Accomplishing the Inconclusive

William H. Gass, “The Hovering Life,” The New York Review of Books 11 January 1996

…But this book was created to be incomplete, and if it had an end it would not be finished. …For a time, in Musil’s youth, he had been a librarian, and soon he needed his knowledge of indexes and files in order to remember what he’d done, to find where he was, and keep track of all the creatures of his invention. The risk of conclusion increased in company with his desire to call it quits, since the novel was for Musil life itself by this time, and pulled on weary acceptance like a pair of familiar trousers and wore fastidious revulsion for its party shirt. …Postponement was the plan; so, in addition to his additions, he revised, held portions back, wrote over proofs until every unprinted space was also dark, made alternative drafts of scenes and chapters, mourned whatever bit of text he had let escape from his fanatical concern for exact analysis to reach the embarrassment of print; because Musil polished not to achieve a finish or a shine, but (like every perfectionist) to accomplish the inconclusive — caught, as he was, in a race which only Zeno of Elea could have charted — edging closer and closer to assassination time, that other August, near enough perhaps to feel the first guns go off, but not close enough to hear in them the clap of doom.

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