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Monsieur le Vivisecteur

I. Introduction

As an 18 year old Robert Musil first wrote in his diary. In these he kept track of his thoughts, observations, and philosophy, to be ' with myself, my own historian'. Until two days before his death he worked on it. The notes are usually only meant to be read by himself, and no-one else.

In the more than 2.000 pages that comprise the diaries, and that have eventually been published by his wife Martha, Musil wrote down everything he thought, felt, observed: analyses, critiques, his view on reality and literature, and also draft for his works of literature.

Furthermore, his diaries increasingly become a document of the times in which Musil lived.

Diaries? A sign of the times. So many diaries are published. It is the easiest form. Good. Maybe only diaries will be published, since all the rest is considered unbearable. Why generalize. It is the analyses itself; - nothing more, nothing less. It is not art. Nor should it be. Why speak too much about it?

Most important though, are the Texts that form the history of the genesis of "The man without qualities", with which he started around the turn of the century, and continued until his death. All the thoughts, pains, energies and drafts that make up the book's history are to be found in his diaries.

For an excellent discussion of (the English translation of) Musils' diaries, read J M Coetzee's article: The Man of Many Qualities. It discusses not only the entries, the translation, but also Musil's view on literature

Roughly, the diaries can be arranged according to three sorts of entries. First there are the entries that deal with his life, and his observations on life in general. Second there are the entries that display the evolution of his literary works. And last there are the entries that deal with his diaries themselves, and the nature of his input.

The chosen entries attempt to convey all three. They give a good insight to his personal and literary development. If present, in the other chapters a link to a relevant diary entry will be made.

All translation of the original German texts are mine. So, this may be the first time English-only Musil readers get a glimpse of some of his diaries, although an excelent translation is available.

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II. Life

As if it were a law the following circle happens within me.
  I am arrogant, rejective, retired, sensitive, happy.

A certain kind of feeling asserts istself. I have tired my muscles too much with rowing, or I am too stupidly intesive working on philosophy.

In the very first days of the war, when at evening everyone rushes through the streets in search of newspapers, the crowd grows madly fond of reading, forms a solid mass through which a tram attempts to move very slowly.
Simultaneous with all the ecstasy, the ugly singing in the cafes. The nervous excitement that wants to fight its own little war for every copy of a newspaper.
Most of the last-minute weddings are taking place in the maternity hospitals.

You hear it a long time before it lands. A wind-like whistling or rushing sound. Growing louder and louder. Suddenly it (a piece of shrapnel) landed right beside me in the earth. Not a trace of fear, not even the simply nervous kind like palpitation, which also usually ensues without fear in cases of sudden shock. Afterwards a pleasant feeling. Satisfaction at having survived. Pride, almost. Being accepted into a community, baptism.

The dead man's few possessions lie wrapped in a shred of newspaper on our dining-table. A purse, the rose from his cap, a short, small pipe, two oval tin boxes containing ready-cut Toscani - cigar-like cigarettes - a small, round pocket mirror. From these objects streams a heavy sadness.

I feel foremost that my arrogance is leaving me. I am less amiable, have less spirit. I feel empty and work out of desperation. My behaviour suffers from it. I am defeated. In comparison with any other person I feel dumb. I act clumsy, not capable of reacting to respond to an insult in the proper way. A few hours later I am again arrogant, rejective, retired, sensitive, happy.
From: Cahier 11 (1905 - 1918/19)

After this most enjoyable night of his life he came to visit her. He looked in her eyes for remains of yesterday. They were big and round, of a hot humidity. He asked her: "Cry". And she cried. After a while he cried with her. For he had the will to cry. After this they were both tired. And both they felt a more tender sort of love. He however, had made a discovery. This.

On the quietest hour.
  Every person is a cemetary of his thoughts. They are the most precious to us the moment they come into being, later we can feel an intense remorse that they leave us indifferent where they once excited us so much.

A quitest hour is this between twelve and one of our soul, in which they rise from their graves and each bring us a lost part of ourself. It gives us a different experience of ourselves and become quiet, because we know the inevitability with which they leave as at one sharp.

  A little twist. How would it be if people instead of laughter produce tears to express joy. How would people that are capable of this look like? Crying and laughter should be treated as a diet anyway.
From: Cahier 3 (1898 - 1905/06)

Fantasies: Two months of love in a provincial town. The wife some sick mans that cannot leave the house, the teacher, the salesman. She has a broad, sturdy middle and too thick knees. If she is naked her hands do not join in her bodily movements, but as someone who stands shyly on the side. And yet so full of life, so full of will to pleasure, so much a woman - in a provincial way, who is somewhat ashamed, but determined to get her way. She smells after spices. She knows she is not doing it perfectly, but she wants to do it anyway.

Holiday stay. Man, who lost his childhood with work. Waking up hungry. And you notice that you are already 35 and funny to 17 year old girls. Because you only know yourself from within it is unimaginable to you that you could be old. Excursion with the youth. The mother is 35 also. You and she belong to eachother. You walk with her behind the others. Slowly you get charmed by her. But you should have to be in the middle of these young girls all the time. - A girl gets serious, listens to you, lets her tell you stories. Beautifull, this serious and friendly manner of girls before they fall in love.
From: Cahier 7 (1913 - 1914)

Retrospective glances :

Alarm in Christof * after a long period of calm and adjustment to peace is like being attacked with a fist. These short commands: "Battalion alarm," "Prepare to board wagons," etc. The nerves, not at present used to such things, tremble. I was pale and agitated, without feeling any reason.

Boarding the wagons . During the long wait, groups of people, a few here, a few there, go off unnoticed; in the evening many of the squad are tipsy, some of them are completely drunk. The brigadier with his cane is at the station; he makes a speech. In the wagons a menagerie of sound. Otherwise well-behaved people are like animals. Good-natured persuasion and threats have no effect. We have the sliding doors closed. From within fists drum against them. At some of the doors there is a secret resistance. Lieutenant v. Hoffingott who takes charge of the door-closing shouts "Hands away!" and, in the same instant, strikes against the secret hands with his hunting knife...

This movement of the hunting knife was indescribable. Like an electrical charge released in a bolt of lightning; but with no flash, no lightning or the like--something white, decisive....

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III. Works

Something about Nietzsche.
  They call him unphilosophical. His works read like spiritual plays. To me he seems to be someone who opened hundreds of new possible ways and has realized none. That is the reason why people to whom new ways are a necessity love him, and those that cannot do without mathematically calculated results call him unphilosophical. Nietzsche himself is of not too great an importance. But Nietzsche and ten sturdy intellectual labourers that do what he has merely pointed out would bring our culture ahead with a step of thousand years. -
  Nietzsche is like a park, open to the public - but nobody enters!
From: Cahier 3 (1899 - 1905/06)

November 1913.
Waiting: I overlook my work. It is motionless; like stone. Not meaningless, but the sentences do not move at all. I have two hours before I can leave - if all is well. Every fifth minute I look at the clock, everytime it is less, not as I had estimated but as I - as if for a miracle - had hoped. I see for the first time the furniture stand still in my room. In the same way it looks different like when one sees five buttons of a dice as eyes. The tabele, the two chairs, the sofa, the closet. This is how people without ideas must be like when their working day is done. A somewhat overjoyous expectation is alive in me. As overjoyed as at the end of december 24th just before the party begins.

Somebody on the street whistles, somebody talks passes. A lot of sounds at the same time; somebody talks, on the upperfloor somebody plays the piano, the phone rings. (While I write this down time flies.)
From: Cahier 7 (1913 - 1914)

The matter of verism.
Literary art begins only there, where it moves away from naturalism, they say. Alright. But to adequately put a problem into words, nothing real-important must be overlooked. Else it will be a wrong formulation of a matter.
  Here one must adhere to nature, keep exactly to experience, for this resembles scientific thinking. On whatever is left, they may be right. To deviate from nature should not be a poetic license ( like the à part playing in drama) but must come from the original antithesis that seperates art from life.
From: Cahier 5 (1910 - 1911)

I am not even sure whether my good or evil spirit speaks thus to me. But it must be said once.

Since I have awakened to life, I think differently on it. That is: on certain places clear critique, on other places well thought over proposals. Some of it I have written down and published. Much more has remained an unarticulated opposal. Uplifted and brought down again. Far-reaching, assumption based relations, that were not followed by the mind.
  The mind, that has received scientific training, will not follow if it has not build itself any bridges of which the carrying-capacity has not exactly been determined. Here and there I calculated only the seperate components of such a bridge; left the job, convinced that it could not be finished anyway. I could sit down and gather material, like there have been great and industrious efforts - ...
  But what remains of that? If the breath with which has been tried to bring life to the mountain has blown away, an unorganic heap of dead material.
  The five year slavery from the war has in the meantime taken the best part of my life; the preamble has become too long, the opportunity to use all force too short. Decline or jump, whatever may come of it, is the only choice left.
  I renounce a systematic and exact proove. I merely want to say what I think and make clear why I think this. I comfort myself with the thought that even the most important scientific works have been born out of a need like this, that even Locke's ... are actually travel-letters.
From: Cahier 19 ( 1919 - 1921)

April 4, Thursday ... I have 700 pages in Berlin. Today I started the following.
  Without suffering sleeplessness I sleep very little lately en feel all but well.
  One may not have time to think of God (have no spare thoughts), only then one lives most pleasing to him!?
  From science I gained the habbit of working regularly, from literature that of waiting for the being-flooded; that is on of the causes of my problems. Nowadays I find that one must ban the thought of inspiration entirely from the mind, since thinking of it is only a means to trouble it; but what do those extraordinarily happy moments mean nevertheless?

From: Cahier 30 (ca. 1929 - 1941)

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IV. Diaries


Today I start a diary; it is against my usual habbits, but out of a clearly felt need.

After four years of cutting up it gives me the opportunity to find back the intellectual developement which I think is mine.

I will attempt to reach for the "banners of a never fought battle". The thoughts of my emotionally so disturbed days must be found again, shifted and developed further. Here and there something of the loose remarks I make must be used, but only when it finds my attention again.

Personal notes I will not, or only seldom, make, and only then when I believe that it will be of philosophical interest to me to remember them.

All thoughts concerning the 'science of man' must be written down in it. Not the philosophical. Drafts. Now and then a poem that seems worth remembering. Absolute expressions. This being the matter with style. Not only attention on what one says, but also on how it is said. Find a style that is mine. So far I tried to say the unsayable with direct words. This points to a one-directional intellect. The will to turn expression int an instrument for myself should be at the beginning of this 'cahier'.
From: Cahier 11: (1904/08 - 1918/19)

Psychologists distinguish three types of memories; in the days I was studying they were the visual, the auditive and the motorical memory. Of these three none of them was applicable to me, although I reacted motorically with the then going experiments. But these are elementary. The closest I come to a characterization of my memory (and my fantasies) is the following: I do not visualize things, almost in 'factual relations'. I hardly ever remember details, only the meaning of something. Out of these factual relations, that are entirly void of form present in my memory, almost not present at all, the expressions that have not been analyzed are created.
  I believe this is one of the reasons my writing is difficult.
  I want to point this out, because it is of importance to the appreciation of my memories. In 'general' they will be reliable, seperately they will not alwasy be.
From: Cahier 1 (1915 - 1920)

6.I I want to make notes from the start of this year. Purpose: record what my 50th year looks like! Also: record facts without a certain purpose. I have become too abstract and would like to use this diary to re-educate myself to the story-telling, through paying respect to daily life.
3.II It is my intention to avoid anything intellectual in these notes and only write down what has to do with daily life. I therefore not that outside it is +7 degrees Celsius and that since yesterday a comfortable warm rain poors down.
... the thought came to me that all one loves in art becomes beautiful. Beauty is nothing but the expression of the fact that something is being loved. Only thus could she be defined. And beauty would cohere with [the other state], even if it is only civilized love from which she derives. At the time I do not know if this note is worth making or not; it shouldn't be here, but I don't have any other 'cahier' to put them in.
From: Cahier 30 (ca. 1929 - 1941)