The Feeling of a Moment

Robert Musil‘s novel The Man Without Qualities should be required reading – for somebody. I read it years ago in the first English translation, and kept turning down pages to mark the mind expanding moments I wanted to return to. A true example of “wisdom literature.” I felt then that it was genuinely psychedelic in the sense that my mind was stretched all out of shape, enlarged, and today still have vivid memories of certain parts. Musil knew, as we all do, that every time, every period, has it’s feel, it’s characteristic ambience, atmosphere, style. But the hardest thing to do is reflect on the feel of one’s own moment. That’s why his book is a historical novel, reconnecting with the lost pre-WWI world. But somehow he can use that standard method to leverage a perspective on his own time, which is also ours in important ways. Do all the great historical novelists do that? How about the history painters? Maybe, but few are able to bring the present to philosophical reflection, if it can be called that. The key is always to feel and go with the feeling, in Musil’s case, to think about it and comment.

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