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Robert Musil and the Question of Science

Ethics, Aesthetics, and the Problem of Two Cultures

Tim Mehigan

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Belletristik / Essays, Feuilleton, Literaturkritik, Interviews


The modern era is marked by the separate life of two cultures of understanding, one derived from art and its discourses, the other from science and its practices. This "problem of the two cultures" (as coined by C.P. Snow) describes the difficulty of bringing these distinct ways of understanding the world together. The works of the Austrian author Robert Musil (1930-33) represent the most distinguished treatment of this problem in the modern era. Nevertheless, doubts persist about Musil's true intentions. Did he maintain that the separation between art and science could be resolved? Or did he rise above the problem by advocating a new order of being or "other condition" that would dispense with it altogether? Mehigan's study moves these questions to center stage. He lends new clarity to the debate about Musil's position in regard to the two cultures by shining a light on ethical questions the author ultimately wished to clarify. It is the shape of a hard-won ethics, Mehigan argues, that provides the key to an effective response to the problem of the two cultures - an ethics, in the end, that can only be put forward as a new kind of art. Tim Mehigan is Professor of German and Deputy Director of the Institute for Advanced Studies in the Humanities at the University of Queensland, Australia.

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