Distinguished Outsider: Robert Musil and His Critics

Austrian writer Robert Musil (1880-1942) ranks with Proust, Joyce, Kafka and Thomas Mann as a master of the modern prose narrative; his works encompass a wide range of theoretical and aesthetic impulses, ranging from Nietzsche to Mach, from Gestalt theory to Freudian psychoanalysis. This volume traces the scholarly reception of Musil's works, marked by discontinuities and abrupt shifts of perception. At the beginning of his career, Musil was stereotyped as an author primarily interested in morally questionable 'psychological' issues, before being plunged into near oblivion by his exile, forced by National Socialism. After the Second World War he was 'rediscovered', but the development of Musil studies was severely hampered by the inability to determine an authoritative edition of his unfinished masterpiece, Der Mann ohne Eigenschaften (The Man without Qualities), 1930-43. Professor Rogowski shows how successive generations of scholars have appropriated Musil for their own ends, constructing a bewildering and often contradictory array of images of the author according to their own ideological and methodological biases, and how this multitude of different perspectives corresponds with changes in German studies and historical developments over the past four decades. In so doing, he sheds new light on Musil's paradoxical status as, in the words of Frank Kermode, 'the least read of the great twentieth-century novelists'. CHRISTIAN ROGOWSKI is assistant professor of German at Amherst College.