Robert Musil’s Cultural Diagnostics in the Light of Nietzschean Immunology

Research paper by Stijn De Cauwer

Indexed on: 05 Jan '12Published on: 05 Jan '12Published in: Neophilologus


Nietzsche was one of the first to point out the importance of immunological processes that are at work in any society to maintain its coherence against threats. At the same time, Nietzsche was aware that these immunological processes can become too rigid, ultimately even dangerous and self-destructive. Roberto Esposito has shown that Nietzsche’s work contains at the same time the seeds of such a problematic form of immunology and another way of thinking immunology that could avoid the dangerous consequences. Nietzsche knew that a society which rigidly bans out all threats will rob itself of the capacity for revitalizing itself. I will show that the Nietzschean writings on immunology are a crucial influence on Robert Musil. Due to the complexities with this aspect of Nietzsche’s work, this influence is not immediately obvious. Exploring this influence will help to clarify certain aspects of Musil’s work, such as the prevalence of pathological behavior in Der Mann ohne Eigenschaften. Moreover, it will make clear why Musil was very critical of Nietzsche’s legacy, while at the same time claiming that his work is full of possibilities which nobody takes up. To find a way to foreclose the dangerous forms of immunological thinking, for which people found inspiration in Nietzsche’s work, Musil takes up another way of thinking immunology that also comes out of Nietzsche’s thought.