Literature & Politics
(w/ Klaus Amann and Philip Payne)
Literature and Politics: Selected Writings (2023)
Translated by Genese Grill
Literature and Politics presents Robert Musil’s writings on the relationship between literature and politics from World War I through World War II and elucidates his personal struggle to bear witness during the Age of Totalitarianism. In essays, addresses, aphorisms, and unpublished notes on contemporary events, Musil charts the increasing dangers to artists and ethical thinkers of extreme ideological conscription, the subtle and not so subtle changes in public and political discourse, the epoch-making events and dire existential threats of his times. Musil acts as a cultural seismographer, interrogating causes and symptoms in himself and his world, as he moves between Nazi Germany and pre- and post-Anschluß Austria, ultimately escaping to Switzerland where he and his Jewish wife, Martha, lived in exile until his death in 1942. The writings question concepts of race, identity, and nation, and untangle the complex relationship between nation and artist and between the individual and the collective, celebrating the rich and irreducible nature of individual creative work as the bulwark of a free, ethical, and pluralistic society.
Klaus Amann provides an invaluable introduction to Musil’s political thought and his struggle, during the war years, to come to terms, to survive, and to find some way to bear witness. Amann recounts Musil’s political trajectory, from fairly indifferent aesthete to socially-engaged supporter of the Weimar Republic and its liberal reforms, to critic of Nazi and Communist Totalitarianisms, and as prescient sceptic about the “cultural optimism” of the Soviet experiment. Musil’s ultimate stance — as a thinker who radically resists taking final stances — is that politics endangers culture and humanity by dictating to artists how they should write, think, paint, compose, and by instrumentalizing art in the interest of ideology. This is not merely an aesthetic position, but a committed belief in the essential ethical nature of art and in art’s fundamental role as a timeless, supra-national force.
Translated with an introduction by Genese Grill. This is the fourth Musil publication presented by Contra Mundum Press.