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Hans Ulrich Gumbrecht on The Man Without Qualities

Hans Ulrich Gumbrecht is the Albert Guérard Professor in Literature in the Departments of Comparative Literature, of French & Italian, of Spanish & Portuguese (by courtesy), and is affiliated with German Studies, and the Program in Modern Thought & Literature at Stanford University. He is also Professeur Associé au Département de Littérature comparée at the Université […]

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This is KZSU Stanford.
Welcome to entitled opinions.
My name is Robert Harrison.
And we're coming to you live from the Stanford campus.
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I'm required once a quarter to issue the following warning.
In title opinions contains unadulterated, unusually concentrated intellectual substance.
It should be avoided by anyone who does not have a very high tolerance for thinking.
If you're allergic to the exchange of ideas, if you're deficient in curiosity,
if you suffer from anti-intellectualism, then please tune out now.
This show offers the narcotic of intelligent conversation.
It takes us into the garden and seats us at the banquet of ideas where we feast on the bread of angels.
There's plenty of room at the table, and everyone is welcome, but be warned.
The bread of angels is not your ordinary snack.
It may set your head spinning and give you a high.
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How's this for a feast?
Today we're going to devote the entire hour to that weird, multivolume,
amazing novel by Robert Muzian called "The Man Without Qualities."
And we're going to do it with one of the best humanists of our generation,
my good friend and colleague, Professor Hans Ulrich Gumbrecht, or SEP for short.
But before we turn to the topic at hand, let me say this.
The only thing I enjoy more than talking about great novels is reading them.
That's not the case with philosophy, for example, which I enjoy talking about more than reading it.
Say in the philosophical reading group, which SEP Gumbrecht founded here at Stanford, over 12 years ago,
I'm not one of those people who has a so-called theory of the novel.
But in general, I think the novel is the one genre of writing that's most closely bound up with a pleasure principle.
That's why I basically refuse to read a novel that doesn't please me,
unless I have to teach it.
And believe me, there are lots of great novels that I've never read through to the end,
because I couldn't take any pleasure in them.
You want me to name some?
No, I can't do that.
I'd rather name some that have blown me away recently, under the volcano by Malcolm Lowry,
the Alexandria Quartet by Lawrence Jerel.
Hopeful monsters, Nicholas Mosley, the transitive Venus, Shirley Hazard,
green mansions by W.T. Hudson, a month in the country by J. L. Carr,
embers by Sandor Mariahi, three novels by Carl Chapek,
too loud a solitude by Bohumu Robal.
There are a lot more that I could mention, and I would gladly devote a show to each and every one of them,
but I'll stop there.
As I said, I don't have a theory of the novel.
I wouldn't know where to begin if I had to come up with one.
Every time I read a masterful novel for the first time I find myself saying to myself,
"I've never read anything like this before."
The history of the novel for me is a history of singularities,
of unique, idiosyncratic, unprecedented works.
No, not works, but worlds.
A novel to such as describe a world,
it is a world sparsely or densely populated as it may be.
I feel sorry for people who don't read,
people who don't read are a cosmic, poor in worlds,
whereas readers are rich in worlds.
They get to inhabit a great many of them.
Three weeks ago we had on this program the cosmologist, Andre Linde,
who talked about his theory of the inflationary universe,
according to which our universe made be just one of many universes,
each with its own set of governing laws.
The same could be said for novels.
Each one represents a singular event in another wise continuous history of Genesis.
And we can enter these multiple universes at will in our public libraries.
When I say a novel is a world, I have in mind, a multidimensional entity,
that brings together historical, social, political, psychological,
spiritual, and even metaphysical force fields that intersect one another dynamically,
according to the novel's own self-created laws of coherence.
As I mentioned, today we're going to talk with Sepp Gumbrecht about how such force fields intersect.
uniquely and unrepeadably, in Musel's novel, the man without qualities.
So let's turn to it without any more opinionating from your host.
Sepp is my distinct pleasure to welcome you back to entitled opinions.
My pleasure.
The last time you were on this show in September, we talked about the aesthetic beauty of sports,
and your new book in praise of athletic beauty, which is about to appear in English,
with Harvard University Press.
On that occasion, I presented you with the entitled opinions MVP award in the humanities at Stanford.
And if one day we ever create on this program a hall of fame for the humanities at Stanford,
you'll be inducted into that as well.
So, Sepp, let's keep in mind that some of our listeners may never have read the man without qualities,
and some may never even have heard of it.
Let's start with some basics.
When was this book written?
Who was Robert Musel?
And what is this novel all about?
You know, these are obvious questions, but they're all difficult questions,
because let me just come to that first question about when the book was written,
which is normally easy to say.
We don't really know when he started writing it, but the writing process of what we read today started in the 1920s.
Then there was a series of chapters published in 1931, 1932,
which makes about half of what we have today of the novel.
And then he went on writing on the pressure from his publisher in extreme poverty,
and never finished the novel.
He died in 1942.
In Geneva, and the novel remained unfinished, and the first time it was really published in all the text we have,
was in the mid-50s.
So that is already a strange circumstance.
Now, I have asked myself why would one read this novel?
I mean, you and I are so sold on it.
And I think I do not know of any other novel,
not only in German language, that fit so much a description of a novel being a world.
It introduces us, it immerses us, it allows us to immerse ourselves into a world
that is long gone, that most people in America even cultivated American readers
who wouldn't know much about.
And this is the world of the Austrian, of the Austrian-Hungarian Empire,
the double empire, the K-UK Empire, K-UK in German meaning Royal and Imperial,
because it was both the succession of the Holy Roman Empire of German nation from the Middle Ages,
and the Hungarian Kingdom.
And it included all what is today a part of Eastern Europe,
countries like Fermi, Yugoslavia, Czech Republic,
and Slovak Republic, Austria, etc. So it was a multi-cultural state of a very specific tonality,
a tonality that Moozil makes us feel, opens us to live as lived experience.
And if it was only that, that aspect of historical novel, I would already be in love with that book.
So the book takes place in a very specific year.
In fact, the whole novel, I don't know how many pages, 1500 and more pages of it,
all taking place in the year 1913, the very crucial date, obviously.
Yeah, it's 1913. I mean, it starts in the summer of 1913,
pretty much exactly a year before World War I breaks out.
And the plot, which is sustained over 1500 pages,
is a plot that never comes to its end, not only because the book is unfinished,
it could not come to its end.
Because the Austrian Empire decides to produce what is called an "Jomli Paralele" arts,
you know, the corollary campaign.
The collateral campaign.
The collateral campaign.
The collateral campaign.
The collateral campaign.
I would say parallel campaign.
Anyway, and this was as so often in Austria,
this is already a rungic triggered by the fact that Prussia, Germany, prepared for the 30th anniversary
of the occupation of the throne by William II, William that's right.
And then the Austrians at well, our emperor in the same year 1914,
would have been there for 70 years, and we have to prepare this celebration to celebrate what is specific about our state.
And the preparation for this celebration, which will never take place,
in which we know could never have taken place, because it would have taken place already in war times,
not an environment for celebration, is what occupies all of the plot of the novel.
Yeah. And it's a celebration for 70 years of peaceful reign,
which is of course said with the grain of irony, because they were about to start the war, too.
So the main character is obviously the man without qualities, and I suppose even people who have never read the novel are intrigued by the title.
Maybe we want to talk a little bit about what does it mean when we speak about a man without qualities,
and make his central protagonist such a man.
Yeah, this is an interesting thing. I say one, the one and only professional remark I want to make.
I mean, like with many other remarkable literary products and books, but this is an extreme one.
There's lots and lots of ink being produced, and pages and books being produced in the man without qualities,
but there is no very good book on the man without qualities. I would say, I don't even know if any essay that's brilliant about it.
I mean, you know that I always write too much of never there to write a line about the man without qualities.
I can only give you my guess about the title, because if you read it through right from the first pages and it becomes more and more complex,
all of the central protagonist, the man without quality, is somebody who has all qualities.
He is what we would call today in a college application, the well-balanced character, and that's Mooza's criticism.
He's a man without qualities because he has all qualities, he's too round.
He's too even, he doesn't make up for a distinctive character.
He's athletic, he's in his early 30s, he's extremely intelligent, he's a high degree in mathematics,
harmonizer, a womanizer, a boxer, and many other good tennis player and all these things.
And yet there seems with all these qualities, whoever the man is, it seems like all these qualities seem to have an independent existence from
this old character who is the one who actually becomes the secretary through a series of circumstances,
becomes the secretary, honorary secretary for the co-lateral campaign or the parallel campaign.
That is also very typical, I mean, to give you a little bit of environmental description for the Austrian Empire.
So his father is about to make it into the aristocracy, like by the way, Mooza's father, like many civil servants in that empire.
And he's a very influential man, he has been a lawyer, he has been a what would call in America the Supreme Court.
And he's worried about his son, his son is a brilliant young mathematician, has a brilliant military career behind himself,
but the son doesn't really know what to do with his life.
So the father provides that role in a very high level, a co-lateral campaign because he clearly thinks he will get his son in contact with the most important protagonist of the Austrian
series, they would actually will happen.
And the purpose of the co-lateral campaign is handed over to the administration of DOTMA, one of the leading female figures in the book.
And the purpose is to come up with some kind of grand idea that will synthesize all the various elements in the Austro-Hungarian Empire and give us an idea to lead us boldly forward into the modern era,
And of course this is what is the irony of the book, is that such an idea once Ulrich sits down and entertains all the proposals and so forth that any kind of synthetic bringing together of things under a leading concept is an impossible task.
When you come from German culture like myself, and it's even more true for Austrians who is main virtue is to be very, very self-irony against self-critical, you know right from the start when they talk about this great idea that they want to come up with, that will not be such a great idea.
Now I would exactly say that subcutaneous awareness that there will not be a solution, that is the greatness of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, that you meet that people negotiate,
that something is going on, that there is some motion, but they know it's kind of endless, there's something good for the state coming out of that, people know each other, people make context, but there will not be such a great campaign even without the war.
And I think that is a very interesting spin which I think if you, when I'm southern German so contiguous to Austrians, if you come from that region of Europe, you know this is not a region of great ideas, great ideas for pressure.
And I have to agree with what you said about the Austro-Hungarian bureaucracy, that there's something to be said about the almost sublime inefficiency of an imperial bureaucracy where things don't really get done, or nothing dramatic is going to happen, but for many centuries preserved not a piece but of a pretty positive homeostasis among various different ethnic groups.
And as you know this was an empire who in the late Middle Ages and through early modernity was living in faithful to its lemma, two Felix, I was there, noobie, you were happy, Austria, Mary, get married, so it was a family politics, aristocratic family politics that assembled, there's enormous empire that included the Spanish empire at some point, and not many wars, the Austrians are famously unsuccessful in wars but famously successful in politics, which in a certain way,
goes till the present day, and this is of course why, Moozil has to be ironic about great ideas, I don't know whether we wanted already to talk about our favorite protagonist about, there's a general in this book,
Stromphon-Bodwad, and Moozil always insists on in a detail which I find very moozil about the Austrian empire, the uniforms of the highest generals are like blue, like the water of the Danube.
I think that's the only arm in the world that has light blue uniforms for generals, and this general is so want to be intellectual, this general is the least military person, this general is a master in compromise but it could really not imagine this general ever being involved in warfare.
And one of my favorite scenes I know yours too is when he's trying to find out, what is the totality of knowledge, we've come up with the sciences, the human sciences, and he wants the collateral campaign to find out what's the synthetic unity of it all, and one day comes to Ulrich and despair saying, I think that the only person who can tell is what the totality of knowledge is, is the librarian in the library because he can tell you where to go on the shelf to find any particular book you're looking for,
but other than that, it's nothing but a compilation, which is beautiful of course because the idea and the parody of the question of totalization is already great, if you know a little bit about German idealism is an anti-progum, the German idealism.
But of course also the idea that somebody who has spent his life in military academies and military schools that he's so obsessed with space, right, everything is spatialized for the general, and there's a later scene that's one of my favorites to when they go to a psychiatric ward, the general makes it possible for some friends of Ulrich to visit that psychiatric ward, and they again, the general is obsessed with way the different types of psychiatric, of people who are in that ward of impatience.
So it's always about space.
When I mentioned German idealism, which was the great tradition of systems, systematizing the totality of knowledge, and you also said there's no good books, I don't know about the secondary literature on Ulrich, I know that my own brother, my brother has written a book called Essayism, in which
the one of three authors, and the title of his book Essayism comes from a chapter in the Man Without Qualities where Ulrich pays homage to the idea of the essay, which I think is proposed against the grand system of German idealism, because the essay is something like the etymology of the word is to try, it's an attempt, and it doesn't per, doesn't
presume at exhaustiveness, and completeness, but it looks at things from various angles, and Essayism becomes not just something connected to a genre of writing, but maybe it's the new mode in which the new attitude one has to adopt in a world which has become complex enough that it could never be systematized in the old way.
When there are two things Ulrich you've obsessed with, as you said before, during the novel, I mean he's done many things in his life for 32 years already, but when the novel starts he's a prevatoed sense, so somebody who is qualified to teach mathematics at the university, and he has a reputation of being a very talented mathematician, and his main insistence and that is also the main insistence of the narrator is unpresiseness, he wants to be precise, he doesn't want to have any romantic or fantasy actually done in the past.
This chorus is this German word of schwold's commoted emotion, that would be the least thing they want.
So on the one side, pre-siseness, but on the other side, but I think this is something that Ulrich comes to understand, pre-siseness can be combined with this always suspended end.
I mean you don't come to great conclusions, you don't come to final conclusions, and this is why I think not that the moozil intended the novel to be unfinished.
I mean the novel is unfinished because he died, and because it was a very slow writer, maybe he was also quite lazy, but the novel could not possibly have an end, because keeping things in suspension, getting something going without reaching the great goal that has been announced like for the collateral campaign is precisely a corollary campaign is precisely what makes moozil end in a way the ostra hanger in empires were admirable.
And I think essay is probably a good word for that, because the essay is open-ended in that regard.
The whole book of course is an essay, I mean we will probably come back to that later. You could say, I mean moozil has described himself, it is the question of how one can be a subject, how one can be one can be an individual, under modern day conditions, and clearly without that being the program, but moozil will not come up with a solution, it is a series of experiments almost like scientific experiments.
And they all remain in suspension, you can compare them and you leave the book not only knowing that Austrian Empire inside out, but enormously enriched with philosophical suggestions and intuitions, but there is clearly not any doctrine that you can carry away. It gets you going.
And this is where I think moozil in the history of the modern novel is a little bit unique in that he was very well-bursed in the sciences, and he admired many of the things that fellow writers lamented, which is the increasing
of the scientific attitude, precision you were mentioning this devotion to precision that you have in Ulrichs and moozil shared it as well.
And I think moozil wanted to affirm and promote all those things that otherwise could be seen as forces of disintegration of the old unity.
Let me mention one thing that you and I know, but this book has been hailed and described and it is certainly adequate to say that as the German language, because it is not a German book, but the German language or German literature responds or answered to Ulicis in English language and Aloisheau-Titomper-Dubab-Hoozdin French language.
The reading however, that is very, very important, is much easier. That reads as easily except for some thoroughly philosophical chapters as any 19th century historical novel.
I mean, you've read it to your book, Hormelab-Pri that maybe he's not such a talented author.
I think he is enormously talented, but he shows us that you can be an author on top of high modernity early 20th century and reading can be a pleasure.
Now, another thing I would like to mention is that this precision and this insistence on engineering is not just a moozil idiosyncrasy.
I mean, most people in the Anglican context have forgotten that most of what today we refer to as analytic philosophy, the hardcore philosophy, the philosophy, the insights, insist on precision and so forth, comes out of that context.
I mean, Wittgenstein, for example, was born in the same decade as Moozil Wittgenstein went to the same technical universities in Germany to become an engineer as Moozil Wittgenstein's insistence throughout his work on precision Wittgenstein's repulsion against this kind of commotion and congested emotion is something absolutely shares with Moozil.
So this crystal clear thinking through a problem and then, and that's no different philosophical investigations of Wittgenstein admitting that there is no possibility to come to a smashing solution to come to some telos, that is something I think that is very, very typical philosophically intellectually for a certain brand of Austrian culture and much underestimated today.
Yeah, that's fascinating because there's, well, first there's two Wittgenstines and in the background of the early Wittgenstein there's logical positivism which was huge in precisely this era in that part of the world.
And why don't I read the first paragraph in English and maybe I'll ask you to read some of it in German.
I think, well, then then I'll tell you how I would read this first paragraph in terms of what you were talking about in the intellectual background of, maybe even logical positivism and the later what it is.
There was a depression over the Atlantic, it was traveling eastwards toward an area of high pressure over Russia and still showed no tendency to move northwards around it.
The isotherms and isotherms were fulfilling their functions, the atmospheric temperature was in proper relation to the average annual temperature, the temperature of the coldest as well as of the hottest month, and the aperiodic monthly variation in temperature.
The rising and setting of the sun and of the moon, the phases of the moon, Venus and Saturn's rings and many other important phenomena were in accordance with the forecast in the astronomical yearbooks.
The vapor in the air was at its highest tension and the moisture in the air was at its lowest.
In short, to use an expression that describes the facts pretty satisfactorily, even though it is somewhat old-fashioned, it was a fine August day in the year 1913.
You want me to read the last two sentences and I tried for those who know German, I tried to read that with an Austrian accent which I have a certain linguistic right to do being bellarian myself, which is a very contiguous accent.
Because I think it is actually, I mean it's not meant to be recited, but if you read "moozil" aloud, you see that the cadence is very southern within German.
So I start with the moon, the alphaned under the gong deson, this moon, the least wexl, this moon, the rain was the southern rings, when feeling under the bedoid summer at shining in its black near a far-hour saga in the Nastronomichnia vision.
The vassadam vindaloof, tatizener hukstis kang kafft, with the foisty kite de loof kagering, bit enambored, thus the start-sakly-ki-rech-good bit-size-knit when the zavak was outmoded to his chest.
And here I don't know how to take it, because one could read this as a spoof or parody of logical positivism, where you get all this technical, scientific, precise identification of phenomena.
But then it ends by saying, you could just, as well have said, as a fine Auguste in the year 1913, is this what later Wittgenstein says, "ordinary language does things just as a..."
Well, I don't know. I would see it very much. I mean, you know, this is something that really came to mind out in the conversation.
Maybe that would be the mousive book to do, and Wittgenstein and mousive. The way I read this for his paragraph, and in that sense it is very programmatic for the entire book.
But you don't have to know that it's programmatic, is not that the short version, it was a beautiful Auguste, day nine of the year 1913, makes all the rest superfluous.
And these are two different ways of looking at the world, and they are not equivalent, they're very, very different, but it would be romantic, and it would be too pro-liter in the romantic sense to think that the short version is the good one. No, the other one is very enriching, and mousive cares about that.
And actually, people have said, "I mean, that is not something I can confirm, but I've read that that indeed this is precisely the meteorological description of that very day."
Very, very competently described. So, I mean, I think these things matter to him, and you know, when he describes characters, when he describes landscapes, you oftentimes feel this, the scientific, this engineering, it's also interesting when somebody interested in mathematics, mousive himself, in science, and ultimately in the hands-on aspect of engineering, and this is no different from Wittgenstein, and in that sense they both come from science, go via engineering, and then one becomes a philosopher, the other one.
He also buys into the essay the way you described it, because philosophical investigations in essays, a book without an end without a possible entry.
I didn't mention my brother's name as Thomas Harrison, by the way, and it's a great book.
Yeah, here's a question I would have about this, muslin, this novel is trying to arrive at some philosophical clarity about certain issues regarding what is the human soul, what the mind, and so on.
And yet, he chose to write a novel, do you think his choice to pursue his speculations in the form of a novel was a felicitous choice, or did we are we missing some great treatises that he never wrote as a result of wanting to put it all in a novel form?
Now, I mean, one thing is that now that we have praised the novel so much, and for me what I'm now going to add is also praised, but it is very readable, but it contains and increasingly so in the second part, I mean towards the end of what we have, that's in the last 500 pages, it includes long chapters, 15, 20, 30 pages, which are philosophical treatises in which you could easily separate from the rest of the book and publish this philosophical essays.
In that sense, I mean not that it matters, but in that sense, musil has something that one could feature as a remarkable philosophical over.
I mean biographically as far as I know, we don't really know why he decided to write a novel, but it is interesting that with 30 years, and having basically his career and his profession settled in Germany in 1910, he goes to Berlin to study what we would now call an analytic philosophy.
Now, that's very, very interesting, he writes a dissertation on Muck. I mean, the one with two Muck, I mean, the speed of sound, you know.
You might want to tell our listeners who Muck was.
And Muck was, I mean, a philosopher of science in the late 19th century, one of the founders of positivism, and musis dissertation, I would claim I'm one of the fewest readings, actually very, very interesting, he tries.
I mean, you can clearly see the desire that he wants, that the precision that Muck promises for science is possible, and this is why mentioning it, musil ends up with a doubt.
And that could be the reason why he thinks that maybe that precision he's desiring, maybe that precision in arguing how individuality could come on to, I mean, could acquire a new shape, is something that he feels cannot be done in philosophy, if at all, in the more,
in the form of literature that is less rigid, that allows for the very, very important component of imagination, because once again, as we are now developing the intellectual, the conceptual side of Moozila, I mean, of course, unbelievably rich chapters of imagination, characters imagine. I mean, this is also Omar Klee. I mean, many of the characters have their historically equivalent, but their certain characters, normally sidekicks, that Moozila invends.
One cannot just not help falling in love with or hate them. For sure. That's a great explanation for why even maybe the decision to write a novel is a philosophical, a political, philosophical thing.
Well, like Wittgenstein philosophical investigations, I would stop with that parallel now, but Wittgenstein, of course, completely changes the way of writing, and maybe that made a discovery. I mean, philosophical investigations is very, very convergent with the second part of Man Without Quantities. And of course, if he had only written treatises and didn't write the novel, then he wouldn't have created a world, as you were saying. It's not. And this is an amazing world that comes alive, it's animated in the absolute ending.
So, I want to speak about a few of the characters, but first, just to give a sense of how unusual this novel is.
Just let me read some of the chapter headings, because these are amazing. The first one is called "Witch Remarkably Enough" does not get one anywhere, which chapter.
Yeah, that's this, and that's the first one. And then he speaks about the first of three attempts at becoming a man of importance, and then the second attempt, and here again, we have to hear about the first one.
And here again, we have to hear the word attempt in this sense of essay. He's a saying to become the yeah. And then a race, horse of genius, contributes to the awareness of being a man without qualities. And there's later, there are chapters, like the ideal of three treatises, or the utopian idea of exact living.
That's another fascinating, musulean idea that one can live one's life morally, or existentially with the same sort of exactitude that the sciences bring to bear on their material.
And there's another one of the earth too, but all-written particular pace, homage to the utopian idea of essayism and so forth.
So, these chapter headings, I think, already tell you.
By the way, when you are right with your intuition about essay, I mean, in German, it's the word for zoo. And unless you use the French word essay in German for the literary in philosophical genre, you, I mean, oftentimes when a German author writes an essay, you call it for zuchen German. And that is the same word as attempts, so you're perfectly right about the double meaning of this chapter headings.
One of the motifs that runs throughout the novel has to do with a criminal, Mooz-Prouger, who has brutally killed a woman or more than one woman, I suppose, is a mass murderer.
He's a mass murderer, he's a serial killer, I guess. And Ulrich develops a fascination for this, you know, this criminal.
And the case of this criminal keeps reoccurring throughout the articulation of the plot and so forth. What do you make of him?
Well, in the first place, I mean, this is to again insist on the historical environment, which I mean, historical novel aspect.
As you know, the 19th, 19th, 20s are the great age of serial murderers. I mean, there was the most famous one being, and that's probably the model for Mooz-Prouger,
Mörren Hanufa Hamand of whom I, 87 year old mother, still today, remembers a little song that they had to learn elementary school to warn them against this murderer.
So this is an obsession of the time. Now, the interesting thing is when you, when you read this long, long monologues, I mean, it's normally they report on Mooz-Prouger at court, Mooz-Prouger court and then he's defending himself. He actually refuses to have a lawyer because he despised the lawyer.
He has no culture, but he produces a world. And if you read the way he describes his repulsion for prostitutes, as it has to kill prostitutes, in horrible ass that sounds.
And I see I'm going to lose my job because I was saying that, but when you're reading it, you feed you, get immersed in that world and then all of a sudden becomes plausible.
And I think this is the philosophical challenge. This is all of his fascination, different but other protagonists and now will have a different fascination.
But what you do with that? So, when if you have a plurality of worlds, a plurality of intellectual worlds of conceptual constructions, even that of a mass murderer, of a serial killer, can be coherent.
And I mean, this is the beauty, as for as I'm concerned, I mean, I love to stick my favorite concept intellectually to Mooz-Prouger. This is riskful thinking because I think when Mooz-Prouger brings that up, he knows that he cannot give a solution to that.
But the question remains, and for me I'm obsessed with this question really.
What's the whole thing about the psychiatric ward when they go to psychiatric ward, each of the patients, the inpatients has their world, they're all in a strange way, they're repulsive, they're obscene, but they're all inherently plausible.
We're talking with Sepp Gumbrick about the novel, the man with alcoholities.
And when it comes to the Mooz-Prouger, there's also, Ulrich's father is a lawyer, I believe, a jurist.
And one of the challenges of the case of Mooz-Prouger is whether the law has the capacity really to decide whether the guy is insane, or whether he's responsible for his actions.
And I think Mooz-Prouger puts this criminal in his psychology, just on this edge where it might provoke the revelation that in certain cases the law is not able to apply an exact standard of just a
Well, I have a historical spin on that.
I hate to refer to a book of my own, but that's just, I think, as I said, once wrote a book in 1926 in that book.
I'm talking about the fact that in the legislation at least in Central Europe, but today has become so normal, especially under an Anglo-American law.
And it is actually on behalf of that serial killer Harmon that his defense lawyer claims that he wants to seek one for it as an expert.
Seek one for it will never come to an over for that.
So you have...
So this is an obsession.
I mean, now, you know, my best guess for Mooz-Prouger, at least for Ulrich's, and that, by the way, would be my best guess for the legal system today, that is the same thing.
Today, that we have done progressive people intellectuals have done the legal system at this service by contaminating it with psychiatry.
So there are these Wagner admirers in Nietzsche, Myers-Clareus and Walter, who absolutely, who's hero Mooz-Prouger.
And they want Mooz-Prouger not to get sentenced. They want Mooz-Prouger to be free because they see him in a very funny way.
They see something Nietzsche and him.
I think Ulrich and my guess would be the narrator and Mooz-Prouger are much more reserved about that.
They play with this motif because it is a riskful thinking motif. There is no good solution for that.
But I do not think that the novel makes a pledge for somebody like Mooz-Prouger to remain unsentenced or in freedom.
I agree entirely.
And in fact, Clarissa, that woman that you referred to, is Nietzsche and in Thusie, she's half...
She's half insane. She wants to be a great but Mooz-Prouger.
And Mooz-Prouger, of course, he commingles a kind of insanity with the whole superstructure of rationality.
Because when he defends himself, he doesn't sound insane at all. He seems to have a conceptual grasp.
And I can't help but see in the background of the First World War, which clearly was a moment in which Europe lost its mind and became insane.
And yet did it through the very agency of reason and rationality.
And I always connect the figure of Mooz-Prouger with the specter of him with the war zone.
And you're always good for a surprise. I thought this was for once a novel I knew better than you, but I think that's a great thesis.
And that means system one aspect.
When you read Mooz-Prouger's monologues at court, he basically taps into a discourse and this is kind of low-life theological discourse about sexual morality.
And as all his victims were prostitutes or what he considered to be prostitutes, there's a certain starting point that is very strongly convergent with the official morality.
And he develops that very reasonably. I mean, the sequence of sentences has a high degree of rationality in something that as a system as a discourse is the craziest thing you've ever seen.
And this is why I like so much you're saying that World War I is the catastrophe intellectually not only intellectually of Europe and maybe of Western culture by letting its own rationality getting out of control.
And that sense, indeed, I mean, I don't like allegories, but in that sense, indeed, Mooz-Prouger, however fleshy and heavy he is, is an allegory of attitude.
allegory or a symptom or something along those lines maybe.
Except I've had, I've been in a enthusiast of the man without qualities very early on, I think in sophomore and college.
And I've, whenever I had girlfriends, particularly dear to me, I've always tried to get them to read.
And in some cases, successfully, but I have to say that all my attempts to promote Mooz-Ole among women readers could even be my mother or sister or other friends.
And that certainly have to be girlfriends per se. Most of them have ended in a kind of disappointment on their part.
I know that you've taught Mooz-Ole in seminars and do you think there's that it's more difficult for women to get into this book perhaps because of the way women characters are portrayed in the book or is it because there's this heavy emphasis on rasios and abstract rasios?
I don't know.
I will not talk about the insistence on rationality as being non-women because if we do we get the same trouble as Larry Summers, the president of Harvard.
I don't know what to do that.
But let me, in the first place I want to confirm empirically as Mooz-Ole would have said what you're saying.
I mean both in that seminar was teaching a Stanford couple of years ago.
And with my friends, even with my wife, Ricky, who as you know is the much more tenacious reader than I am, you know,
Ricky normally a novel of 1500 pages and unfinished is a great promise and she wants to read it. Now this one she didn't read.
But instead of going into explanations why this is so, I'd actually venture the hypothesis that if there is a quote-unquote solution for this problem, what individuality and subjectivity under modern conditions can be, if there is something close, I mean of course that cannot be in the 19th century sense to a positive hero.
In this novel it is actually Ulrich Sista Agaten with whom he falls in love. Some people think the novel is unfinished because the incest couldn't be fulfilled, whatever.
But I mean this is not about the incestuous love now but I do think and that's why it is so positive and so strange for me because for me very clearly I have to argue that against the resistance of many women in my seminar, that the one positive character, the one character that makes you see the possibility of a type of
of a type of precise living that's viable because Ulrich after all is an interesting character but is pathetic also. Now the one positive character is Agaten I would clean.
Well there are women that might then have also very compelling way answered me when I suggested that that I got there being the twin sister of Ulrich is nothing but a principle of identity and is just a projection of his, is just a doubling of himself
and therefore doesn't have the density of the other person. Let me propose something. My formula would be and I've tried to push that very unsuccessfully in that seminar that Agaten is every bit as intelligent as Ulrich but she's less intellectual
He's less self-reflexive and she's therefore capable of acting even them and that would be a subplot that's interesting even of some criminal action which I mean I think
he's the secretary of a campaign that everybody knows will never come to an end where his sister is able to decide for divorce which was something unheard of in that social class in Austria. She's the one who pushes a certain incestuous erotic attraction between the siblings. I mean not knowing where that will go in the end.
But the fact that Agaten does not have all qualities, the fact that Agaten has not read every book but that she is as intelligent as elegant and much more capable of making decisions than Ulrich makes her the positive character for me.
So I think Agat is the one who has or is the process of recuperating something somatic, something physical, something bodily essential relationship to the world that Ulrich has lost, Ulrich is aware of this loss but he cannot go back.
And juxtaposed to her would be Diotima and it's strange when we will push these things as he always does in the case of his characters. Diotima is the one who is in charge of the collateral campaign and she seems at first to have this kind of mockish sentimental naive belief in the grand idea and the redemptive idea and falls in love with Arnheim.
But she ends up becoming a kind of mystic of air-offs herself.
And in a way that's not unlike the Agaten and Ulrich's mysticism of air-offs at the end.
And I do think that Diotima, first thing, do you agree with me that she actually works really well as a character whether you like her or not.
I think she is a fabulous, very complex character. Perhaps Diotima and Ulrich in the entire novel are the two characters that are most endless in the sense that you feel there's an ever-growing complex education each time that they appear you know less what they are like, not like in most great novels.
And she is certainly very, very central but probably different from you and maybe my lead here is the fact that after all she is in love with Arnheim who represents the German Empire, the Austrian Empire.
She is the Austrian woman who is in love with grand ideas while she can never pull it off once to bring something to a conclusion. And she is in charge of producing a conclusion.
She is certainly very, if I'm a dare say, a highly desirable character in that novel. But I think if you come back to a musence philosophical problem, I mean how would a new precise way of living be possible in the 20th century, then Diotima is maybe a solution that's been admirable but outdated, I mean not randomly her name is the name of Herlilin's lover.
But I'd also like to suggest that in the later volumes where her character starts undergoing a metamorphosis, that she becomes a kind of essayist in her own way as an eroticist. She starts exploring unknown, she's afraid to make the jump and she doesn't have the same kind of courage as I got that does.
But she is saying into new territories of her own erotic spirituality. She's on a quest.
Again, I mean I willingly and happily concede to Diotima, I'll make a jump that would be provocative but we have to come back to that quote and I may explain something about a god and that's now much worse than Larry Summers.
One of our favorite quotes from the entire book I have already mentioned is "Moozil Talk about the Genius of Erase Hords".
Now interpreters have always said, "Oh this is ironic because of course how would a resource have genius? No."
I think it is exactly non-arronic. I have gotten a lot of criticism because there's recently writing that in a book.
I think it is very, very serious and it is serious in the way that we have this amazing analytic philosophy at Stanford is non-amerities Fred Dredsky,
who very seriously as if you lost a friend of a manologist for talking of the intelligence in the limbs of the human body and the parts of the human body and this was not a metaphor.
The legs can be intelligent, arms can be intelligent. They have to super bowl I think one should emphasize then.
So in that sense there is something like the genius of a resource and that genius is something that is in conflict with a high degree of referenceivity.
And all of the exercises all day, I mean he is the predecessor of present day joggers and people who go to fitness clubs.
He does that all but it doesn't really help. His sister is capable of inhabiting her body.
I will not say that she is a genius as a resource but almost.
Yeah and the body in those cases of a genius of a racehorse or the boxer whose body is completely fine tuned ready for action that I think if there's any place where one can step outside of all the relativity and complexity of the world and find that sort of unity of spirit that the collateral campaign is looking for in vain.
It's in these moments of bodily intelligence.
Because look I mean that basically I think the two problems is confronted with.
One problem we started with that's the opening motif of the book that's the plurality of worlds.
The plurality of worlds and there's no good way to choose one or the other.
And the second problem that's the same problem that high degree is addressing very forcefully and being in time is the anti-cartesian problem in a way.
How to recuperate, how to live again in a world of objects, in a world of things being a thing about yourself.
And this is why I think somebody like Agata is a solution or embodies the solution and dissipates the solution if there is a solution.
Because I insist, I mean I find her the most intelligent character of the entire book.
She is never inferior to like in their long, long conversation.
She never owes him any reply but at the same time she's capable to use a very German, idiomatic expression to take her life in her own hands.
And that's why I do think that the absolute hearing of this novel is a woman which makes it all the more puzzling for me that women don't like them and without qualities.
But maybe we can redeem that without problem.
The concept of genius is also, we were talking about that.
And I think I remember a line somewhere early on in the book where Ulrichs or the author,
who says a little bit of genius can dispense with a lot of talent.
And that the world that is full of talent and getting more and more full of talent, we see it and music could never have imagined the kind of explosion of talent that was to come in our own times where people have so much talent.
And yet that little bit of genius is still as rare as it always has been.
And in the case of the racehorse we know what that genius is. In the case of Moozil, he was hoping that maybe he wasn't the most talented writer, novel writer that ever wrote.
But that little bit of genius in him could dispense with all that talent.
Yeah, I mean in a way proves true. I mean it is interesting that, I mean Moozil would be, we haven't mentioned that because it can imagine everything about him.
I mean, he was living in poverty and was living in poverty for the last 20, 25 years of his life.
Because he made this, I would call it genius decision to confront this big problem, to write this one in an own, own, novel.
And well, of course he was full of resentment to not use enough for if saying this against all the more successful authors of his time in the first place, too much money.
And actually it's interesting what you think. He accused too much money of being the eternally talented author.
He always has a potential and every novel is very good, but he never writes the real novel.
Then that biographic that turned around because too much money actually was one of the few who was generous and took care in a good way of Moozil.
And I do think, and see this is again the Agartim, or even in this sense Moozil's life is in Agartil life.
I mean he is capable, you could say okay self reflexive in her finished his book, but he confronts the one big book.
I mean in the 20s and early 20s Moozil was a very successful author.
He was seen as up and coming in German language literature and he decides to undertake this big, big project because that's the one real thing that matters.
And you know, I mean at least for you and me, this is why we talk about him and not about other authors from early 20s century.
And that is not in that sense, he is indeed, I mean this is another way of saying that he shares something with the other great novel authors.
I mean for me, post the joys but also the French author Celine because there's something absolutely unconditional in this project.
Yeah, and I would also suggest that the reason it's a great novel is because it's not trapped in its own ironies.
Because it would be very easy for Moozil to be the detached ironist who shows that any attempt at a solution doesn't work and that there's no way to synthesize things into a grand idea.
And then just make a mockery of everyone's, everyone else's attempt to do that.
But the fact is that he was committed somewhere. You can tell that there was a passionate commitment to the attempt, you know, if not at the solution.
And that there is even at the end a drive towards a mystical kind of summer-solving solution.
Where Ulrich, I think speaking for the author says that we have to learn how to become metaphors.
We have to live as if we were metaphors of ourselves, not to literalize reality.
And this idea of conscious utopianism, I think is another way where it's not reducible to irony.
And it's not reducible to the analytic. It's something else.
I mean, what you've been saying would be enough stuff for an entire program here.
I mean, definitely he is not trapped into his own irony. I think there's a very simple reason for that too.
I mean, he has, there's a double-ironic structure in that novel.
I mean, this is something about bipolarity, not in the psychiatric sense, between North and South and German culture.
He is able to see his own Austrian-guerrant culture from outside, from a Prussian point of view.
But he's also ironic about the other culture. Now, if you're doubly ironic, I think then you cannot be completely ironic.
So I mean, the question comes up, so what's the real point?
And we know that from his diaries and from his notebooks, which I think unfortunately are not available in English,
that until the very end he was pushing a solution, pushing a solution to this philosophical problem.
Now, what I think could be stuff for another problem is what does it mean to live like a metaphor?
I sometimes think it means something like instead of occupying agency being aware that one lives as an effect of these large systems.
I don't know how to be able to.
So you don't control the Austrian-guerrant empire, but you're an effect thereof.
Like we're an effect of Stanford.
Yeah, no. That's good enough for me, I can tell you that's better than a lot of the alternatives.
I can't believe how quickly our hour has kind of passed by.
Thanks again, this is your second appearance, but not your last on the program.
So we -- thanks again for coming on.
I want to remind our listeners that we have DECA coming up with at the CAFable Hemian just in a few minutes.
That we have a web page for this program.
If you click on to the home page of the Stanford French and Italian department, and then click on entitled opinions,
you can leave your comments and access previous shows, podcasts as well with iTunes.
Thanks again to David Lummis for all the technical support and the production manager and then the web mastering.
So as up, I'm going to leave you with a little Viennese song.
That's very nice. Thank you. See you next week.
That was --