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John Holbo - Editor
Scott Eric Kaufman - Editor
Aaron Bady
Adam Roberts
Amardeep Singh
Andrew Seal
Bill Benzon
Daniel Green
Jonathan Goodwin
Joseph Kugelmass
Lawrence LaRiviere White
Marc Bousquet
Matt Greenfield
Miriam Burstein
Ray Davis
Rohan Maitzen
Sean McCann
Guest Authors

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Past Valve Book Events

cover of the book Theory's Empire

Event Archive

cover of the book The Literary Wittgenstein

Event Archive

cover of the book Graphs, Maps, Trees

Event Archive

cover of the book How Novels Think

Event Archive

cover of the book The Trouble With Diversity

Event Archive

cover of the book What's Liberal About the Liberal Arts?

Event Archive

cover of the book The Novel of Purpose

Event Archive

The Valve - Closed For Renovation

Happy Trails to You

What’s an Encyclopedia These Days?

Encyclopedia Britannica to Shut Down Print Operations

Intimate Enemies: What’s Opera, Doc?

Alphonso Lingis talks of various things, cameras and photos among them

Feynmann, John von Neumann, and Mental Models

Support Michael Sporn’s Film about Edgar Allen Poe

Philosophy, Ontics or Toothpaste for the Mind

Nazi Rules for Regulating Funk ‘n Freedom

The Early History of Modern Computing: A Brief Chronology

Computing Encounters Being, an Addendum

On the Origin of Objects (towards a philosophy of computation)

Symposium on Graeber’s Debt

The Nightmare of Digital Film Preservation

Richard Petti on Occupy Wall Street: America HAS a Ruling Class

Bill Benzon on Whatwhatwhatwhatwhatwhatwhat?

Nick J. on The Valve - Closed For Renovation

Bill Benzon on Encyclopedia Britannica to Shut Down Print Operations

Norma on Encyclopedia Britannica to Shut Down Print Operations

Bill Benzon on What’s an Object, Metaphysically Speaking?

john balwit on What’s an Object, Metaphysically Speaking?

William Ray on That Shakespeare Thing

Bill Benzon on That Shakespeare Thing

William Ray on That Shakespeare Thing

JoseAngel on That Shakespeare Thing

Bill Benzon on Objects and Graeber's Debt

Bill Benzon on A Dirty Dozen Sneaking up on the Apocalypse

JoseAngel on A Dirty Dozen Sneaking up on the Apocalypse

JoseAngel on Objects and Graeber's Debt

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Monday, May 16, 2005

Precision and Theft

Posted by Ray Davis on 05/16/05 at 08:05 AM

Subject Without Nation: Robert Musil and the History of Modern Identity

Stefan Jonsson reads like a nice guy. When he plays hunt-the-applicability against a full hand of voguish theorists, his point isn't to diagnose Musil away. His point is that The Man Without Qualities anticipates them.

Not in the sense of displacing them, of course. They remain authoritative; Jonsson is the advocate: "You see, Others and gentlemen, he's just like you and me!"

Anyway, no big deal. Jonsson's OK. The notion that Ulrich's Austria-Hungary wasn't just a satiric target, that its fecklessness could be mourned as a lost range of possibility, hadn't occurred to me, so I'm grateful for that, especially while I'm in mourning for Jimmy Carter's America. I read my fair share of awkward over-extended well-meaning prose aimed at an obscure audience, and I produce more than my share, and another three hundred pages of it isn't worth writing home about. It's not even worth writing The Valve about.

Instead I'm writing about stubbornness rewarded. After hacking through the main text, and then through all the endnotes 1 to the chapters, I reached the endnotes to the "Epilogue", and there I think it was the third?— I reached a note 2 worth the whole effort. Take this quote from Musil's 1926 "Interview mit Alfred Polgar"3 and you'd get most of what I'd gotten from Jonsson's book:

"For this city [Vienna] has been besieged by the Turks and bravely defended by the Poles; in the eighteenth century it was the biggest Italian city; it is proud of its pastries, which stem from Bohemia and Hungary; and throughout the centuries it has proven that it is possible to accomplish beautiful, even profound things, if one has no character."

Giving it away for free seems like ill usage, but fair use.

1 Isn't that a nice way to do footnotes in HTML? See, it avoids these ugly interlinear gaps:

image

Then again, it might be a better idea to link or use bracketed digits instead....

2 Even those hooligans at Crooked Timber like footnotes. Footnotes seem to get less editorial supervision, for one thing that's where Donna Haraway used to keep all her exclamation points. They're a terrific place to gesture towards alternative essays, the ones you wish you'd started writing once you start getting bored and frustrated with the one you're writing instead. Come to think of it, I encountered one of those in my recent Musil catch-up a grim assessment of the state of Young Törless's morals with a more affirmative deconstructive reading sending runners between the conclusion and the notes. A Crooked Timber comment mentions the alternative history you can derive from Gibbon's footnotes; me, I'm crazy for the accretions of Walter Scott and others on the Memoirs of the Count de Grammont. It's like meeting a party of gossips after talking to a gossip. (It might have been with Grammont that I fell into the habit of saving up footnotes as a special treat, to cleanse the palate after finishing the chapter, or to be gorged on at the end.) Online, we see something similar happening in the comment threads of the Pepys blog. The weblog comment thread is usually compared to a discussion board, but it includes aspects of footnotes, marginal jottings, peer reviews, and Calls for Papers or Theme Issues.

3 "Some who wrote operas and symphonies live on only in a footnote."


Comments

Cacciari’s “Posthumous People” seems like a fantastic book about Vienna and the Autro-Hungarian empire, but it’s so densely written and assumes so much that I haven’t been able to read it yet. I’d love to read a review.

Austria-Hungary is much more influential in world culture than people realize: Freud, Kafka, Rilke, Trakl, Hoffmansthal, the logical positivists, Popper, Wittgenstein, Schoenberg et al, Hayek et al, and even crap like Richard Strauss. And I always forget someone on these lists. A fatalistic hopelessness about political discourse and action seemed common to almost all of them.

I’ve tried to convince an Irish friend that the present Never-never-land American political scene, where the spokesmen and supporters of the dominant political party persistently say things that can’t possibly be true, but he rudely points out that the late Holy Roman Empire never had nuclear weapons.

By John Emerson on 05/16/05 at 12:58 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Bartok, Polanyi, Goedel, Husserl, Mahler, Erdos, Von Neumann, Svevo, and quite a number of physicists.

And James Joyce too.

Austria-Hungary’s non-national, dynastic character, its military insignificance, and its economic mediocrity all put together tend to cause its cultural and intellectual contributions to be relatively unrecognized.

By John Emerson on 05/16/05 at 01:08 PM | Permanent link to this comment

I’ve tried to convince an Irish friend that the present Never-never-land American political scene, where the spokesmen and supporters of the dominant political party persistently say things that can’t possibly be true, is Austro-Hungarian in essence (i.e., comparable to the Great Idea in Musil) but he rudely pointed out that the late Holy Roman Empire never had nuclear weapons.

And when I think about it, the Austro-Hungarian Great Idea for the jubilee year wasn’t just false—everyone fervently believed in it even though they didn’t know what it was, because there actual was no specific idea.

By John Emerson on 05/16/05 at 01:39 PM | Permanent link to this comment

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