Robert Musil: Science, Positivism, Irrationalism, Modernism:
Selected Bibliography

compiled by Ralph Dumain

Musil on Mach

Musil, Robert. On Mach's Theories, introduction by G. H. von Wright, translated from the German by Kevin Mulligan. Washington, DC: Catholic University of America Press; München: Philosophia Verlag, 1982. 96 pp. Translation of Beitrag zur Beurteilung der Lehren Machs.

On Musil, philosophy, literature & science

Coble, Kelly. "Positivism and Inwardness: Schopenhauer's Legacy in Robert Musil's The Man Without Qualities," The European Legacy, volume 11, no. 2, April 2006, pp. 139-153.

Abstract: Robert Musil's unfinished novel The Man Without Qualities is testimony that Arthur Schopenhauer's legacy in early-twentieth-century European culture cuts across the familiar opposition between neo-romantic irrationalism and scientific positivism. I adduce evidence in Musil's unfinished novel and contemporaneous essays and journal entries that his utopian vision of an integration of ethical inwardness and scientific objectivity, an integration productive of an existence without qualities, is symptomatic of a Schopenhauerian outlook that prevailed in Europe êntre deux guerres and yielded a crisis of narratives and consequent moral ambivalence. Musil's literary style achieves a vivid rendering of the causes and conditions of the ethical paralysis afflicting the modern self committed to the exploration of inwardness.

Mitterbauer, Helga. "The Concept of "Geist" in the Essays of Musil and Blei: A Utopian Answer to the Crisis of Modernity?," Moderne [newsletter] 3 (2000), Heft 2, pp. 10-15.

Parcelli, Carlo. "Science smiling into its beard, or first full-dress encounter with evil," Flashpoint, Web Issue 2, Spring 1998.

Robert Musil: From Construction to Fragmentation of Reality. Coordinators: Rüdiger Görner and Martin Liebscher. Institute of Germanic Studies, University of London: Ingeborg Bachmann Centre for Austrian Literature. Workshop, 14 May 2004. Programme.

"Debate about the scope of modern science and the limitations of technical progress played a significant role in Musil's intellectual development. An engineer by training, and heavily influenced by both Mach's positivism and Nietzsche's nihilism, Musil's ambivalence towards science ranged from Socratic optimism and the belief in the value of technological progress to the almost indifferent acceptance of scientific advancement displayed in his way of life."

Sebastian, Thomas. The Intersection of Science and Literature in Musil's The Man Without Qualities. Rochester, NY: Camden House, 2005. Table of contents.

Publisher's description: As the utopian projection of a world in which the conditional mood is preferred to the indicative, Robert Musil's ambitious novel The Man Without Qualities is widely recognized as a great example of aesthetic modernism and a profound reflection on the "postmodern condition." Based on the new and more inclusive English translation by Sophie Wilkins and Burton Pike, this study provides the English-speaking reader with a well-researched commentary that situates Musil's novel in the cultural, literary, and scientific context of the early 20th century. Revealing the novel's many philosophical underpinnings, the study analyzes the intersection of theoretical reflection and aesthetic imagination essential to Musil's programmatic move beyond realism. Thomas Sebastian explores Musil's background in experimental psychology, which he studied under the pioneering psychologist Carl Stumpf, and how it and other strains of scientific thought, including that of Ernst Mach, on whose philosophical ideas Musil wrote his doctoral thesis, are reflected in his great novel.

Smith, Peter D. Metaphor and Materiality: German Literature and the World-view of Science 1780-1955. [Oxford]: Legenda, 2000. (Studies in Comparative Literature; 4)

Smith, Peter D. "The Scientist as Spectator: Musil's Törleß and the Challenge to Mach's Neo-Positivism," The Germanic Review, vol. 75 (2000), 37-51.

Science cannot solve the ultimate mystery of Nature. And it is because in the last analysis we ourselves are part of the mystery we are trying to solve.— Max Planck

Robert Musil read Ernst Mach's Popularwissenschaftliche Vorlesungen (1896) in 1902, the same year as he began writing his first novel Die Verwirrungen des Zoglings Törleß (Musil 1976: 20). Musil's Törleß engages with the scientific world view, and particularly Mach's sensationalist philosophy of science, in a way that challenges the positivism of the previous century and highlights instead the aesthetic modality as offering the potential to represent reality in a complex and non-reductionist . . .

Thiher, Allen. Fiction Refracts Science: Modernist Writers from Proust to Borges. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 2005. Table of contents.

"Examines the relationship between science and the fiction developed by modernists, including Musil, Proust, Kafka, and Joyce. Looks at Pascalian and Newtonian cosmology, Darwinism, epistemology, relativity theory, quantum mechanics, the development of modernist and postmodern fiction, positivism, and finally works by Woolf, Faulkner, and Borges."

Related articles

Born, Rainer P. Split-Semantics: Provokations Concerning Theories of Meaning and Philosophy in General. Institut für Philosophie und Wissenschaftstheorie.

Parcelli, Carlo. "Is There a Doctor in the House?" [review of Lisa M. Steinman, Made In America: Science, Technology, and American Modernist Poets], Flashpoint, Web Issue 3, Summer 1999.

Pléh, Csaba. "Ernst Mach and Daniel Dennett: Two Evolutionary Models of Cognition."

"The writer Robert Musil (1982) summarized this aspect of Mach rather clearly in his dissertation on Mach. He even pointed out some troubles that can be projected to the contemporary pragmatist interpretation of the economy principle. One interpretation would be that it is a description of scientific progress, the other is a principle of epistemological skepticism and relativism. "There would then be no solid, so to speak absolute truth but only truth which is relative in the sense that any opinion will count as true provided it fulfills its purpose of providing adequate orientation. In other words, there is no truth at all in the authentic sense but on a practical convention contributing to self-preservation" (Musil, 1982, p. 26). This uncertainty, this lack of a stable reference point was the most troubling feature of Mach for Lenin (1927). Whenever he mentions the principle of economy he downgrades it as a circular and subjective notion. It is very telling that this supposedly doctrinaire materialist book never mentions evolutionary theory, neither in connection with Mach nor in other contexts. The Darwinian interpretation of the Principle of Economy in Mach shows up most clearly in two respects. In several of his technical writings - including the Contributions to the analysis of sensations, he presented an evolutionary image of several aspects of sensory representation, including colors and dimensions of space perception. The logical structure of his argumentation is rather interesting even for present day cognitive studies. In accordance with his general monistic commitments, he believes in a total psychophysiological parallelism: for each aspect of sensory experience there is a corresponding physiological structure. That structure has to be explained by evolutionary considerations, on its turn, as an adaptation to the environment. Thus in principle Mach claims a dual biological anchorage for the mental: not only a short range physiological, but a long range evolutionary account as well (Mayr, 1982)."

Smith, Peter D. "Elective Affinity: A Tale of Two Cultures?," Prometheus 04 (2000), pp. 46-65.

More on Musil

Pekar, Harvey. "The Restoration of 'The Man Without Qualities'," Metro, Dec. 7-14, 1995.

Robert Musil site (Jerry van Beers; last updated July 2004)


Vienna Circle, Karl Popper, Frankfurt School, Marxism, McCarthyism & American Philosophy: Selected Bibliography

Positivism vs Life Philosophy (Lebensphilosophie) Study Guide


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Uploaded 13 January 2009

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