Moosbrugger Speaks: Nietzschean Truth and Lying in Musil’s Der Mann ohne Eigenschaften

Naomi Beeman


The paper articulates an implicit theory of language in Musil’s unfinished novel Der Mann ohne Eigenschaften. Specifically, I argue that Musil inverts Nietzsche’s theory of language from “On Truth and Lying in a Non-Moral Sense,” and demonstrates the results of this inversion through the characters Moosbrugger and Ulrich. Where Nietzsche valorizes the poet’s relationship to language above the philosopher-scientist’s, Musil dismisses this distinction as merely rhetorical. Nietzsche’s poet-vs.-philosopher opposition simply allegorizes what is, instead, a dynamic intermingling of ‘truth’ and ‘misrepresentation’ that lies at the metaphorical heart of language, independent of its particular uses. Moosbrugger defends himself against imprecision in speech by adopting a hyper-literal stance—a defensive posture that only magnifies the poetry of language that overwhelms him. Ulrich’s opposing sensitivity to the scientific ordering of language is equally pathological. Ulrich pawns off language’s metaphoricity on reality, concluding that we should not take God’s creation “literally.” This paper shows how Musil reads Nietzsche’s theory of the original metaphoricity of language through the Judeo-Christian myth of the active word in order to reveal Moosbrugger’s muteness as the reverse side of Ulrich’s pathological facility with language. Both, in turn, are ciphers for meta-textual questions about the conditions of Musil’s own writerly production. (NB)

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