Robert Musil’s Thought Flights vividly evokes the secrets, challenges, and mundanities of interwar life in cosmopolitan Vienna & Berlin. The texts presented here have been selected by translator Genese Grill from Musil’s Nachlass and collected for the first time under the title Thought Flights. They include material originally published in journals, newspapers, and magazines — but not included in Musil’s Posthumous Papers of a Living Author — as well as literary fragments & heretofore unpublished texts. Despite the temporal, geographical, and cultural distance between Musil’s world & ours, our own time & troubles are all too recognizable in Musil’s portrayals of the “age of money,” simulation, and standardization. Thought Flights is a lament of contemporary complacency, optimism, and homogenization as well as a celebration of living words and original thought by one of the great Modernists of the 20th century. As an astonishing master of metaphor & self-described “Monsieur le Vivisecteur,” Musil explores the psyches and lives of himself & his contemporaries with illuminating insight.
The lucid, striking prose of his stories and vignettes, and the wise and witty commentary of his glosses, show Musil’s response to innovations in technology, art, and politics, and his efforts to enact a strategy for both illuminating and ameliorating the crisis of language that haunted his contemporaries. Moving effortlessly from discussion of fashion to Kant’s categorical imperative, le vivisecteur writes with humor, lyricism, and fervor in an open genre availing itself of poetic prose, philosophical essay, fictional narrative, and feuilletonistic lightness. Through unlikely combinations and metaphoric syntheses, Musil brings “beauty and excitement” into the world, and when things that are usually separate unite, thoughts “fly.” With this publication, the now growing English-language corpus of the author of The Confusions of Young Torless, Five Women, and The Man without Qualities is expanded further. Other volumes of Musil’s writings will be forthcoming from Contra Mundum Press over the next decade.