The Confusions of Young Torless (Penguin Modern Classics) Paperback – 27 Sep 2001
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About the Author
Robert Musil(1880-1942) is principally known in English as the author of "The Man Without Qualities," "Five Women," "The Posthumous Papers of a Living Author" and "The Confusions of Young Torless." Shaun Whiteside s translations include Nietzsche s "The Birth of Tragedy"and Musil s "The Confusions of Young Torless"for Penguin Classics. J. M. Coetzee was born in Cape Town, South Africa, on February 9, 1940, and studied first at Cape Town and later at the University of Texas at Austin, where he earned a Ph.D. degree in literature. In 1972 he returned to South Africa and joined the faculty of the University of Cape Town. His works of fiction include "Dusklands," "Waiting for the Barbarians," which won South Africa s highest literary honor, the Central News Agency Literary Award, and "The Life and Times of Michael K.", for which Coetzee was awarded his first Booker Prize in 1983. He has also published a memoir, "Boyhood: Scenes From a Provincial Life," and several essays collections. He has won many other literary prizes including the Lannan Award for Fiction, the Jerusalem Prize and The "Irish Times"International Fiction Prize. In 1999 he again won Britain s prestigious Booker Prize for "Disgrace," becoming the first author to win the award twice in its 31-year history. In 2003, Coetzee was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature."
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Top Customer Reviews
J. M. Coetzee gives an interesting account in his introduction to this novel, but ultimately to explain all the intricacies and ideas arising in this would take something bigger than the actual story to fully explain. Due to this you shouldn't be put off by its smallness, because ultimately you will get something out of this akin to a novel five times the size.
Torless (we never get to know his first name) is sent to the military boarding school called 'W'. The education at these schools were below that which was offered at the more classical gymnasia, but was of a good enough standard. From Torless' point of view we see what happens when one of the pupils is caught stealing money. With a group of boys deciding that they should offer correction, the matter is kept from the school authorities. What happens then is the basis of the novel. From a beating this story goes much further, the boy who is punished has to undergo more humiliating treatment that is sexual, and more like a bdsm relationship.
With bullying at schools as well as other places frequently cropping up in the news this book still has the ability to shock, as it did at the time of publication. Some people may find this a bit disturbing to read, but it is well worth it, and the story will echo a long time afterwards, with its amorality, expressionism and psychology.
The bullying - mainly by two other boys, with Torless generally as an onlooker - is described in terms of explicitly homoerotic cruelty. Not content with whipping, humiliating and tormenting the victim, the bullies also make him go to bed with them afterwards; and to cap it all, much of the cruelty is accompanied by pseudo-philosophical and pseudo-mystical verbiage.
The novel adheres to the conventions for school stories: the bully boys get away with their actions, and it is the victim who is expelled.
Musil was a highly astute observer of Central Europe, and in the 1940s and beyond it was fashionable to claim that he had in some sense predicted or at least foreshadowed the horrors of Nazism. Nowadays one is much more sceptical of such specific claims. However, it is unsurprising that his books were burnt and banned by the Nazis and that Musil fled to Switzerland when they annexed Austria. There is a whiff of foreshadowing ...
When the book first appeared in German in 1906 it was considered shocking on a whole range of counts, and it still has the capacity to shock. An earlier review describes the book as 'raw and oddly heavy metal'. Agreed. I'm not so sure about the earlier reference to 'bdsm': that is generally done by mutual consent for the pleasure of all concerned. What Musil describes is systematic and intensifying sadism without the victim's consent for the sexual gratification of the sadists only. Yes, there are indeed very 'dark angels' here.
Trapped in an academy at the bleak and dusty edge of the realm, homesick and morally inept, he falls in with a couple of emotionally and philosophically uncomplicated elder cadets- whose personalities are uncannily well suited to an old school military ethos. Torless' confusions make him susceptible to these fellows, and he is inducted into a kind of cult of masculine cruelty (for sophomores), with trappings of blood and eros. This suits his comrades better than it does him, and his confusions eventually attain unsupportable dimensions.
The social psychology here is strictly Nietzschean, as is the general approach to morality. Model psychological experiences also evidently owe Old Fred a debt. Musil adds, perhaps superflously, a generous measure of extra murk, for mood I suppose. The confusions of Torless are often aptly mirrored in the prose. Add to this the incurable solipsism of the protagonist and you get alot of odd and murky speculations. But these are usually very interesting. Some of the descriptions of psychological states and the autumnal world were quite precise and beautiful, reminding me of the poet Rilke more than anything else.
This book is often raw and oddly heavy-metal. If you don't care to wrestle with so-called dark angels, don't take it up. Otherwise, dig in.