Branding, Personality, Quality-lessness and Success
8th December 2018 at 5:25 am #1617antoniamacleanKeymaster
At the Renaissance Forum in London earlier this week, there was a most interesting discussion of Robert Musil’s THE MAN WITHOUT QUALITIES:
Musil described the postmodern phenomenon of “men without qualities” (nowadays of course also “women without qualities”) – in other words, people who deliberately choose to have no inner core convictions and commitments, so that they can change their words and behaviour according to whatever is necessary to be charming and popular.
That applies also to politicians who are like weathervanes, merely turning in the direction of what they see to be the mood of their support-groups, rather than genuine leaders who of course respect the mood of their supporters but are also in the business of leading them towards more humane attitudes and thus of seeking to create increasingly humane social and organisational structures.
All that took us to considering whether it is necessary to be men and women without qualities in order to be successful today.
Soon, we found ourselves talking about the contemporary fashion for “self-branding”, which is seemingly essential for surviving in our hyper-competitive world.
I threw in my tuppence about the light all that throws on the Buddhist/ Jain/ Vedantic notion that it is essential to rise above qualities, e.g. via some form of yoga, in order to enter the relevant different versions of Nirvana/ Kaivalya/ release from the cycle of births and rebirths (i.e. release from the cycle of reincarnation).
The idea that personality, morality and reality are illusions is of course essential to strands of Buddhist/ Jain/ Vedantic thought.
And believing that personality, morality and reality are illusory is a natural and necessary consequence of the view that the Ultimate (which is the best equivalent of “God” in these traditions) is quality-less.
In Sanskrit/ Prakrit/ Pali, the terms that are used are “nirguna”, “shoonyataa”, et al.
By contrast, Musil was decrying the phenomenon of “quality-less” individuals because of what we might call the “quality-full” notion of God in Judaism and Christianity.
There is a parallel and somewhat different “quality-full” notion of God in Islam, though that did not influence Musil as far as I can discover.
Ends8th December 2018 at 11:24 pm #1618Giles CatchesideParticipant
Very interesting thoughts.
As far as I understand Musil (and I’m really not well acquainted with him) he rails against these men without qualities as mere shells of what humanity should aspire to – they are the antithesis of 2people of character”. But was he railing against them because of, “… the quality-full notion of God…” ? Or was he rather simply diagnosing the malaise of our times?
I find Musil’s character, Ulrich, compelling since his quality-ness is profound: he is not simply choosing whichever character suits him in the moment – we might accuse our politicians or celebrities of this. Rather Ulrich finds himself, “strangely indifferent to all his qualities” – he has no way of discerning between the qualities that surround him, he appears to have no inner form to which any character or quality can adhere – he is created by his environment, and his reality becomes that reflection.
This to me seems parallel to current discussions of identity. However, instead of lamenting the inability to take on character, we find qualities are chosen at will, entirely disassociated from any factual reality. People now claim by fiat to identify in a certain way and argue that this self proclamation is sufficient for that to be reality.
A case in point would be Emile Ratelbrand (see https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/dec/03/dutch-court-rejects-emile-ratelband-request-20-years-younger for more details) which ended in being thrown out by the court, but I imagine that soon enough such a case will be upheld.
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