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Posthumous Papers of a Living Author by…

Posthumous Papers of a Living Author (1936)

by Robert Musil

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The unnatural, which has become a second nature in nature, recovers its natural aspect in woods like this. (from Who Made You, Oh Forest Fair?)Great little book, great translation, Musil's strengths come through even in these tiny prose pieces. The incredible clarity of his sentences. The complexity of his thought, that is at the same time made tangible through language. The wry wit that cuts through the world of appearances.The kitchens and bedrooms look outwards and downwards on all this; they lie close together like love and digestion in the human anatomy. (from The Blackbird)I especially loved Flypaper, Can a Horse Laugh?, Awakening, Clearhearing, Slovenian Village Funeral, Maidens and Heroes, Black Magic, The Paintspreader, A Culture Question, Art Anniversary, Who Made You Oh Forest Fair?, and The Blackbird. If twenty clocks are hanging on one wall and you suddenly look at them, every pendulum is in a different place; they all tell the same time and yet don't, and the real time flows somewhere in between. (from Boardinghouse Nevermore) Yes, I know I just referenced about half the book. Oh well. Curiously, I enjoyed his prose observations and critical pieces more than his stories... which were more like essays in story form (Musil calls them Unstorylike Stories). But the last story in the book (Blackbird) is one of the strangest most beautiful stories I've ever read. I don't know what to think of it at all, and I bet that was the desired effect. I love it so much. I know you're rushing for my sake; so all this must be absolutely necessary, part of your most intimate I, and like the mute motion of animals from morning till evening, you reach out with countless gestures, of which you're unaware, into a region where you've never heard my step! (from Clearhearing) PS- This probably doesn't belong on this review, but I just noticed something that kinda freaked me out and thought I had to share. After writing this review, I decided to check to see what Amazon reviews it's gotten. There were only two reviews, exactly 10 years apart (January 19, 1998 and January 19, 2008). The second was an unfavorable review (2 stars) by James Elkins from Chicago IL. To understand why this is freaky, you must understand that the last book I read before this one, i.e. 2 days ago, was [b:Pictures & Tears|165715|Pictures & Tears A History of People Who Have Cried in Front of Paintings|James Elkins|http://photo.goodreads.com/books/1172342179s/165715.jpg|160005] by James Elkins from Chicago IL! ( )
  JimmyChanga | Sep 11, 2013 |
Posthumous Papers of a Living Author begins with a section called “Pictures,” which features a series of sketches. These include short stories and some observations about things like horses and a village funeral. The writing here, some of Musil’s earliest published work, is polished. These are miniatures that suggest Kafka in a surreal vignette about monkeys; while there are a number of little prose poems. It is easy to dismiss these, but they portray a subtle style that is deeper than it appears. There is a small piece that shows up again in his collection Five Women. And memorable sentences like this from "Maidens and Heroes": "How lovely are you servant girls with your peasant legs and those peaceful eyes, about which you just can't tell, do they wonder about everything or about nothing?"(p 37) Or this from his essay on waking up at dawn: “I discover strange fellows, the smokestacks. In groups of three, five, seven and sometimes alone, they stand up on the rooftops; like trees in a landscape. Space winds around them and into the deep.”(p 19-20)

There is also some very enjoyable fiction: absurd tales, parables, and long narrative jokes. Finally, in “The Blackbird,” the strange, visionary story that ends this collection, Musil discovers how to combine the imaginative and analytical sides of his character. The story is a masterpiece, and the collection is worth owning for it alone. It was the last volume Robert Musil published before his sudden death in 1942. Musil had begun to fathom the impossibility of completing his monumental masterpiece The Man Without Qualities and this volume reveals his shift to a radically different form. Musil observes a fly’s tragic struggle with flypaper, the laughter of a horse; he peers through microscopes and telescopes, dissecting both large and small. Musil’s quest for the essential is a voyage into the minute. ( )
  jwhenderson | Mar 13, 2013 |
I can't agree with the five-star review on Amazon (as of 2008). This is a minor book. It's a miscellany of very short pieces, together with some ideas for stories.

The opening piece about flies caught on flypaper is briliant, yes, but it's also one of a kind, and it's short. "Prose poems" of that sort were practiced from Goethe, Baudelaire, and Heine onward.

A piece on kitsch later in the book is trivial -- it makes fun of itself -- and its insights are not anywhere near as interesting as those of Hermann Broch or Walter Benjamin on the same subject.

The translator tells us that Musil considered the longest piece in the collection, "Blackbird," an example of "daylight mysticism" (taghelle Mystik), but it isn't that far from von Hofmannsthal or some of Poe, reined in by a twentieth-century sense of the real.

From a philosophic standpoint, the most interesting piece in the book is "Art Anniversary," a meditation on the way that art, when it is re-encountered after a period of absence, can fail to move us. But even there, "great art" is excepted -- in a brief aside, apparently cleverly by actually carelessly tacked onto the end of the essay.

For me the only interesting piece is "A Man Without Character," which the translator says, complicatedly, is "from the seed out of which the novel erupted like a magic beanstalk." (I don't see why it isn't the seed itself -- is there another text that is the actual beginning of the novel?) At any rate, there's an interesting equivocation in "A Man Without Character," between the use of "character" to denote moral strength and manliness, and "character" to denote "qualities." The former echoes the story before this one in the collection, which is a satire on manly qualities. The latter is the more interesting usage, because it prefigures (or echoes?) the novel "A Man Without Qualities." The narrator in "A Man Without Character" says "When you become a man you take on... a sexual, a national, a state, a class, a geographical character... you have a writing character, a character of the lines in your hand, of the shape of your skull..." There's a lot of potential parallels with the novel, but for some reason that escapes me, the translator says nothing more about "A Man Without Character."

These are minor, not worth the time. Read the masterpiece instead. ( )
  JimElkins | Jul 23, 2009 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0976395045, Paperback)

“Peter Wortsman’s translation is splendid, succeeding better than any I’ve read in capturing this author’s unique combination of quizzical authority and austere hedonism.”—Anthony Heilbut, The New York Times Book Review

From one of the greatest novelists of the twentieth century come these chiseled essays and sketches written in the 1920s. Exploratory, quirky, full of soul and humor. (Reprint of the Eridonos edition, 1987.)

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:12:14 -0400)

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Archipelago Books

2 editions of this book were published by Archipelago Books.

Editions: 0976395045, 1935744488

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