Robert Musil and the NonModern

By | June 16, 2011

Mark Freed’s new book Robert Musil and the NonModern brings critical attention to Musil’s novel The Man Without Qualities—a work that has not received the attention it merits (in comparison, say, with Ulysses or Remembrance of Things Past) by English-speaking scholars, and especially by cultural theorists working outside literary studies.

Freed compares Musil’s engagement with the problems of modernity to such critics of the modern as Nietzsche, Heidegger, Derrida, and Lyotard. In doing so, he identifies what he calls Musil’s strategy of ‘nonmodernity,’ and goes on to outline what the cultural project of nonmodernity might look like.

Burton Pike, co-translator of The Man Without Qualities, has called Freed’s book “a major addition to Musil studies and philosophic discussion.”

"With exemplary depth and clarity this fine book analyzes Musil’s concept of ‘essayism’ as Musil’s alternative approach to the concepts of Modernism on which philosophy has run aground. Freed, respecting Musil as a writer who had an informed philosophical background, places his way of thinking against rigorous analyses of Nietzsche, Heidegger, Habermas, Lyotard, Latour, Mach, Foucault, Derrida, and others. A major addition to Musil studies and philosophic discussion." — Burton Pike, Professor Emeritus of Comparative Literature, The Graduate Center, City University of New York, USA, and co-translator (with Sophie Wilkins) of Robert Musil's The Man Without Qualities (Vintage, 1996).

“Mark Freed's Robert Musil and the NonModern builds a strong case for including Musil among the giants of modern literature, precisely by challenging the basis of the modern. Musil's ‘Essayismus’, the philosophical view that permeates his great novel, becomes in Freed's reading, a device of ‘non-modernism,’ which questions existing formulas and finds the modern in the postmodern and the postmodern in the modern. Appealing to Lyotard and Latour as his guides, the author leads us to Musil via Habermas and Heidegger, in terms that are as clear as possible, given the terrain. The interplay of literature and philosophy shines forth in this work of great quality.” — Ruth V. Gross, Professor of German and Department Head, Department of Foreign Languages and Literatures, North Carolina State University, USA

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