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Philosophy, Literature, and the Dissolution of the Subject

Nietzsche, Musil, Atay


Zeynep Talay

If philosophy has limits, what lies beyond them? One answer is literature. In this study, rather than seeing literature as a source of illustrations of philosophical themes, the author considers both philosophy and literature as sometimes competing but often complementary ways of making sense of and conveying the character of ethical experience. She does so through an analysis of ideas about language, experience and ethics in the philosophy of Nietzsche, and of the way in which these themes are worked out and elaborated in the writings of Robert Musil and the Turkish novelist Oğuz Atay.
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Chapter V: Musil on Ethics


I said in the last chapter that Musil had declared himself more interested in ethics than in psychology (IV.ii). This may sound like a surprising statement in view of Musil’s oft-noted psychological grasp. However, I will show that it is just this that makes Musil an ethical thinker – or writer – of the first rank. In the first section of this chapter (V.ii) I discuss the case of Moosbrugger the sex murderer, whose trial revolves around the question of accountability and raises issues about the constitution of the self, sanity and insanity, free will, and personal responsibility versus social determination. The main question in Moosbrugger’s case is whether a compulsive serial killer should be held accountable for his crimes. Then, (V.iii) I investigate the relationship between ethics and essayism, both as a writing style and as a way of living. After giving a brief account of Ulrich’s relationship with other women (V.iv), I focus on the relationship between Ulrich and his forgotten sister Agathe that is the heart of part three of the novel (V.v). The account of their relationship is an attempt to think about morality and the world via a treatment of love, and about how to undergo a different kind of participation in the world, beyond any cultural and ideological grounds.

The case of the murderer Moosbrugger who brutally kills a prostitute in a park in Vienna is of interest to both rationalists – criminologists, psychiatrists, lawyers – and moralists, and Musil describes the faltering efforts of both...

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