Cover image for Precision and soul : essays and addresses
Precision and soul : essays and addresses
Musil, Robert, 1880-1942.
Personal Author:
Uniform Title:
Works. Selections. English. 1990
Publication Information:
Chicago : University of Chicago Press, [1990]

Physical Description:
xxviii, 301 pages ; 24 cm
General Note:
Translation of selections from v. 8-9 of Gesammelte Werke in neun Banden.
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
PT2625.U8 A25 1990 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

On Order



"We do not have too much intellect and too little soul, but too little precision in matters of the soul."--Robert Musil

Best known as author of the novel The Man without Qualities, Robert Musil wrote these essays in Vienna and Berlin between 1911 and 1937. Offering a perspective on modern society and intellectual life, they are concerned with the crisis of modern culture as it manifests itself in science and mathematics, capitalism and nationalism, the changing roles of women and writers, and more. Writing to find his way in a world where moral systems everywhere were seemingly in decay, Musil strives to reconcile the ongoing conflict between functional relativism and the passionate search for ethical values.

Robert Musil was born in 1880 and died in 1942. His first novel, Young Törless, is available in English. A new two-volume translation by Burton Pike and Sophie Wilkins of The Man without Qualities is forthcoming from Alfred A. Knopf.

"Now we have these thirty-one invaluable and entertaining pieces, from an article on 'The Obscene and Pathological in Art' to the equally provocative talk 'On Stupidity,' which, with a new translation of The Man without Qualities forthcoming . . . amount to a literary event for the reader of English comparable to Constance Garnett's massive translation of Chekhov's stories."--Joseph Coates, Chicago Tribune

"Musil is one of the few great moderns, one of the handful who ventured to confront the issues that shape and define our time. . . . He has a range and a striking capacity every bit as great as that of Mann, Joyce, or Beckett."-- Boston Review

"These essays are crucial in understanding a writer and critic whose lifelong task was an attempt to resolve the dichotomy between the precision of scientific form and the soul--the matter of life and art."-- Choice

Author Notes

Robert Musil (November 6, 1880 - April 15, 1942) was an Austrian writer. Musil's Young Torless is a novel of troubled adolescence set in a military school, modeled on the one attended by both Musil and Rainer Maria Rilke. It was his first book and was immediately successful. He then abandoned his studies in engineering, logic, and experimental psychology and turned to writing. He was an officer in the Austrian army in World War I, lived in Berlin until the Nazis came to power, and finally settled in Geneva. He also wrote plays, essays, and short stories.

The Man without Qualities, Musil's magnum opus, is a novel about the life and history of prewar Austria. It was unfinished when Musil died, though he had labored over the three-volume work for ten years. Encyclopedic in the manner of Proust and Dostoevsky, "it is a wonderful and prolonged fireworks display, a well-peopled comedy of ideas" (V. S. Pritchett)---and a critique of contemporary life. It made Musil's largely posthumous reputation. "Musil's whole scheme prophetically describes the bureaucratic condition of our world, and what can only be called the awful, deadly serious, and self-deceptive love affair of one committee for another" (Pritchett).

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 1

Choice Review

This is a hard book--hard to read, hard to put down, hard to understand, hard to forget. Yet that is what knowledgeable readers expect when they take up the carefully crafted writings of Musil, an Austrian contemporary of Joyce, whose unfinished three-volume novel, The Man Without Qualities, is deemed the equal of Ulysses. These representative essays and addresses serve the student of 20th-century European literature and history well, for they complement Musil's major literary works, which are now all available in English translations. For Musil, the essay was "the strictest form attainable in an area where one cannot work precisely." These essays are crucial, therefore, in understanding a writer and critic whose lifelong task was an attempt to resolve the dichotomy between the precision of scientific form and the soul--the matter of life and art. The editors have rendered smooth, faithful translations of texts that are often difficult in the original. Useful especially for graduate students and faculty seeking insight into German and Austrian intellectual life between the world wars. -G. M. O'Brien, University of Minnesota--Duluth

Table of Contents

The Obscene and Pathological in Art
Novellas Profile of a Program Politics in Austria
The Religious Spirit, Modernism, and Metaphysics On Robert Musil's Books Political
Confessions of a Young Man Moral Fruitfulness
The Mathematical Man [On Criticism]
The Goals of Literature [On the Essay]
Literary Chronicle Commentary on a Metapsychics Sketch of What the Writer Knows [Psychology and Literature]
Cinema or Theater Literati and Literature
Anschluss with Germany Buridan's
Austrian "Nation" as Ideal and as Reality Helpless Europe Mind and Experience
The German as Symptom Toward a New Aesthetic Woman Yesterday and Tomorrow
Ruminations of a Slow-witted Mind Address at the Memorial Service for Rilke in Berlin
The Serious Writer in Our Time [Lecture, Paris] On Stupidity
Appendix A Musil's Sketch for an Introduction to a Planned Volume of Essays
Appendix B Dates of First Publication