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The Man Without Qualities (abridged) by…

The Man Without Qualities (abridged)

by Robert Musil

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A blast for the first 500 pages then a new chapter gets harder. I read somewhere that nearly no one finishes it or the followup volume and that gave me comfort to bow out. But, Musil really has his finger on sociology and the history of ideas which come alive in his plausible characters. In Man W O Q, he is working out the sea change in Europe after the first massive war in the lives of oblivious Viennese high society. Often hilarious. Do many of us also walk around unaware of impending or already-happened deep change in our society? Do we operate on auto-pilot too? ( )
1 vote ted_newell | Jun 20, 2015 |
Milan Kundera talks about the power and significance of Robert Musil's The Man Without Qualities in several places, as have many others, yet the work itself exceeds expectations.

A review excerpt on the cover places it as one of the 20th-century trinity with Ulysses and In Search of Lost Time and after just the first volume, this seems utterly true.

Given all this, I wouldn't presume to review it, just to strongly recommend it as an outstanding intellectual adventure. And there's another volume! to be started immediately.
1 vote V.V.Harding | Apr 21, 2015 |
Reading The Man Without Qualities is a bit of an undertaking. It's not only enormous (1150 pages in this edition, which doesn't include the posthumously published notes and drafts of the final part), but is frequently baffling, filled with unsympathetic characters, and glacially slow. For all this, I'm glad I read it.

The eponymous hero is Ulrich, a mathematician by training who, it becomes clear, is searching for something beyond the materialism of fin-de-siècle science and culture. His love affairs and involvement in the "Parallel Campaign", an empire-wide, year long celebration of Austrian-ness and the spirit of the age, form the backdrop for his musings on morality, love and philosophy. These long, meandering monologues, which make up a surprisingly large portion of the book, I often found somewhat impenetrable. The conversations between characters I likewise often found mystifying. Nonetheless, it is possible to see Ulrich plot a course away from the modernist thinking of the time when Musil was writing towards an outlook which is decidedly postmodern.

The rather intellectual nature of Ulrich's changing views is complemented and lightened brilliantly by the humour which pervades the novel. Most of the Parallel campaigners are comic in one way or another. Arnheim is, in volume one, Ulrich's antagonist and clearly a Man With Qualities - to such an extent that he is utterly absurd. Count Leinsdorf is a character worthy of any political satire, all the more entertaining because he is so eminently plausible. Character-wise, I found the novel significantly more engaging once Agathe, Ulrich's sister, was introduced. Interestingly, it was this sibling relationship which was the original aim of the novel - the first 750 pages or so are ultimately just a very extended prologue.

A short side note on editions and translations: this is the newer Wilkins/Pike translation. I actually swapped for the final volume to the older, Kaiser/Wilkins translation, which I found much more readable. The older translation had flashes of pure linguistic brilliance which I hadn't detected in the newer one - perhaps this was Musil's writing evolving, or Kaiser & Wilkins 1 took some translational liberties. Either way, I would steer readers towards this earlier (but out-of-print) edition, with the proviso that if you make it as far as wanting to read the posthumous papers, you'll need to switch to the newer translation.

Strangely, despite this being such a confusingly challenging read that at one point it acquired the nickname of The Book Without Qualities, I am planning on searching out the above-mentioned posthumous papers. Ulrich's meanderings and the comic bustlings of the Kakanien bureaucracy are too much of a compelling mix for me not to.
1 vote frithuswith | Jan 1, 2011 |
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This is a one-volume paperback edition of the complete Wilkins/Pike translation, omitting the posthumously published passages, and thus most of the 2nd volume in the complete set. Please do not combine with other abridgements, single volumes or the complete work.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0330349422, Paperback)

Ulrich has no qualities in the sense that his self-awareness is completely divorced from his abilities. He is drawn into a project, the "Parallel Campaign", to celebrate the 70th anniversary of Emperor Franz Joseph's coronation in 1918.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:10:38 -0400)

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