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Robert Musil and the (de)colonization of "This True Inner Africa"


Twentieth-century psychologists lauded Sigmund Freud (1856 -1939) as the discoverer and "conquistador of the unconscious." However, as Ludger Lükehaus argues in "Dieses wahre innere Afrika": Texte zur Entdeckung des Unbewussten vor Freud ("This True Inner Africa": Texts on the Discovery of the Unconscious before Freud, 1989), there were other explorers of such territories. Lütkehaus examines pre-Freudian psychologists, philosophers, and moralists, all of whom creatively approached the problem of the psyche. They also tended to embrace the racist and sexist commonsense of their times, as was the case when novelist Jean Paul called the unconscious a "true inner Africa," comparing the unruly regions of the mind to the so-called dark continent and its inhabitants. Lütkehaus positions Freud at the end of this history, characterizing him as a scientist who imposed techniques useful in the disciplining of the psyches of the inhabitants living within the metropole. As an alternative endpoint, my dissertation examines the work of Freud's contemporary, Robert Musil (1880-1942), and his "essayistic novel," Der Mann ohne Eigenschaften (The Man without Qualities 1930, 33). I argue that Musil's novel satirizes the prejudices creating modern psychology in an effort to challenge epistemological forms of colonization occurring within Europe during his lifetime. My dissertation analyzes "this true inner Africa" in the context of German attempts to achieve self consciousness and Friedrich Nietzsche's critique of the ressentiment. These chapters establish the pre-Freudian history informing approaches to knowledge of the human in 1913-1914 Vienna, the setting of The Man without Qualities. The chapters that follow analyze psychological practices in the novel. I explicate three themes in The Man without Qualities: (1) Musil's re- presentation of the vivisecting of the psyche into moral and primitive territories; (2) his opposition to discourse privileging "superior" bourgeois Europeans as those able to master themselves and others; and (3) his experiment with a "psychology of feeling." The psychology of feeling exposed a complex picture of the world which binaries created by scientists, moralists, and doctors had typically simplified. Musil's experiment with the de- colonization of "this true inner Africa" re-exposes a little known history of psychology that has been overshadowed by Freud's "science"

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