Wednesday, January 16, 2008


Qualities, in the sense of Musil's book, seem to have a vague, mutable, or almost ironic meaning. Within the small portion of the text which we have read we learn very little of Ulrich, yet before the reader is introduced to him formally we come to know him as "The Man Without Qualities". This is a loud title that upon a cursory glance conjures various potential meanings. Is this to say that Ulrich is unprincipled, is he vacuous? Before delving into the events of Ulrich's life or his thoughts Musil gives his readers details regarding Ulrich's father, and through him a vague notion what "qualities" might mean to upstanding, middle class, 19th century Viennese society. As an industrious member of the middle class Ulrich's father represents a man who possesses “qualities”. He is driven, he is industrious, and he is patriotic. Ulrich, on the other hand, exhibits quite different traits. He is unmotivated in is field, he lives in a house far to extravagant for his single person, and even at a young age, we learn, he already exhibited signs of his skepticism, in his seemingly unpatriotic views of his homeland empire. As a man who lives outside the expectations, values, and habits of his father’s generation he is, by their definition, a man without qualities. Yet even at this early stage in the story we have begun to see the thoughtful, curious, and individual aspects of his character, thus evidencing the aforementioned notion of irony implicit in his title.

1 comment:

wrennick said...

I also felt as though the title carried an almost ironic tone. How can a person be completely and utterly without qualities? why introduce them as such? It is as though we aren't to be given the opportunity to judge Ulrich for ourselves, because he is The Man Without Qualities before we even know his name.