R. Gray

German 390/Comp Lit 396/Engl 363/CHID 498/JSIS 488/Lit 298

Freud and the Literary Imagination


Study Questions:

Robert Musil, Young Törless


1. One of the most prominent tendencies of modern "psychological" literature (a tendency that nears perfection in some of Kafka's short fiction) is the projection of psychic states experienced by the textual protagonists onto the empirical reality of the fictional world itself. Look for examples of such "psychic landscapes" in Musil's novella. What do they tell us about the psychological dilemma of story's protagonist, the adolescent "young" Törless?


2. Similar to Mann's Death in Venice, themes of sensuality, self-abandonment, and moral degradation play a prominent role in Musil's novella. What role do such experiences of debauchery and degradation play in the self-understanding of the different characters? In what ways are Törless's relationship to this experience of moral "fall" different from that of other characters?


3. Musil's novella operates within a long-standing literary tradition that is commonly designated as the "novel of education" or the "novel of development." Does Törless actually learn something in this novella? If so, how might one designate this new form of knowledge, and can one chart the trajectory of its acquisition?


4. Examine the relationship the three main characters in this novella, Törless, Beineberg, and Reiting, have to their common object of disdain, Basini. What features do their relationships with Basini have in common? Does their individual interaction with Basini say something specific about their own characters or personalities? Can the three of them be aligned with specific personality types?


5. Törless's story is punctuated by certain mysterious or "transcendental" experiences: his impression of "infinity" as he observes the "hole in the sky," for example, or his puzzling over the nature of "imaginary numbers" in mathematics. How do these experiences relate to his understanding of Basini and the more general problem Törless has when trying to come to terms with Basini's (and his own) degradation?


6. One of the characteristics of Musil's literary style is his penchant for the frequent (some might even say exaggerated) application of similes and metaphors. Catalogue some examples of his use of metaphor. Are there patterns that emerge? Does the text privilege, say, mechanical or natural metaphors? Are there any recurrent patterns? If so, do they illuminate on the level of textual rhetoric the central thematic of Musil's novella?


7. The prostitute Bozena is largely a marginal figure in the novella, yet she figures prominently in Törless's psycho-sexual imagination and in his development. Catalogue the traits associated with this figure. What symbolic role does she play in the psychological fantasies of the novella's main characters and in the overall structure of the novella or its "fictional" world?