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This article is taken from PN Review 31, Volume 9 Number 5, May - June 1983.

A View of Infinity Idris Parry

THROUGH writing, the writer makes sense, or thinks he does. If he makes sense of himself, that is enough. Kafka wrote to his fiancée Felice Bauer about his novel America: 'The novel is me, the stories are me . . .'; and later in the same letter he told her his writing was his means of clinging to life.

Robert Musil's first publication was a novel, Young Törless (1906). This book begins and ends at a railway station, the same railway station. There's something both reassuring and ambiguous about railway stations. They are fixed points dedicated to movement, and movement is something which cannot always be controlled. Today, for instance, when the book opens, the train is late. Perhaps things are not as definite as they seem. But those whose lives are based on form continue to keep up appearances. The station master is a clockwork figure. He comes out at regular intervals, turns his head, always in the same way, to see if the train is signalled, pulls out his watch with an identical gesture each time, and disappears. He comes and goes, says Musil, 'like the figures which emerge from old clock-towers when the hour strikes'.

Törless is at the station to see his parents off after their visit to him at the nearby military school where he is a cadet. Eventually the train does come, his parents depart, he and his friends start back to town. He plods along in the steps ...


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