleasure in living that sometimes startles, and it made Agathe, once she had hastily dressed again, go straight to her bedroom to look for a capsule that must be in her luggage. This small airtight capsule, which had been in her possession almost as long as she had been married to Hagauer, and which she always kept within reach, contained a tiny quantity of a drab powder she had been assured was a deadly poison. (II, 928)

But “I’m sort of dead, in a way” was something Agathe felt
often, and especially in moments like this, when she had just been conscious of her young body’s shapeliness and good health, its taut beauty, equally unfathomable in the mystery of what held it together and what made its elements
decompose in death, she tended to fall from her condition of happy confidence into one of anxiety, amazement, and silence: it was like stepping from a noisy, crowded room and suddenly standing under the shimmering stars.

…Still, the thought of giving up life was anything but a
game for Agathe. It seemed profoundly believable to her that all this frustrating turmoil must be followed by a state of blissful repose, which she could not help imagining in physical terms. She felt it this way because she had no need of the suspenseful illusion that the world could be improved, and
she was always ready to surrender her share in it completely, as long as it could be done in a pleasant fashion.
(ii, 929)

…But in the midst of her laughter of the tumult of some
sensual adventure that continued nonetheless, there lived a disenchantment that made every fiber of her body tired and nostalgic for something else, something best
described as nothingness.

This nothingness had a definite, if indefinable, content.
For a long time she had been in the habit of repeating to herself, on all sorts of occasions, words of Novalis: “What then can I do for my soul, that lives within me like an unsolved riddle, even while it grants the visible man the utmost license, because there is no way it can control him?” But the flickering
light of this utterance always went out again, like a flash of lightning that only left her in darkness, for she did not believe in a soul, as it was something too presumptuous and in any case much to definite for own person. On the other hand, she could not believe in the earthly here and now either. To understand this rightly, one need only realize that this turning away from an earthly order when there is no faith in a supernatural order is profoundly natural response, because in every head, alongside the process of logical thought, with its austere and simple orderliness reflecting the conditions of our external world, there is an affective world, whose logic, insofar as it can be spoken of at all, corresponds to feelings, passions, moods. The laws governing these two bear roughly the same relation to each other as those of a lumberyard, where chunks of wood are hewn into rectangular shapes and stacked ready for transport, bear to the dark tangled laws of the forest, with its mysterious workings and rustlings. And since the objects of our thought are in no way quite independent of its conditions, theses two modes of thinking not only mingle in each person but can, to a certain extent, even present him with two worlds, at least immediately before and after that “first mysterious and indescribable moment: of which a famous religious thinker has said that it occurs in every sensory perception before vision and feeling separate and fall into the places in which one is accustomed to find them: one of them an object
in space and the other a mental process enclosed with the observer.

And so, whatever the relationship may be between objects and
feeling in the civilized person’s mature view of the world, everyone surely knows those ecstatic moments in which a split has not yet occurred, as though water and land had not yet been divided and the waves of feeling still shared the same horizon as the hills and valleys that form the shape of things. (II, 930-931)

And in this way her spirit was so filled with itself that
even the liveliest idea had something of the soundless floating quality of a memory about it, everything that came her way spread out into a limitless present. (II,932)

Now she was filled with a fierce longing to recover that
mood, but such moments of highest intensity cannot be willed by force. It was only when her furious efforts proved useless that she realized, with the clarity which a pale day takes on after sunset, that the only thing she could hope for, and what in fact she was waiting for, with an impatience merely masked by her solitude, was the strange propect that her brother had once half-humorously called the Millennium. (II,934)

An Element of Pathology

June 25, 2011

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.