Waggish

David Auerbach on literature, tech, film, etc.

Robert Musil in Martha Musil’s Coat

Martha Musil was not only Robert Musil’s wife, but his avowed soulmate and close collaborator, as well as the model for the central figure of Agathe in The Man Without Qualities. With two translations of Robert Musil’s mystical-erotic novella dyad out this year (Unions by Genese Grill and Intimate Ties by Peter Wortsman), along with Joel Agee’s forthcoming translation of a selection of the Agathe material from The Man Without Qualities, Martha herself is gaining, indirectly, some of the attention she deserves.

Below are two passages from Robert Musil’s notebooks, translated by Philip Payne in the Mark Mirsky-edited Diaries. These passages were only located in 1980, as they had been “sewn into the lining of a coat belonging to Martha Musil.”

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An Outline of 21st Century American History

Tanner Greer put together a very intriguing prospectus for a book of 21st century American history. I am inclined to think that we know very little about much of anything and our perspectives about the present are hopelessly blinkered, so I tend to avoid broad summaries except from oblique angles.

And yet I am fond of books like Karl Dietrich Bracher’s The Age of Ideologies that attempt exactly such a summary. It’s just that I think one must have a combination of age, wisdom, genius, and perspective in order to pull off such a book . I don’t have that combination, so an outline is the most I will offer.

What I have done is to take Greer’s prospectus as a starting point, then radically strip it down to those factors that I believe to have been decisive. The 2000, 2010, and 2016 elections, for example, have made a far greater impact than the others of this century.

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from Edgar Wind, Art and Anarchy

In the place of an art of disengagement, which rejoiced in its separation from ordinary life, we are now to have an art which completely involves us in real life – what in France is called art engagé. If I am sceptical about this doctrine, it is because it seems to me to make essentially the same mistake as the theory which it opposes. Both try to escape, in opposite directions, from the plain and fundamental fact that art is an exercise of the imagination, engaging and detaching us at the same time: it makes us participate in what it presents, and yet presents it as an aesthetic fiction. From that twofold root – participation and fiction – art draws its power to enlarge our vision by carrying us beyond the actual, and to deepen our experience by compassion; but it brings with it a pertinent oscillation between actual and vicarious experience. Art lives in this realm of ambiguity and suspense, and it is art only as long as the ambiguity is sustained. However, suspense is an awkward condition to live in, and we are persistently tempted to exchange it for some narrow but positive certainties; and yet we know very well that, as soon as the artistic imagination begins to work on us, we leave the safe shore for the open sea.

Edgar Wind, art and anarchy (1967)

Pathologic 2 and Ostranenie

Pathologic 2 is a tight-knit confluence of many strange ideas–about bodies and disease, about acting and theater, about community and society, about individual and state, about children and grown-ups, about utopia and transcendence, and (of course) about life and death. Separating the strands is difficult and probably useless; the resulting game is something you accept as a whole, flaws and all, or reject.

And it’s easy to reject. Responses to the game have already divided into those who appreciate the game’s sheer uncanniness but find it hostile and difficult to the point of unplayability, and those who defend those decisions to the hilt as being the very essence of the game.

This dispute isn’t resolvable. A simple description of the game is likely to put off most people, while those who are entranced by it (including myself) can only shrug when presented with its faults, because those faults are what you put up with to get something you can’t get elsewhere—assuming you want that something. I can honestly say I enjoyed it a lot more than Nier: Automata, but I can’t convince you that you will. If it’s something that will appeal to you, you’ll probably know within the next few paragraphs. If it is, I think it’s worth the effort.

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The Fable of Captain Scorpion and Frog Cruises

a contemporary retelling

Frog Cruises offered the fanciest and most comfortable accommodations for a journey across the river. Eager travelers signed up to secure a room on the beautiful vessel.

Once on board, however, the passengers were shocked to read on the ship manifest that the notorious Captain Scorpion would be the commander of the ship.

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