In 1911, following his 1906 debut, The Confusions of Young Törless, Robert Musil published the two experimental stories that make up Unions. “The Completion of Love” and “The Temptation of Quiet Veronica” were some of Musil’s earliest forays into what would become a life-long exploration of the life, adventures, and psychological processes of his fiancé, Martha Marcovaldi — the future Martha Musil.
When Musil later wrote of the “two authors” of his great unfinished work, The Man without Qualities, the co-author referred to was no other than Martha. The stories in Unions, drawn from Martha’s life, explode conventional morality; explore questions of self, union, and dissolution of self; and approximate exceptional sensations of erotic and intellectual perception in a shimmering and exceedingly dense proliferation of metaphors.
The images, Musil tells us in a note, are the bone, not just the skin, of these carefully crafted stories. Each word is as motivated as the internal and external moments it attempts to embody in language. Although Musil did not continue to work in this experimental style in his later writing, in a late note he affirmed that Unions, the fruit of much artistic struggle and deep personal engagement, was the only one of his books that he sometimes still read from.
This is a new English-language translation of the two stories and the first one to appear — in the form of Musil’s original publication — as Unions. A scholarly introduction by the translator, Genese Grill, explains the provenance of the stories and the need for a new approach to this book so central to his oeuvre.