THE MAN WITHOUT QUALITIES AND FOUR OTHER NEW TITLES.
By Nicolas Soames
I get many requests for titles from regular Ukemi listeners…and I welcome them. Some are eye-wateringly obscure, some are already on audible but in recordings which have not met with approval (!); and some are really important books that have not yet been recorded for one reason or another. Sometimes it is that they have simply been overlooked. And sometimes there are copyright issues.
But one of the most frequent requests I have had of late has been for a recording of Robert Musil’s towering achievement, The Man Without Qualities. This is the German modern novel mentioned often in the same breath as James Joyce’s Ulysses and Marcel Proust’s In Search of Lost Time. In some ways, Musil’s novel is not as technically challenging as either of those, but it is still presents a mountain to climb. For a start, it is very long – over 500,000 words, amounting to some 60 hours of finished recording. Then, it is dense and weighty, where philosophical and intellectual content in some ways propels the novel along more than straightforward plot.
And then there is the daunting prospect of submitting oneself to such a huge project which is, er, UNFINISHED! Musil spent decades writing, changing, adding, publishing bits, as he single-mindedly devoted much of his life to it. Set against the backdrop of 1913 Vienna and the imminent collapse of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, it centres on one man, Ulrich, the ‘man without qualities’ who nevertheless observes and acts in his changing world. Just because it is such a compelling novel of ideas, the lack of an ending (Musil did before he could write The End) curiously doesn’t much matter.
This edifice (!) is a must for you who enjoy the major literary stepping stones of the 20th century – you can read more about it by clicking on the cover picture above on this home page. I would also like to say that it has an ideal champion in John Telfer, the highly accomplished reader who has given this world premiere recording an unforgettable platform.
Since Ukemi started in 2015, the label has sought to represent 20th century philosophy in some of its most challenging directions. Now, it has commissioned a text to provide a useful overview, providing a pathway along which listeners can come to terms with both the key individuals and their specific contributions. Garrett Thomson, British by birth but professor of philosophy in the US, puts all this together in A Brief History of 20th Century Western Philosophy, setting out the personal background of the primary figures before explaining their discoveries and views. The ideal vehicle with which to come to terms with analytic philosophy, post-structuralism, hermeneutics, phenomenology and existentialism and much more; and their proponents including Wittgenstein, Sartre, Heidegger, Foucault et al. Read with remarkable clarity by James Gillies.
Leon Trotsky’s History of the Russian Revolution is almost unique in being a record of a major upheaval in world history written by one of the main protagonists. Of course, Trotsky – who was very much a co-activist with Lenin in the explosion of the Russian Revolution and the Bolshevik victory – fell foul of the succession battle (following Lenin’s death in 1924) won by the fearsome Georgian Joseph Stalin. Trotsky was exiled from Russia in 1929, initially forced to travel to Turkey, and he immediately set down to write his momentous account of the events of 1917. It was translated by Max Eastman into English two years later. It is presented by Ukemi in a masterly reading by Jonathan Booth.