Quotes from The Man Without Qualities

Robert Musil ·  1774 pages

Rating: (4.6K votes)


“The secret of a good librarian is that he never reads anything more of the literature in his charge than the title and the table of contents. Anyone who lets himself go and starts reading a book is lost as a librarian...He's bound to lose perspective.”
― Robert Musil, quote from The Man Without Qualities


“His appearance gives no clue to what his profession might be, and yet he doesn't look like a man without a profession either. Consider what he's like: He always knows what to do. He knows how to gaze into a woman's eyes. He can put his mind to any question at any time. He can box. He is gifted, strong-willed, open-minded, fearless, tenacious, dashing, circumspect—why quibble, suppose we grant him all those qualities—yet he has none of them! They have made him what he is, they have set his course for him, and yet they don't belong to him. When he is angry, something in him laughs. When he is sad, he is up to something. When something moves him, he turns against it. He'll always see a good side to every bad action. 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 super-whole that, however, he knows nothing about. So every answer he gives is only a partial answer, every feeling an opinion, and he never cares what something is, only 'how' it is—some extraneous seasoning that somehow goes along with it, that's what interests him.”
― Robert Musil, quote from The Man Without Qualities


“The difference between a normal person and an insane one is precisely that the normal person has all the diseases of the mind, while the madman has only one!”
― Robert Musil, quote from The Man Without Qualities


“Hardly anyone still reads nowadays. People make use of the writer only in order to work off their own excess energy on him in a perverse manner, in the form of agreement or disagreement.”
― Robert Musil, quote from The Man Without Qualities


“A man who wants the truth becomes a scientist; a man who wants to give free play to his subjectivity may become a writer; but what should a man do who wants something in between?”
― Robert Musil, quote from The Man Without Qualities



“True' and 'false' are the evasions of people who never want to arrive at a decision. Truth is something without end.”
― Robert Musil, quote from The Man Without Qualities


“His answers were quite often like that. When she spoke of beauty, he spoke of the fatty tissue supporting the epidermis. When she mentioned love, he responded with the statistical curve that indicates the automatic rise and fall in the annual birthrate. When she spoke of the great figures in art, he traced the chain of borrowings that links these figures to one another.”
― Robert Musil, quote from The Man Without Qualities


“In her misery she read a great deal, and discovered that she had lost something she had previously not really know she had: a soul.

What’s that? It is easy to define negatively: it is simply that which sneaks off at the mention of algebraic series.”
― Robert Musil, quote from The Man Without Qualities


“Man is indisputably endowed with reason; the problem is only how he uses his reason in the company of others.”
― Robert Musil, quote from The Man Without Qualities


“and while faith based on theological reasoning is today universally engaged in a bitter struggle with doubt and resistance from the prevailing brand of rationalism, it does seem that the naked fundamental experience itself, that primal seizure of mystic insight, stripped of religious concepts, perhaps no longer to be regarded as a religious experience at all, has undergone an immense expansion and now forms the soul of that complex irrationalism that haunts our era like a night bird lost in the dawn.”
― Robert Musil, quote from The Man Without Qualities



“A politician who climbs high over the bodies of the slain is described as vile or great according to the degree of his success.”
― Robert Musil, quote from The Man Without Qualities


“A man matters, his experiences matter, but in a city, where experiences come by the thousands, we can no longer relate them to ourselves, and this is of course the beginning of life’s notorious turning into abstraction.“

„There is always something ghostly about living constantly in a well-ordered state. You cannot step into the street or drink a glass of water or get on a streetcar without touching the balanced lever of gigantic apparatus of laws and interrelations, setting them in motion or letting them maintain you in your peaceful existence; one knows hardly any of these levers, which reach deep into the inner workings and, coming out of the other side, lose themselves in a network whose structure has never yet been unraveled by anyone. So one denies their existence, just as the average citizen denies the air, maintaining that it is empty space. But all these things that one denied, these colorless, odorless,tasteless, weightless, and morally indefinable things such as water, air, space, money, and the passing of time, turn out in truth to be the most important things of all, and this gives life a certain spooky quality.”
― Robert Musil, quote from The Man Without Qualities


“Slowed down by a sense of hopelessness in all his decisions and
movements, he suffered from bitter sadness, and his incapacity solidified into a pain that often sat like a nosebleed behind his forehead the moment he tried to make up his mind to do something.”
― Robert Musil, quote from The Man Without Qualities


“And after all, if stupidity did not, when seen from within, look so exactly like talent as to be mistaken for it, and if it could not, when seen from the outside, appear as progress, genius, hope, and improvement, doubtless no one would want to be stupid, and there would be no stupidity.”
― Robert Musil, quote from The Man Without Qualities


“For him morality was neither conformism nor philosophic wisdom, but living the infinite fullness of possibilities. He believed in morality’s capacity for intensification, in stages of moral experience, and not merely, as most people do, in stages of moral understanding, as if it were something cut-and-dried for which people were just not pure enough. He believed in morality without believing in any specific moral system. Morality is generally understood to be a sort of police regulations for keeping life in order, and since life does not obey even these, they come to look as if they were really impossible to live up to and accordingly, in this sorry way, not really an ideal either. But morality must not be reduced to this level. Morality is imagination. This was what he wanted to make Agathe see. And his second point was: Imagination is not arbitrary. Once imagination is left to caprice, there is a price to pay.”
― Robert Musil, quote from The Man Without Qualities



“People were always chasing after some leader or another, and stumbling from one superstition to the next, cheering His Majesty one day and giving the most disgusting incendiary speeches in Parliament the next, and none of it ever amounted to anything in the end! If this could be miniaturized by a factor of a a million and reduced, as it were, to the dimensions of a single head, the result would be precisely the image of the unaccountable, forgetful, ignorant conduct and the demented hopping around that has always been the image of a lunatic.”
― Robert Musil, quote from The Man Without Qualities


“Now I have something to tell you," her brother said. "Every time I've had to take part in anything with other people, something of genuine social concern, I've been like a man who steps outside the theater before the final act for a breath of fresh air, sees the great dark void with all those stars, and walks away, abandoning hat, coat and play.”
― Robert Musil, quote from The Man Without Qualities


“It is life that does the thinking all around us, forming with playful ease the connections our reason can only laboriously patch together piecemeal, and never to such kaleidoscopic effect.”
― Robert Musil, quote from The Man Without Qualities


“But if there is a sense of reality, and no one will doubt that it has its
justification for existing, then there must also be something we can call a
sense of possibility.
Whoever has it does not say, for instance:
Here this or that has happened, will happen, must happen;
but he invents:
Here this or that might, could, or ought to happen.
If he is told that something is the way it is, he will think: Well, it could probably just as well be otherwise.
[...]
Such possibilists are said to inhabit a more delicate medium, a hazy medium of mist, fantasy, daydreams, and the subjunctive mood.
Children who show this tendency are dealt with firmly and warned
that such persons are cranks, dreamers, weaklings, know-it-alls,
or troublemakers.
Such fools are also called idealists by those who wish to praise them.
But all this clearly applies only to their weak subspecies, those
who cannot comprehend reality or who, in their melancholic condition,
avoid it. These are people in whom the lack of a sense of reality
is a real deficiency.”
― Robert Musil, quote from The Man Without Qualities


“I dont believe in the Devil, but if I did I should think of him as the trainer who drives Heaven to break its own records.”
― Robert Musil, quote from The Man Without Qualities



“he had to stand by while there proliferated in his own house such concepts as “the art of living thought” “the graph of spiritual growth” and “action on the wing”. he discovered that a biweekly ”hour of purification” was held regularly under his roof. he demanded an explanation. it turned out that what they meant by this was reading the poems of Stefan George together. Leo Fischel searched his old encyclopedia in vain for the poet’s name. but what irritated him most of all, old-style liberal that he was, was that these green pups referred to all the high government officials, bank presidents, and leading university figures in the Parallel Campaign as “puffed-up little men”. then there were the world-weary airs they gave themselves, complaining that the times had become devoid of great ideas, if there was anyone left who was ready for great ideas. that even “humanity” had become a mere buzzword, as far as they were concerned, and that only “the nation” or, as they called it, “folk and folkways” still really had any meaning.

wiser than their years, they disdained “lust” and “the inflated lie about the crude enjoyment of animal existence” as they called it, but talked so much about supersensuality and mystical desire that the startled listener reacted willy-nilly by feeling a certain tenderness for sensuality and physical desires, and even Leo Fischel had to admit that the unbridled ardor of their language sometimes made the listener feel the roots of their ideas shooting down his legs, though he disapproved, because in his opinion great ideas were meant to be uplifting.”
― Robert Musil, quote from The Man Without Qualities


“In a community coursed through by energies every road leads to a worthwhile goal, provided one doesn't hesitate or reflect too long. Targets are short-term, but since life is short too, results are maximized, which is all people need to be happy, because the soul is formed by what you accomplish, whereas what you desire without achieving it merely warps the soul. Happiness depends very little on what we want, but only on achieving whatever it is.”
― Robert Musil, quote from The Man Without Qualities


“Legally, Moosbrugger's case could be summed up in-a sentence. He
was one of those borderline cases in law and forensic medicine
known even to the layman as a case of diminished responsibility.
These unfortunates typically suffer not only substandard health
but also have a substandard disease, Nature has a peculiar prefer-
ence for producing such people in droves. Natura non fecit saltus,
she makes no jumps but prefers gradual transitions; even on the
grand scale she keeps the world in a transitional state between imbe-
cility and sanity.”
― Robert Musil, quote from The Man Without Qualities


“Die Wahrheit ist eben kein Kristall, den man in die Tasche stecken kann, sondern eine unendliche Flüssigkeit, in die man hineinfällt.”
― Robert Musil, quote from The Man Without Qualities


“Slowed down by a sense of hopelessness in all his decisions and movements, he suffered from bitter sadness, and his incapacity solidified into a pain that often sat like a nosebleed behind his forehead the moment he tried to make up his mind to do something.”
― Robert Musil, quote from The Man Without Qualities



“Ich war eigentlich in meine Liebe damals verliebt, in meinen veränderten Zustand, weniger in die Frau, die dazu gehörte.”
― Robert Musil, quote from The Man Without Qualities


“Der Mensch ist entweder im Stande, rechtswidrig zu handeln oder er ist es nicht, denn dazwischen gibt es nichts Drittes und Mittleres. Durch diese Fähigkeit wird er strafbar, durch seine Eigenschaft der Strafbarkeit wird er Rechtsperson, und als Rechtsperson hat er teil an der überpersönlichen Wohltat des Rechts.”
― Robert Musil, quote from The Man Without Qualities


“In der Wissenschaft kommt es alle paar Jahre vor, daß etwas, das bis dahin als Fehler galt, plötzlich alle Anschauungen umkehrt oder daß ein unscheinbarer und verachteter Gedanke zum Herrscher über ein neues Gedankenreich wird.”
― Robert Musil, quote from The Man Without Qualities


“In dem erfrorenen, versteinerten Körper der Stadt fühlte er ganz zu innerst sein Herz schlagen.”
― Robert Musil, quote from The Man Without Qualities


“He is capable of turning everything into anything--snow into skin, skin into blossoms, blossoms into sugar, sugar into powder, and powder back into little drifts of snow--for all that matters to him, apparently, is to make things into what they are not, which is doubtless proof that he cannot stand being anywhere for long, wherever he happens to be.”
― Robert Musil, quote from The Man Without Qualities



About the author

Robert Musil
Born place: in Klagenfurt, Austria
Born date November 6, 1880
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