Robert Musil’s "Der Mann ohne Eigenschaften </I>as a Critical-Utopian Project
Chapter 3: The Function of the ‘Pathological’ in Musil’s Cultural Critique
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The Function of the ‘Pathological’ in Musil’s Cultural Critique
Stefan Jonsson begins his review of Karl Corino’s biography of Musil in the following way: “To read Robert Musil is to sense an approaching catastrophe. His narratives spiral downward from the daylight of bourgeois conventions into the night of madness, the negativity of disorder, criminality and war.” (Jonsson, 2004, p. 131) Characters seem to be sliding further into their own forms of madness. A society is presented in which chaos, incomprehension and outlandish behavior reign. While in the first volume of the novel there is a strange fascination with Moosbrugger, in the second volume Ulrich and Agathe casually flirt with one of the most central moral fundaments in society: the incest prohibition. It comes as no surprise that the prevalence of transgressive behavior in Der Mann ohne Eigenschaften has drawn much attention from critics and that some have accused Musil of an obsession with the pathological.
The function, or maybe better, functions, of the pathological in Der Mann ohne Eigenschaften is a crucial question concerning Musil’s work and, in my view, still insufficiently documented. It is a central aspect of his work as a cultural critique. Moreover, I believe that Musil’s use of the pathological is unique and original. It should not be conflated with the ways Musil’s contemporaries made use of similar tropes in their art works. It is widely known that Vienna at the turn of the century...
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