Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Further MwQ Enthusiasms

Nice surprise to see a column about The Man Without Qualities in a mainstream newspaper.

"I first read this novel several years ago, and have reread it, but recently I realized how much in its story continues to have meaning today. (If I were to attempt to date its modern and American sequel, I would use the year 2000 instead of 1913. The predictions, of course, were that the year 2000 would be momentous because it was the "millennium" year. It turns out, however, that it was the year before the storm of September 11, which has changed everything here and abroad.) We have no such novel or other literary work today that illuminates our time on such a scale, and I see little evidence of any author with the ambition and talent to do so. As with contemporary poetry, the novel has become primarily a vehicle for entertainment and escape, and when our current literary authors do approach politics they use a sledgehammer instead of art."

I don't think one needs to imagine an American sequel of the novel. This novel itself explains way more about our contemporary condition, both on the political and the personal level, than any other contemporary work of literature (that I know of). After listening to characters like Paul Arnheim, Diotima or General Stumm holding forth on all sorts of life-problems and their bombastic solutions, one can't help but laugh when one comes across similar abuse and murder of language and ideas in newspaper columns about "war on terror" or about ways to bring democracy and "western values" to the unfortunate masses of the world. Or even the darker side of the growing popularity of relgious and fascist ideologies in different corners of the world. It is all there in the book. In fact in one of the plot revelations towards the end of part one, it is revealed that Arnheim, the presiding philosopher-guru of "the parallel campaign", is not really interested in things like spirit, soul, freedom etc which he talks about so eloquently, but rather the financial control of Oil Fields in the Galicia region of Austria-Hungary! Again something which has a kind of parallel with the current day American politics.

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