The Intersection of Science and Literature in Musil's The Man Without Qualities

The Intersection of Science and Literature in Musil's The Man Without Qualities

Thomas Sebastian

A fresh view of the interplay of science and literature affecting Musil's great novel.
As the utopian projection of a world in which the conditional mood is preferred to the indicative, Robert Musil's ambitious novel The Man Without Qualities is widely recognized as a great example of aesthetic modernism and a profound reflection on the "postmodern condition." Based on the new and more inclusive English translation by Sophie Wilkins and Burton Pike, this study provides the English-speaking reader with a well-researched commentary that situates Musil's novel in the cultural, literary, and scientific context of the early 20th century. Revealing the novel's many philosophical underpinnings, the study analyzes the intersection of theoretical reflection and aesthetic imagination essential to Musil's programmatic move beyond realism. Thomas Sebastian explores Musil's background in experimental psychology, which he studied under the pioneering psychologist Carl Stumpf, and how it and other strains of scientific thought, including that of Ernst Mach, on whose philosophical ideas Musil wrote his doctoral thesis, are reflected in his great novel.

Thomas Sebastian is Associate Professor of German at Trinity University in San Antonio, Texas.

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Table of Contents

Experimental Psychology: Musil's Academic Apprenticeship
Figure and Gestalt
Indeterminacy, Chance, and Singularity
Multiple Subjects: Constructing a Hypothetical Narrative
Moosbrugger, Frauenzimmer, and the Law
Works Consulted


Supported by ... solid scholarly apparatus, this book will be most useful to those studying the history of ideas, narrative technique, and literary theory. CHOICE

In five chapters framed by a well-crafted introduction and conclusion, Sebastian investigates Robert Musil's book through the lenses of philosophy and experimental psychology. CHOICE

[Sebastian] has a sophisticated command of a range of philosophical and scientific traditions... His thinking and writing are clear-eyed. This short but profound study should greatly influence further scholarly and critical work on Musil in English. GERMAN QUARTERLY

This book will be of primary interest to those seeking a better understanding of Musil's novel [Der Mann ohne Eigenschaften] ... It would not be an exaggeration to say that one has only an incomplete understanding of the novel without the scientific background Sebastian makes available. MONATSHEFTE

Sebastian's work places Musil's novel within the cultural context of the early 20th century, a time marked by a paradigm change in the domain of the arts and science.... The author traces the intellectual formation of Musil's outlook placing his emphasis on the intersection of theoretical reflection and aesthetic imagination. ETUDES GERMANIQUES

With the rejection of Newtonian determinism science began to forge a new Weltanschauung in which the scientific method was to be shaken to its very foundations. With the new discoveries of Plank and Einstein, and with Heisenberg's uncertainty principle, a new variable was introduced into science: lack of certitude. . Thomas Sebastian demonstrates with great clarity how this cultural and scientific substrate influenced - in subtle ways - the Man without Qualities. In spite of his scientific training Musil never felt himself to be a genuine scientist. He used his knowledge as a diving board from which he jumps in order to immerse himself in literature.. The attempt to analyze the connections between science and literature in Musil can be regarded as heroic. It would have seemed impossible to do this in only 137 pages, . but Sebastian succeeded in an impossible task. IASL-ONLINE

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