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240Philosophy and Literature Robert Musi! and the Crisis ofEuropean Culture 1880-1942, by David S. Luft; xii & 323 pp. Berkeley and London: University of California Press, 1980, $18.95. Luft's study of Musil merits the attention of every philosopher seriously concerned with literature. His subject is the most eminently philosophical twentieth -century writer. Both Musil's chief interests and his mode of expressing them arose as the reflections of a trained, if disillusioned, philosopher with a strong background in engineering and experimental psychology upon the epistemological origins of anemie. Musil was fascinated by the fragmented formlessness of modern spiritual life and sought to capture its immediacy phenomenologically in his fiction. No less preoccupied with Mach than Wittgenstein, with Nietzsche than Weber, Musil sought to depict society as an incoherent totality—one which is mirrored in the encapsulated psyches of its members—in an "essayistic" literary form. This "essayistic" form, neither systematic in the fashion of traditional metaphysics nor imaginative in the manner of the nineteenth -century novel, is dictated not only by the fact that the self is trapped within itself but also by the fact that philosophy can neither adjudicate between rival psychic "realities" nor offer firm "foundations" for overcoming the modern malaise. At best, the writer can depict anomie as a spiritual condition of being caught between different vocabularies for expressing the realities of inner life. This can be done by devising carefully constructed thought experiments , whose force hangs on the writer's ability to muster a variety of psychic conditions through the use of subtle subjunctives and a variety of negated adjectives . Ultimately, Musil aimed at nothing less than the reintegration of the splintered modern ego by introducing the "experimental" method in ethics created by a "holiday language." This would allow you to "act as well as you can and as badly as you must, and in that remain conscious of the margin of error in your action" (pp. 284—85). The merit of Luft's lucid, well-written intellectual biography is that it lets all of Musil's power and pithiness come through in its copious and apposite use of his published and unpublished texts. Further, Luft manages to convey the beauty and artistry in this most cerebral of modern novelists. Musil's debt to the Symbolists and Rilke as well as his abiding concern with politics have rarely been so well formulated. However, this is not to say that the book is without its faults. Luft, like so many intellectual historians, is fascinated by metaphysical questions but less adept at discussing them. This emerges in an uncritical acceptance of Musil's views about himself and his society. Throughout his study he quotes Musil approvingly without ever asking whether Musil might be mistaken. Though Luft indicates several interesting parallels between Musil and such figures as Wittgenstein, Lukács, and Weber, he does not pause to develop the common problem or to ask whether their views were ultimately correct. Clichés concerning the "crisis of liberalism" and the "mandarinate," rather than analysis of Musil's problems (i.e., his "absolute presuppositions"), dominate the discus- Shorter Reviews241 sion. Though Luft mentions Mach frequently, there is little sense of the way in which many of Musil's problems grew out of his early preoccupation with Mach's thought—especially in psychology. The Italian literature on Musil might have been helpful here, but Luft either does not know it or chooses to ignore it. Similarly, Luft ignores the parallels that Musil presents to other philosophers , notably Otto Weininger, whose problems help to cast light on Musil's central concerns. In fine, Luft has provided us with a kind of pony to Musil's oeuvre, one which vividly portrays, albeit less than critically, Musil's self-perception and his perception of his age. Because Musil, like Wittgenstein and Weber, gazed profoundly into reaches that others would not or could not explore—ranging from sex and love through the implications of statistical mechanics for social life, to psychopathology—and because Musil is so little known in the English speaking world, we must be grateful to Luft for providing us with a lively avenue of access to his thought. Wellesley CollegeAllan Janik Walter...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1086-329X
Print ISSN
0190-0013
Pages
pp. 240-241
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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