"He is a man without qualities… There are millions of them nowadays… What he thinks of anything will always depend on some possible context – nothing is, to him, what it is; everything is subject to change, in flux, part of a whole, of an infinite number of wholes presumably adding up to a superwhole that, however, he knows nothing about. So every answer he gives is only a partial answer, every feeling only an opinion, and he never cares what something is, only 'how' it is."
– Robert MusilFor some time now, I had been literally struggling with Musil’s The Man Without Qualities. I knew I was being more than ambitious when I picked up this mammoth book – I’d heard that this book was notorious for challenging the readers’ patience – but didn't realize it'll make me give up so soon.
The first time I picked up the book, which was some months back, I couldn’t go beyond the first few chapters. So dense was the language and so varied were the thoughts running through the book, I felt like burdened with a heaviness that almost exhausted my mind. This was perhaps because none of the books that I had read so far prepared me for something like Musil’s way of writing. This is a book built on ideas – and for most part it leaves the plot (there isn’t much of a so-called plot, anyway, and the book actually remained unfinished when Musil died) to take long rambling pauses and expound thoughts/ideas that seems to go farther away from the actual plot. All these seem to leave the story hanging, leaving me all the more flummoxed at being taken to so many directions and yet not going anywhere. In fact, there’s not much of the linear story-telling that we’re otherwise used to in novels; there’s very little exterior detail about the places and people that inhabit the book; and the book is just a dense cloud of thoughts that grows thicker as it progresses. Obviously, it demands continued patience and lots of will from the reader. And, I must admit, right now I am facing a shortage of both.
I was again toying with the book last night when I realized that, perhaps, I picked up the book at a wrong time – for this is a phase when I am in a strange frame of mind, and I’m least prepared to commit myself to a book that demands such extreme attention.
So, right now, I am keeping the book at an arm’s stretch, just to allow myself to flip through the pages at times, and remind myself that it is lying there, unread.