(Semi-)continual Threads and Obsessions

Just a few more stories left to read in the Musil collection. Since finishing Young Törless, I’ve gone through “The Perfecting of a Love” and “Grigia”– both of whose characters seem to accept their own conclusion that true love of a person is realized, strengthened, and/or purified through being unfaithful to that very person. The conviction takes on a different place of prominence in the two stories; in “Perfecting,” the entire narrative is centered around exploration of that idea, whereas the essentially same conjecture only forms a momentary realization in the protagonist’s mind, and is connected with seemingly larger thoughts on eternity (where the guy will be “linked” with the wife he’s left behind) and death, and the interplay between those two. I’m mostly convinced that “Perfecting”‘s Claudine wouldn’t want to make any generalizations beyond her own case; with “Grigia”‘s Homo, on the other hand, I get the sense that the man would be comfortable with turning his own feelings into a loose theory of the value of unattachment which, among other things, paradoxically links one person to another.

I’m not out to argue one way or the other about this thought or about the “morality” of the characters pondering it. Rather, I’m wondering more about when an idea takes hold of a writer to such a degree that, ceasing to be just one more question to explore, s/he can’t shake it, and it becomes a (near-)constant theme or feature of that person’s work, maybe even the idea to which that wordsmith feels called to devote his/her life. The author who comes immediately to mind is Ayn Rand– and although I’m not talking expressly about her over-insistence on individual autonomy and (to me) general lack of compassion and skewed approach to living with other human beings, what often hits me most about her work probably can’t be disconnected from those aspects of her narratives and/or “philosophy.” What I find odd about Rand is that, in spite of a mindset that would seem to lend itself to characters’ full assumption of independence, there’s an awful lot of glorification of women sacrificing themselves for the sake of an abusive or borderline horrible man. Howard Roark rapes you, and you’re supposed to find the experience glorious and revelatory? We the Living‘s Kira is supposed to put up with a frequent brute like Leo, just because he has an indomitable spirit? Admittedly, living through the Russian Revolution would probably mess anybody up to some degree (hence, probably, Rand’s domineering selfishness), but the seeming celebration– and narrative persistence– of these dysfunctional relationships surely had earlier roots.

“Repetition,” by ThinkDraw

You can only engage in so much psychological speculation on authors through their work– and if you go too far down that road, you’ve completely abandoned the story as a story, and you might as well just try to set up a reality-TV series featuring the writer in a shrink’s chair. That is, are we more interested in what motivates a story, how a theme got into it, or what that story does, how it moves and what it says? None of these questions is or should be totally inseparable from any of the others, of course– and maybe one of the things critics have pondered or are interested in is what the right balance between all of those factors is, whether for reader or writer. I’ve got a few more stories to go in my Musil collection; we’ll see, if his love/(un)faithfulness question pops up again, if he can offer any more insight into the matter.

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