“Gestaute Bedeutung”: Robert Musil and the Aesthetic Order of Sense

Johannes Schade


This paper examines the nature of aesthetic experience in the garden chapters of Robert Musil’s Man without Qualities. Focusing on the perception of images in the text, I discuss how Musil’s rhetoric subverts the conventional understanding of perception as mimesis by emphasizing the materiality of the image, as well as the stability of the subject-object relationship. In the aesthetic “order of sense” (Cassirer), the material grounding of sensuality is shown to transcend the laws of the empirical world. Secondly, I analyze the relationship between desire and aesthetic experience. I argue that the latter is characterized by the production of desire aimed at an appropriation and full comprehension of the aesthetic object. Based on the inherent paradoxes grounded in the perception of images, this desire remains unfulfilled, thereby yielding what Musil calls an “experience of pent-up meaning.” (JS)

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