Subject Without Nation

Robert Musil and the History of Modern Identity

Subject Without Nation

Post-Contemporary Interventions

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Book Pages: 392 Illustrations: 11 b&w photographs Published: January 2001

Author: Stefan Jonsson

Literature and Literary Studies > Literary Theory, Theory and Philosophy > Postcolonial Theory

This innovative study of the works of Robert Musil opens a new window on the history of modern identity in western culture. Stefan Jonsson argues that Musil’s Austria was the first postimperial state in modern Europe. Prior to its destruction in 1918, the Austro-Hungarian Empire had ruled over a vast array of nationalities and, in the course of its demise as well as after, Austria was beset by nationalism, racism, and other forms of identity politics that ultimately led to the triumph of Nazism.
It was to this society that Musil responded in his great work The Man Without Qualities. Exploring the nooks and crannies of this modernist classic, Jonsson shows that Musil’s narrative evolves along two axes that must be considered in tandem: Whereas the central plot portrays a Viennese elite that in 1913 attempts to restore social cohesion by gathering popular support for the cultural essence of the empire, the protagonist discovers that he lacks essence altogether and finds himself attracted by monsters, criminals, and revolutionary figures that reject the social order. In this way, Musil’s novel traces the disappearance of what Jonsson calls the expressivist paradigm—the conviction that identities such as gender, nationality, class, and social character are expressions of permanent intrinsic dispositions. This, Jonsson argues, is Musil’s great legacy. For not only did the Austrian author seek to liquidate prevailing conceptions of personal and cultural identity; he also projected “a new human being,” one who would resist assimilation into imperialist, nationalist, or fascist communities.
Subject Without Nation presents a new interpretation of Viennese modernity and uncovers the historical foundations of poststructural and postcolonial reconceptualizations of human subjectivity. Illuminating links between Musil’s oeuvre as a whole and post-war developments in critical thought, this book locates an important crossroads between literary criticism, intellectual history, and cultural theory.


“Jonsson has done an outstanding job of providing interpretations that point to the future while also explaining the novel’s importance in its time.” — E. Wickersham, Choice

"[A] revelatory study. . . . [T]his is an important work and necessary reading for scholars and students of twentieth-century scholarship and Musil specialists alike. It is relatively free of jargon, the argument unfolds logically and is generated by a close reading of Musil’s texts, and the volume itself is handsomely bound and presented with a bibliographic apparatus that makes for reading almost as interesting as the text itself."
— Felix W. Tweraser , Monatshefte

"[A] thoroughly researched study. . . . [A]n extremely useful contribution to the field of German studies and even cultural studies as a whole. His cogent writing is accessible to any reader. . . . Jonsson’s combined effort of familiarizing readers with the works of Musil as well as with the social, cultural, and political circumstances of Germany and the Austro-Hungarian Empire makes this book recommendable to advanced undergraduates and Musil scholars alike." — Arne Koch , South Atlantic Review

"[E]xciting. . . . Jonsson powerfully opens many layers of meaning in [Robert Musil's] The Man Without Qualities and also contextualizes his interpretations both in theoretical, literary-historical, and historical terms." — Albrecht Classen , Studies in 20th & 21st Century Literature

"Jonsson has written an important book that makes Musil’s thought more accessible to contemporary readers and demonstrates his fundamental importance for ways of thinking that have often been indifferent to his work."

— David S. Luft , Central European History

“An ambitious, authoritative new reading of The Man Without Qualities, which establishes forcefully the relevance of the fascination of the incomparable Austrian writer. A Robert Musil for the twenty-first century? Yes. And Jonsson’s book is as suggestive about the summative powers of Musil the novelist as about that still incompletely charted cultural labyrinth called ‘modernity’ in which we continue to wander.” — Susan Sontag


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Stefan Jonsson is Fellow at the Getty Research Institute in Los Angeles. He is also a contributing editor of Dagens Nyheter, Sweden’s major newspaper.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Preface ix

Abbreviations xv

Introduction 1

Chapter 1. Topographies of Inwardness 21

Chapter 2. The Architecture of Modern Identity 60

Chapter 3. A Story with Many Ends 97

Chapter 4. Subjectivity Degree Zero 133

Chapter 5. Monsters in Love, Angels at War 175

Chapter 6. The Most Progressive State 217

Epilogue 263

Notes 271

Bibliography 337

Index 365
Sales/Territorial Rights: World

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Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-2570-3 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-2551-2
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