Intimate Ties: Two Novellas

Intimate Ties: Two Novellas


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Two erotic novellas by one of the masters of high modernism.

First published in 1911, Intimate Ties is Robert Musil's second book, consisting of two novellas, "The Culmination of Love" and "The Temptation of Silent Veronica." Each revolves around a troubled woman in the throes of her sexual and romantic woes, as their memories of the past return to influence their present desires. Musil tracks the psyche of his protagonists in a blurring of impressions that is reflected in his experimental prose. Intimate Ties offers the reader an early glimpse of the high modernist style Musil would perfect in his magnum opus The Man Without Qualities.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781939810236
Publisher: Steerforth Press
Publication date: 05/28/2019
Pages: 208
Sales rank: 1,139,662
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 8.90(h) x 0.70(d)

About the Author

Robert Musil (1880-1942), born in Vienna, was trained as a mathematician, behavioral psychologist, engineer, and philosopher. During World War I, he served as an officer in the Austrian Army on the Italian front. He died exiled and impoverished in Switzerland in 1942. Author of The Man Without Qualities, The Confusions of Young Törless, and Five Women, Musil is one of the towering pillars of high modernism.
About the translator: Peter Wortsman is the author of A Modern Way to Die: Small Stories and Microtales, the plays The Tattooed Man Tells All and Burning Woods, the memoir Ghost Dance in Berlin, and a collection of short fiction, Footprints in Wet Cement. Wortsman's translations from the German include Telegrams of the Soul: Selected Prose of Peter Altenberg, Travel Pictures by Heinrich Heine, Posthumous Papers of a Living Author by Robert Musil, The Man Who Sold His Shadow by Adelbert von Chamisso, Selected Prose of Heinrich von Kleist, Selected Tales of the Brothers Grimm,Tales of the German Imagination: From The Brothers Grimm to Ingeborg Bachmann, and Konundrum: Selected Prose of Franz Kafka.

Read an Excerpt


The Culmination of Love

"Can you really not come along?"

"It's impossible; you know I have to try to finish up as quickly as possible."

"But Lilli would be so glad ..."

"I know, I know, but I just can't do it."

"And I have absolutely no desire to travel without you ..."

His wife said this while pouring tea, at the same time glancing over at him in the corner of the room, where he was seated in the easy chair upholstered with the light flowery pattern, smoking a cigarette. It was evening and the dark green shutters on the windows faced the street in a long row of other identical dark green shutters. Like a pair of dark, serenely lowered eyelids, they hid the glimmer of this room in which the tea now trickled from a matte silver pot into two cups, flung open with a quiet clang and then holding still in the shaft of light like a twisted, transparent column of soft brown topaz ... Green and gray shadows, also a bit of blue and yellow were folded into the slightly battered surface of the pot; the shadows lay still, as if once having run together they were no longer able to part ways. But the woman's arm protruding from the pot and the look with which she regarded her husband met at a stiff and rigid angle.

A perfectly ordinary angle indeed, as one could well see; but only the two individuals in question could sense its almost bodily bend, it seemed to them as if it spanned the distance between them like a stanchion of the hardest metal, holding each of them in place and yet, despite the distance between them, binding them together into a single entity you could almost grasp; ... it braced itself against the pits of their stomachs, where they felt its force, ... it held them stiffly in place grasping the armrests of their chairs, in which they sat frozen with expressionless faces and steadfast gaze, yet feeling there where it struck them a silken quiver, something altogether light, as if their hearts came fluttering together like two swarms of small butterflies ...

The entire room hung, as if on a quietly trembling axis, on this thin, hardly real and yet so palpable feeling, linking the two people in its emotive tilt: the objects in its path held their breath, the light striking the wall congealed into golden lace, ... all was suspended in silent expectation, existing only for its own sake; ... time that runs through the world like an endless glistening thread seemed to run down the middle of the room, to run right through the two people, and then suddenly stop and grow stiff, very stiff and silent and glistening, ... and the objects pressed a little closer together. It was that silent standstill followed by a quiet sinking, as when two surfaces align and a crystal congeals ... Around these two people bisected by the stillness, stirred by this holding of breath, this cambering of time, as if struck by thousands of reflective surfaces, they suddenly gazed at each other, and gazed again as if each saw the other for the first time ...

The woman set down the teapot, her hand sank to the table; everything fell back, as if weighed down by the heft of happiness, into the cushion of its essence, and as the two kept their eyes fixed on each other they smiled as if lost to the world and gripped by the need to say nothing about themselves; they spoke again of the sick person, of a sick person in a book they had both read, starting right off with a precise passage and question, as if they'd been thinking of it, although that was not the case, for they were merely resuming a conversation that in a strange way had held them entwined for days, as if hiding the face of their true thoughts, and while the exchange treated the subject of the book, its intent was, in fact, turned elsewhere; and after a while, their musings managed somehow, albeit unnoticeably, to pass from this unconscious pretext back again to themselves.

"How might a person like this G. see himself?" the woman asked, and lost in thought, muttering almost to herself, continued: "He leads children astray, inveigles young women; and then he stands there and smiles and gapes, transfixed by the erotic rise that flashes in him like a feeble glimmer. Do you think he knowingly means to wrong his victims?"

"Does he mean to? ... Maybe, maybe not," the man replied, "the question may not even apply in the case of such sentiments."

"I think, rather," said the woman, thereby revealing that she was not so much speaking of this one random individual, but rather of a certain something that emerged from the shadow behind the man, "I think he means to do good."

Their thoughts dived silently a while side by side, then resurfaced in words – way out in the murky depths of consciousness; it was nevertheless as if holding hands, still in the grip of silence, all had been said. "He hurts his victims in an insidious way, he must know that he demoralizes them, disturbs the tender balance of their sensuality, and sets it on a course that will never again attain an equilibrium ... and yet, it is as if in so doing, a smile blossomed on his lips, ... so soft and pale, so wistful and yet so determined, so tender; .... with a smile that wafts tenderly over his victim and himself, like a rainy dawn wafting over the earth, heaven-sent, unfathomable, his wistfulness dissimulating all regret, all the ill he commits swept up in the passion of the act ... Is not every brain lonesome and unique?"

"Yes, indeed, is not every brain lonesome and unique?" Silent again, these two people simultaneously thought of a third, unknown, one of those innumerable third persons, as though they were traveling together through a landscape: ... trees, meadows, a sky, and suddenly drawing a blank as to why it's blue here and cloudy there; ... they sensed all those third persons standing around, like that great sphere that surrounds us and sometimes regards us with a strange and glassy gaze and gives us the shivers when the flight of a bird scratches an incomprehensible lurching line through it. All of a sudden that evening-tinged room filled up with a cold, faraway, noontime-bright solitude.

Then one of them said, and it was as if someone had softly stroked a violin: "... it's like a house with locked doors. Maybe what he did feels to him like soft music, but who can hear it? Filtered through that maudlin melody maybe it all turns into a soft wistfulness ..."

And the other replied: "Perhaps he kept prying at his own recesses with groping hands in search of a door, and finally stopped and just lay his face against the condensed panes of separation and from a distance spied the beloved victim and smiled ..."

That's all they said, but the words kept sounding higher and deeper in their blissfully swallowed silence. "... Only that smile overtakes them and hovers over them and from the flinching ugliness of their bloodied bodies it emits a slender sandwort-like spray ... And tenderly hesitates, wondering if they feel it too, then lets it drop, and soars decisively, like some curious creature wafted on fluttering wings by the secret of his solitude into the wondrous emptiness of the room."

It felt to them as if the secret of their intimate tie rested on this solitude. It was a dark inkling of the world around them that made them huddle together, it was a dreamlike feeling of the cold coming at them from all directions but one, that side on which they leaned together, unburdened, covered each other like two marvelously matching halves, which, when merged, diminished their outward edges, while the inner borders melded ever closer together. They sometimes felt disconsolate, because they could not do every last little thing together.

"Do you remember," said the woman, "when you kissed me several evenings ago, did you know that there was something standing between us? Something came to mind at that very instant, something altogether superfluous, but it wasn't you and it suddenly pained me that it shouldn't be you. And I couldn't say it and had to smile at you, because you didn't know it and believed you were so close to me, and then I no longer wanted to tell you and got mad at you because you didn't feel it yourself, and your caresses left me cold. And I didn't dare ask you to stop, since in reality it was nothing at all, I was close to you in reality, but it was also like an obscure shadow, a reminder that I could be far from you and without you. Do you know the feeling, that all things sometimes suddenly double-up before you, on the one hand complete and perfectly clear as you know them to be, but then on the other hand pale, dimly lit and mortified, as if another presence already had its furtive, stranger's gaze fixed upon them. I would have liked to take you and yank you back into me ... and then again shove you away and throw myself to the ground, just because I could have."

"Was it that time ...?"

"Yes, it was, the time I suddenly burst out crying beneath you; when as you believed, that out of an excess of desire I wanted my passion to sink even deeper into yours. Don't be mad at me, I had to tell you and don't know why, it was only a delusion after all, but it hurt me so much, I think that's why I thought of that fellow G. And you ...?

The man in the easy chair set aside his cigarette and rose to his feet. Their looks interlocked with that strained vacillation, like the bodies of two people balanced side by side on a tightrope. Then they said nothing, but rather raised the window shades and peered out into the street; it seemed to them as if they were listening in on the noisy tug of tensions inside themselves, reaching for a new realignment and coming to rest. They felt that they could not live without each other but could only survive together, like an artfully inclined support system that could carry any load. For each the thought of the other seemed almost sick and painful, that's how delicate and daring and unfathomable they felt in their heightened sensitivity to the slightest uncertainty in the turn of the relationship.

After a while, once they had again become themselves at the sight of the outside world, they felt so empty they wanted to sink into sleep side by side. They felt nothing but the presence of the other, a feeling that, while already considerably diminished and drained in the dark, seemed to spread to the four corners of creation.

The next morning Claudine traveled to the little town where the boarding school was located in which her thirteen-year-old daughter Lilli was enrolled. The child was the fruit of a first marriage, her father was an American dentist Claudine had sought out in the course of a visit abroad during which she suffered great pain. At the time she had been waiting in vain for a friend, whose promises of imminent arrival kept being delayed, straining the limits of patience, and so as a consequence of a curiously intoxicating cocktail of annoyance, pain, ether, and the man's round white face that hovered over hers for days on end, she let it happen. The incident itself never troubled her conscience, nor did she feel the least regret for that first lost part of her life; when after several weeks she had to return for a follow-up visit she came accompanied by a maid, thus signaling the end of the dalliance; nothing remained but the memory of a curious cloud of sensations that stirred confusion, as if a coat had been suddenly draped over her head and then swiftly swept her to the floor.

It had a strange lingering effect on everything she did and experienced back then. Her subsequent involvements did not come to such a speedy and indignant end, and she remained for the longest time under the sway of any men who crossed her path, for whom she was then prepared, to the point of self-sacrifice and a complete abandonment of will, to do anything they asked of her, but she never came away thereafter with the sense of having lived through a powerful or important experience; she engaged in and suffered actions in the grip of strong passions and to the point of self-abasement, and yet never completely lost sight of the fact that none of it really touched her or had anything to do with her essence. Like a brook, all this business of a run-of-the-mill, unhappy, faithless wife just babbled by, and all that was left was the sense of inert brooding, of sitting on it.

She never had a clear consciousness of even the faintest trace of a sovereign self commanding inner restraint in her unhesitating surrender to others. But there was some unacknowledged psychic substrata underlying all these actual liaisons, and even though she had never yet sounded this hidden dimension of her life and perhaps even believed that she would never dig down that deep in herself, in all that happened she nevertheless felt like a guest who, having set foot in a strange house just this once, unreservedly and come what may, surrendered herself to happenstance.

And then all that she had done and suffered in the past was instantly repressed the moment she met her present husband. From then on she lived a life of quiet and solitude, the past was no longer of any consequence, all that mattered now was how it would all pan out, and the sole purpose of the past appeared to be to make them cleave all the closer to each other or else for it to be completely forgotten. A stupefying sensation of growth rose like mountains of blossoms around her, and she retained only a distant trace of past distress, a backdrop from which all else broke free like sleep-soaked stirrings awakening from a frozen fundament.

Only one faint strain, thin, pale, and hardly perceptible, perhaps still trickled from that former life into the present. And the fact that it all came to mind again today of all days may well have been a matter of pure happenstance, or because she was traveling to visit her child, or on account of something of no other consequence, whatever it may be, the memory of it only surfaced at the train station, when – jostled and disquieted by the throng of people – she was suddenly silently gripped by a dark and distant feeling that breezed by her, a feeling already half gone as soon as she felt it, and yet it roused in her an almost tangible semblance of that practically forgotten chapter of her life.

Her husband having had no time to accompany her to the station, Claudine waited alone for her train, the crowd pressing and swelling around her slowly like a big, heavy billow of suds. The sentiments emitted by the pale, early morning faces washed over them and floated in the dark waiting room like the drool of oysters on the stagnant surface of fallow water. It disgusted her. Of a mind to sweep away this whole messy ferment of cloying emotion, to scatter it with a devil-may-care wave of the arm, but – whether on account of her revulsion at the prevailing physical force of the multitude pressing around her, or simply the depressing effect of that dim, steady, indifferent light bouncing off an immense roof of filthy glass, reverberating against scattered, iron resolve – while she stepped politely and with seeming equanimity among them, feeling the irrepressible urge to shove them away, she suffered it in her heart of hearts like a profound indignity. She sought in vain an emotional shield; it was as if she had slowly and hesitantly lost her bearings in the throng, her eyes could no longer orient themselves, she could no longer get a hold of herself, and when she strained to do so a mild headache gripped her thoughts.

Her idle musings turned inwards and sought out an elusive yesterday; but all she managed thereby was to rouse a secret sense of harboring something precious and delicate. It was a secret something she dared not reveal to others, since they would surely not understand, and being weaker than them she would not be able to defend herself, and so feared the consequences. Sucking herself in to take as little space as possible, she proudly passed among them, and winced when someone came too close, hiding behind an unassuming air. And all the while she felt a secret rapture, a mounting delight in surrendering herself to this quietly overwhelming cloud of fear.

And then she recognized the feeling. That's just the way it was back then; it suddenly struck her: in those days it was as if she lingered elsewhere and yet was never very far away. It dawned on her as an uncertain suspicion, like the fearfully veiled sufferings of a sick person, that whatever she did was torn from her in tatters and promptly confiscated by the memories of strangers, who once satiated, turned away from her, convinced that they had stripped her to the bone, leaving not the faintest trace to ripen as silent succor for her soul; and yet as a pale counterpart to her silent sufferings there was a faint glimmer, as if from a crown, and an unmistakable luster trembled along with the muffled murmurs emanating from the drained dregs of a life. At times then it was as if her sufferings flickered in her like little flames, and something drove her to restlessly keep kindling new wicks of distress; it felt like an ever tightening band cutting into her forehead, invisible and unreal, like a dream, like glass, and sometimes it was just a distant gyrating hum, a ringing in her head ...


Excerpted from "Intimate Ties"
by .
Copyright © 2019 Archipelago Books.
Excerpted by permission of archipelago books.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

The Culmination of Love, 9,
The Temptation of Silent Veronica, 111,
Preserving the Imprint of the Ineffable in Musil's Prose, (A Translator's Afterword), 191,
Acknowledgements, 207,

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Intimate Ties: Two Novellas 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
Sharon_Arundel 9 months ago
This is a book that contains two interesting descriptive stories that were written in the early 1900s. Although they are difficult to understand at times, they are in my opinion well worth the effort to take the time and re-read sections now and then. They were not originally written in English, yet I think the translation has not destroyed any of the intent of the stories. Both stories are unique and different to each other, but they do both surround a female character as the main character. At the time of writing these the author would be taking a bit of a chance as they are definitely not to everyone’s taste and do discuss some dark possible trigger subjects. I personally enjoyed reading these two short stories and I’m more than pleased to have had the great pleasure of being able to read them.