Robert Musil and the techne of Rewriting Modernity

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This essay examines Robert Musil's intervention in the problematics of modernity by drawing out parallels between his theory and performance of Essayismus and Jean-François Lyotard's notion of "rewriting." Lyotard proposes rewriting as an alternative to so-called postmodern challenges to the modern on the grounds that the postmodern tends to reinscribe what it seeks to rewrite, notably a teleology bound up with a critical overcoming of the modern. Lyotard assimilates rewriting to the work of Durcharbeitung in Freudian analysis and to the work of the imagination in the Kantian aesthetic. Both of these avoid "critique" in operating apart from "reasoning, argument, or mediation" and without any "empirical or cognitive interest." My thesis is that the essayistic discursive technique that characterizes Musil's engagement with modernity operates as an instance of Lyotardian rewriting that, nevertheless, is capable of something like a critical cognition of modernity. Connecting Musil's Essayismus and Lyotard's rewriting allows us to both explore potentialities of Lyotard's practice of rewriting, as well as to begin reconceiving the working through of modernity carried out by The Man without Qualities.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)83-96
Number of pages14
JournalGermanic Review
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1 2013


  • Jean-François Lyotard
  • Robert Musil
  • essayism
  • modernity
  • postmodernism
  • rewriting


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