restricted access Robert Musil and the Culture of Vienna (review)
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Reviewed by
Hannah Hickman. Robert Musil and the Culture of Vienna. La Salle: Open Court, 1984. 203 pp. $24.95.

Musil has yet to receive the recognition in the English speaking world he deserves, and any study that deals with him and his works is to be welcomed. Hickman's intent is "to trace the development of Musil's mind" as revealed in his literary work as well as in his notebooks, essays, and other writings. Consequently, she treats Musil's writings less as literary works than as the expression of his thinking and the reflection of his perceptions of European society during the first part of this century. In the process, Hickman focuses on Musil's preoccupation with the realms of the "intuitive" and the "intellectual," the relationships between irrational and rational thought, the nature of emotions, the role of the unconscious, and the difficulty of expressing thought with language.

As a result of her focus, background biographical information is sparse, and virtually no mention is made of Musil's childhood experiences and their possible impact upon his life and works. Rather, Hickman presents the rich intellectual environment of Vienna during the turn of the century and emphasizes those precursors [End Page 826] and contemporaries of Musil who influenced him or who showed an affinity to his thinking. Musil's foundation in contemporary science and psychology, his interest in matters of perception and the role of the unconscious and in the writings of Hartmann, Bergson, Novalis, and Maeterlinck are stressed, as are the influences of Nietzsche and Emerson, as well as those of Mach, Wittgenstein, and Freud.

Hickman's study is essentially chronological in structure, and Musil's works are usually discussed within the context of the date of their writing, although on occasion she chooses the date of publication or republication. The first chapter deals with Musil's less-known early notebooks, the influences on him during his formative years, and the initial appearance of themes in his writings that would come to mark his works. The second chapter focuses on the phenomenon of the "dual vision" and Young Törless (1906). It reviews the novel's central concern with "problems of perception and expression," its themes of growth and personal development, and the search for balance between intellect and emotion. "Finding a Voice" deals with the years preceding the outbreak of the World War One, Musil's early essays and sketches during that time, and his first novellas. Musil's life and thinking during the war years are outlined in the fourth chapter, which summarizes his reactions to the war and the changing world as they are recorded in notebook entries and sketches. It treats as well the novellas of that period, "Grigia" and "The Lady from Portugal." "Mature Writer" turns to Musil's subsequent essays and his plays and presents his "analysis of the contemporary situation in Austria and Germany." Hickman emphasizes the pertinence of that situation for Western civilization as a whole and takes pride in Musil's "courageous stand against Spengler's political philosophy." The Man without Qualities, which Hickman sees as arising "from the same deep concern for the crisis in Europe and the future of the 'civilised' nations" already evidenced by his essays, is the subject of the sixth chapter. The last chapter deals with Musil's life and writings after the completion of the first volume of Man without Qualities and attempts to summarize his thoughts during his final years.

Throughout the study, Hickman underscores the continuity of Musil's concerns and interests and the interrelatedness of his works. And indeed, the strength of Hickman's study lies in its emphasis on the close ties between essays and fiction, the relationships between his earlier and later works, and the continuing recurrence of specific concerns and patterns of thought. Unfortunately, however, undue repetitiveness often mars the discussion.

Arising in part from Hickman's acceptance of all of Musil's thinking and perceptions as valid is the uncertainty whether Hickman is summarizing Musil's thoughts or presenting her own interpretation and analysis. To whom should the reader attribute the conclusion, "Goethe, it is true, was a scientist as well as...


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