master of the hovering life

“[Frederick G.] Peters cites the following from Musil:

A man who is after the truth sets out to be a man of learning; a man who wants to give free play to his subjectivity sets out, perhaps, to be a writer. But what is the man to do who is after something that lies between?

His own answer was to become what he saw as a ‘master of the hovering life,’ to navigate freely between the two, ideally embracing both.”

(Sven Birkerts, “Robert Musil,” p. 29 in An Artificial Wilderness: Essays on Twentieth-Century Literature.)

musil & gadda

“For Musil, knowledge is the awareness of the incompatibility of two opposite polarities. One of these he calls exactitude – or at other times mathematics, pure spirit, or even the military mentality – while the other he calls soul, or irrationality, humanity, chaos. Everthing he knows or thinks he deposits in an encyclopedic book that he tries to keep in the form of a novel, but its structure continually changes; it comes to pieces in his hands. The result is that not only does he never manage to finish the novel, but he never succeeds in deciding on its general outlines or how to contain the enormous mass of material within set limits. If we compare these two engineer-writers, Gadda, for whom understanding meant allowing himself to become tangled in a network of relationships, and Musil, who gives the impression of always understanding everything in the multiplicity of codes and levels of things without ever allowing himself to become involved, we have to record this one fact common to both: their inability to find an ending.”

(Italo Calvino, “Multiplicity” in Six Memos for the Next Millennium, trans. Patrick Creagh.)