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The Man Who Wrote Too Much

- Abstract

Milan Kundera, the Czech novelist, has spoken of fiction as a great European invention for the discovery of truth. But what kinds of truth can fiction be said to discover? And how does it go about making such discoveries? These large, not to say bulky, questions are at the heart of Robert Musil’s The Man Without Qualities, a vast work whose first sections began to appear in Germany in the early 1930′s and which has now been newly translated into English in a handsome edition mat includes many of the author’s notes.1

The Man Without Qualities has frequently been linked with Ulysses and Remembrance of Things Past as one of the great masterworks of modern literature. But, despite its monumentality—it is nearly 1,800 pages long—and its large cast of characters, it does not otherwise much resemble the novels of either James Joyce or Marcel Proust. Musil’s assumptions, psychology, style, aesthetic goals are each distinctly and significantly different—and not only from Joyce and Proust, but from just about every other modern master one is likely to encounter.

About the Author

Joseph Epstein is a regular contributor to COMMENTARY.