"Robert Musil, the early 20th century Austrian novelist, begins his multi-volume classic The Man Without Qualities (1930-1943) with a meteorological report about a cold front coming in from the West. The famous opening passage mimes and ironizes weather reporting, while also elevating it by insinuating that the meteorological condition does more than simply provide the background scenery of and for human dispositions and actions, but constitutes a happening in a strict sense. This blast of cold from the West is an event that augurs and confirms an entirely new manifold of human thought, disposition, and action. In it is disclosed a reductive rationalist pattern that excises our relations to the past, each other, as well as our basic humanity. And we would say “God,” if Musil thought that God at this stage were even worthy of being a hypothesis. As the novel proceeds we discover that the cold is also the sign of the disintegration of the relation between reason and will, which in turn essentially undoes both: the fragmentation reduces reason to mere use and will to the basest desire. Although by the nature of the case cold fronts and warm fronts are passing; this particular cold front is not. It turns out to be the sign of the interminable winter in which our dreams turn lurid in order to compensate for the cold. Here Musil seems to offer on the social scale what that other Viennese intellectual, Freud, offered on the individual. Although Musil always remains descriptive and apparently uncommitted, it is evident that this cold front is a catastrophe in the strict etymological sense—a kata-strophe—a radical “turn about” or “revolution” in which our lives not only no longer have the shape they have, but are without definite shape: we speculate on versions of ourselves on the screen of possibility. We can be everything, because with the cold, that is, with the modern, we are no longer anything."
Writer - Critic - Poet - Editor