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The Man Without Qualities Vol. 1: 
A Sort of Introduction and Pseudo Reality Prevails 

Among the very best I've read. No question. Up there shining a bright light in my own little personal canonical firmament. The ideal book of ideas. Fans of towering literary artistry will love this. Recommended for fans of Infinite Jest -- there's even a riff about what it means when a tennis player is called a genius. Somewhere in Extinction, Bernhard notes that Musil is the best prose writer ever in German. Fantastically drawn characters with incomparable depth thanks to such clear, fluid, insightful exposition. Things happen early on that are sustained and revisited throughout (ie, there's a plot). Ulrich's beaten up, he hangs with his artistic piano-playing friends, enjoys some intimacy with a married nympho, gets arrested, takes a shine to a society-symbolizing lady killer, and becomes a member of the Parallel Campaign! Otherwise, despite all this plot crap, every page packs an epigrammical wallop. Unfakeable insight, wisdom, striking images. Exactly the sort of thing I want and rail about when I don't get, especially in books considered excellent. So many ideas, too many to even begin listing, but never does it feel thematically scatterbrained or "encyclopedic" -- it's like a gracefully revolving squeezing out of nuanced colors from every gradiation stop along the emotional, intellectual, psychological, artistic, political, societal, and most importantly the spiritual spectrum (note: "spiritual" doesn't mean "religious" as much as having to do with that very Germanic concept of Geist, which I think is like the soul, the body, the mind, the will, and all those old verities like courage and dignity wrapped up in one -- the sort of thing ye olde uber-Modernist novels like this are most concerned about). It's the sort of book that you want to start summarizing and quoting until you've plagiarized all 725 pages. Did things sometimes get a little slow? Not so often that I lost patience -- slower lulls came before the storms (albeit more of axiom than action). Loved the Utopia of Essayism sections, sort of like prose-poem unpredictable statement tilt-a-whirls re: Ulrich's way of life. Loved the two sections about the Great Author (Arnheim) -- couldn't help thinking about how it applied to JFranz these days (particularly the recent shitstorm about his off-the-cuff anti-Twitter riffs). So often things seemed to directly address today's Twittering soul (the action is set in 1913 Vienna; Musil wrote it in the '20s/'30s) and, toward the end, the Occupy Movement. Not sure how well this one would make out if run through the race, class, gender thresher. Soliman, one of the most vivid and "poignant" characters in the book, is like a horny Pip awash in a sea of upper-crust whitecaps. Diotima and Bonedea I confused a little, despite warnings not to do just that, thanks to their idealized names, but Rachel and particularly Clarisse, if not Gerda, were more developed and felt real. There's still the second volume and the notes of volume 2 to read but volume 1 feels absolutely complete -- if Musil had said he was done at this point it would've been considered a complete masterpiece instead of the first volume of an unfinished mega-masterpiece. All the major character and thematic dealios seemed to evolve and climax and close down at the end. Anyway, really glad I've read this. Can't recommend it more highly to pretty much everyone -- for a book of this size and sort, it seemed surprisingly accessible. Can't wait to read some more Musil, some Mann, and other related Germanic stuff (Broch's The Sleepwalkers) this summer. Let's hope it's dark and dreary.

The Man Without Qualities Vol. 2: 
Into the Millennium, from the Posthumous Papers 

Putting it down for now at the end of the chapters published during Musil's life -- that is, before the onslaught of 600+ pages of posthumous papers. If Volume II maintained Volume I's towering literary artistry (TLA), I'd read all the drafts and notes etc, but I need a break from so much talk and talk and talk and talk about morality and willpower and the soul and action and the science of thought and feelings and stuff. All these ideas were animated and elevated and entangled in the first volume by consistently robust/deepening characterization and a bit of plot tension and old-fashioned love/power intrigue among the characters, but all that pretty much comes to a halt in Volume II -- characterization ceases or at most functions to remind you what's already been established, and there's really no tension except whether or not Ulrich and his sister Agathe are gonna make out. There's an affecting bit from the perspective of Agathe's husband, some good bits from Clarise's progressively insane perspective, a vivid scene in an insane asylum, high level stuff early on about Ulrich's father and his funeral etc, and also insight into the historical/intellectual foundation of what would become Nazism, but otherwise in Volume II the POV shifts way more often (sometimes among a few people within a paragraph), the conversations seem to go on too long and too often they cover similar ground, and the newly introduced characters aren't particularly interesting, other than Agathe, who's more or less Ulrich's twin in female form. The first volume makes it worthwhile reading, like watching the deleted scenes on the DVD of a movie you love, but I think Musil was writing a shorter novel than he thought he was and so after a while what he was bringing up from the well was dull and murky instead of refreshing and clear. Also seemed like there was a different translator. Many more apostrophes and awkward phrases. Oh well. I'm more likely to go back and read Volume I again than I am to read the remaining 600+ posthumous papers and notes

The Confusions of Young Torless

Close third-person portrait of the artist as an adolescent exposed to proto-Nazi homoerotic brutality at an all-boys boarding school. Opaque philosophizing characteristic of a sensitive intelligent teen makes this way longer than 217 pages. Note that these are, per the title, '"Confusions," not "Confessions" (my copy was only called "Young Torless"). Observations about artistic/intuitive emotional responses beyond rationality (ie, Kant, mathematics) occasionally clearly rang inside this reader's head. Other times Mr Musil had me way back on my heels. The S&M-addled intimacies were surprising (and surprisingly well-rendered) for an autobiographical first novel published in 1906. Loved a two-page section toward the end relating Torless's adult perspective on his innocent early teen moral degradation experience. 

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