The Austrian writer Robert Musil is one of the greatest essayists and novelists of the 20th Century. He is also one of the least well known. His reputation in this country rests chiefly on his monumental three-volume novel, "The Man Without Qualities," a masterpiece of modern literature that combines metaphysics, ethics, and aesthetics to explore the possibilities for individual life and for humanity in a world of mass society and technology, with all its daily challenges to the mind, body, and spirit.
Musil's plays, novellas, and essays are far less well known, and until recently, were almost impossible to find in general bookstores. His acclaimed "Posthumous Papers of a Living Author," a collection of mostly satirical essays Musil wrote for various journals between 1920 and 1929, has never before been available in an American edition. The first publication of these masterful, incisive pieces by a writer whose work has been compared to the best of Proust, Joyce, and Mann is surely one of the brightest and most welcome moments of the spring publishing season.
Musil was born in Klagenfurt in 1880 and died in Geneva in 1942, an exile from his native Austria, where his books had been banned by the Third Reich after Hitler annexed the country. Though he received three prestigious literary prizes during his lifetime, Musil never attracted more than a small circle of readers among his contemporaries, and for much of his life depended on the financial support of his friends, publisher, and two Musil Societies that were formed, first in Berlin and later in Vienna. Musil was trained as a mechanical engineer (he invented and patented a device for use in psychological experiments with color perception) and was educated as well in philosophy and mathematics. After the successful publication of his first novel, "Young Torless" (1906), he decided to abandon his technical profession for the career of a writer. Looking back, we can see that Musil belongs to an extraordinary literary generation that includes Karl Krauss, Rainer Maria Rilke, Franz Kafka, and George Lukacs, not to mention Carl Jung or Ludwig Wittgenstein.