From Robert Musil’s The Man Without Qualities (part 1, ch.4):
But if there is a sense of reality, and no one will doubt that it has its justification for existing, then there must also be something we can call a sense of possibility.
Whoever has it does not say, for instance: Here this or that has happened, will happen, must happen; but he invents: Here this or that might, could, or ought to happen. If he is told that something is the way it is, he will think: Well, it could probably just as well be otherwise. So the sense of possibility could be defined outright as the ability to conceive of everything there might be just as well, and to attach no more importance to what is than to what is not. The consequences of so creative a disposition can be remarkable, and may, regrettably, often make what people admire seem wrong, and what is taboo permissible, or, also, make both a matter of indifference. Such possibilists are said to inhabit a more delicate medium, a hazy medium of mist, fantasy, daydreams, and the subjunctive mood.
Putting it another and perhaps better way, the man with an ordinary sense of reality is like a fish that nibbles at the hook but is unaware of the line, while the man with that sense of reality which can also be called a sense of possibility trawls a line through the water and has no idea whether there’s any bait on it. His extraordinary indifference to the life snapping at the bait is matched by the risk he runs of doing utterly eccentric things. An impractical man—which he not only seems to be, but really is—will always be unreliable and unpredictable in his dealings with others. He will engage in actions that mean something else to him than to others, but he is at peace with himself about everything as long as he can make it all come together in a fine idea.
From Robert Musil’s Man Without Qualities, ch1 of part 1:
Just a moment earlier something there had broken ranks; falling sideways with a crash, something had spun around and come to a skidding halt—a heavy truck, as it turned out, which had braked so sharply that it was now stranded with one wheel on the curb. Like bees clustering around the entrance to their hive people had instantly surrounded a small spot on the pavement, which they left open in their midst. In it stood the truck driver, gray as packing paper, clumsily waving his arms as he tried to explain the accident. The glances of the newcomers turned to him, then warily dropped to the bottom of the hole where a man who lay there as if dead had been bedded against the curb. It was by his own carelessness that he had come to grief, as everyone agreed. People took turns kneeling beside him, vaguely wanting to help; unbuttoning his jacket, then closing it again; trying to prop him up, then laying him down again. They were really only marking time while waiting for the ambulance to bring someone who would know what to do and have the right to do it.
The lady and her companion had also come close enough to see something of the victim over the heads and bowed backs. Then they stepped back and stood there, hesitating. The lady had a queasy feeling in the pit of her stomach, which she credited to compassion, although she mainly felt irresolute and helpless. After a while the gentleman said: “The brakes on these heavy trucks take too long to come to a full stop.” This datum gave the lady some relief, and she thanked him with an appreciative glance. She did not really understand, or care to understand, the technology involved, as long as his explanation helped put this ghastly incident into perspective by reducing it to a technicality of no direct personal concern to her. Now the siren of an approaching ambulance could be heard. The speed with which it was coming to the rescue filled all the bystanders with satisfaction: how admirably society was functioning! The victim was lifted onto a stretcher and both together were then slid into the ambulance. Men in a sort of uniform were attending to him, and the inside of the vehicle, or what one could see of it, looked as clean and tidy as a hospital ward. People dispersed almost as if justified in feeling that they had just witnessed something entirely lawful and orderly.
From Robert Musil’s diaries (Tagebucher 1 – 286,7), as Musil follows his wife’s preparations for bed.
Towards the end of November. I have gone to bed early, I feel I have caught a slight cold, indeed I’m perhaps running a temperature. The electric light is switched on; I see the ceiling or the curtain over the door of the balcony. You began to get undressed after I had already finished doing so; I am waiting. I simply listen to you. Incomprehensible walking to and fro. You come to put something on your bed; what can it be? You open the cupboard, put something in or take something out, I hear it shut again. You put hard objects on the table, others on the marble top of the chest of drawers. You are constantly in motion. Then I hear the familiar sounds of hair being let down and brushed.
Water rushing into the wash-basin. Before that, clothes being slipped off; now more of them; it is incomprehensible to me how many clothes you are taking off. The shoes. Then your stockings move to and fro constantly just as the shoes did before. Your pour water into glasses, three, four times, one after the other. In my visualization I have long exhausted every conceivable possibility, whereas you, in reality, clearly still have things to do. I hear you putting on your nightdress. But still you are far from finished.
This was deemed offensive for its accuracy in my house.
From v.1 of Robert Musil’s Man Without Qualities (pg 106, in the Sophie Wilkins translation)
In her misery [Diotima] read a great deal, and discovered that she had lost something she had previously not really known she had: a soul.
What’s that? It is easy to define negatively: It is simply that which sneaks off at the mention of algebraic series.