Archive for the ‘Robert Musil’ Category

So, I’ve been for most a week now, posted three times, and haven’t really talked about my project.  This is long overdue.  But brace yourselves, that’s all I can say at the moment (I need to brace myself, too, and make an awesome playlist so I have energy to write all of this! You should make a playlist as well, and post the music you’re listening to in the comments section, I need new tunes!).

The agenda for this post:

1.Summarize what it is I am researching (the topic), why I am researching it (the reason), and what I am doing with it (the significance).

  1. Some of the interesting things I’ve learned so far, related and not-so-related to my paper (but still related to the topics I am covering).
  2. Before, during, and after points 1 and 2, I will be talking about the general significance of it all, why I chose this, why it is important to me (and you, and you, and you, and every one else), how I got from having no topic to this crazy, obscure, wild adventure I am on.

Don’t expect numerals from this point on, I just wanted you to know what to expect 😀

OK, so it all started about 4.6 billion years ago, the creation of the Earth, namely. There was a giant ball of gas, lots of gas, space rocks, the whole shebang. Hahaha, just kidding, not going that far back.  Two years ago I made an awesome friend at Ohio State who told me about a research project he did on a German dialect that boarders Poland and Germany.  The experience sounded awesome, so I decided I wanted to do something similar, research that is.  I started to play around with potential ideas, looked into something, but nothing really grabbed me. IMPORTANT ADVICE: If you want to research something, make sure it grabs you, because otherwise you won’t enjoy it, and you won’t want to do it again, what’s the fun in that?  So I went to Germany, figuring something would grab my attention. Sure enough, that happened. I took a course about Fetishism in Literature (German literature of course).  Fetishism isn’t what you’d necessarily think it is, it doesn’t always mean whips and chains, or leather boots and sniffing underwear. Sure, all of that falls in there somewhere, but it’s a much bigger picture.  Long story short, the class allowed me to look at literature differently and certainly opened my mind to having MANY different outlooks on something like literature.  So I wanted to do something with fetishism, but was greatly discouraged by a professor at OSU (jerk).  However, I had awesome encouragement from the chairperson, who opened the idea of doing something with sexuality.  Considering my opinions and views on human sexuality and sexual orientation, I had my reservations, hesitations, all that jazz.  But, I gave the material a look, and fell in love, with a completely different topic.  That’s how research works sometime.  SO, six months after returning from Germany, still didn’t have a project. I began discussing this other topic (about three gay men who fled to Switzerland from NAZI Germany, only to write mystery novels under a pseudonym – pretty cool, no?), with a few professors, and doing some probing into other topics on my own.  Eventually I read a short paragraph about a man named Magnus Hirschfeld. Dr. Magnus Hirschfeld was a German sexologist (a person who researches human sexuality and gender, we don’t have this term anymore, get your head outa the gutter!), and founder/co-founder of an equality movement fighting the good fight for the the liberation of homosexuals during the late 1800’s and early 1900’s.  You see, at that time Germany and England had actually instated laws that outlawed homosexual relations (mostly between males, although I’m sure females would have received similar treatment).  Basically, if you were gay or had a significant other of the same sex you could go to jail, pay a fine, deal with extortion and oppression, public and private ridicule, rejection from family and religious affiliations (gee, it doesn’t sound like we’ve made too much progress in this department over the past hundred years, does it? Significance of project! Well, a part of it at least), the list goes on.  (FYI, you can still legally lose your job, among other consequences, in many states for being anything other than heterosexual, I rest my case).  Sure, you may not understand or agree with homosexuality, but that doesn’t mean it should be punishable by law, or even seen as something worth ridicule, slander, extortion, or grounds for judgment.

So I thought it was pretty amazing that this man started all of this, a HUNDRED years ago, before the world wars, even before the discovery of the X and Y chromosomes (about 5-10 years before); I think the specific word I chose the other day while explaining it was “ballsy,” because it was indeed ballsy to tell the world they were seeing everything in the wrong light (the reason!).  Of course there were a few other scientists who had been trying to say similar, but also slightly different, things as Hirschfeld.  I am a German Studies student though, gotta represent ma roots, yo.

All in the same small paragraph I was reading, I read of another man, an author by the name of Robert Musil. Musil is not German, but Austrian, however is now considered one of the times most important German-language authors (if you couldn’t guess, he grew more significant after his time). Musil, however, had a different idea of homosexuality, which I didn’t discover until later.  The original intentions I had though were to look at the research Hirschfeld was doing, how he “classified” and described homosexuals, what was “typical” back then and how he portrayed them (he claimed to have interviewed and researched thousands of gays, which made him the top-dog in the day, as many researchers occupied with gays hadn’t even met one, ever.  Now how are you going to write and report on something you’ve never actually even encountered?  One of the many crazy things I have learned); I then wanted to take a relevant piece of literature from the time (aaaand cue Musil) that portrayed homosexuals, so I could make a comparison, see how far the scientific research was from the social portrayal in literature.

So the shorter version, just to recap and get everyone on the same page (glad you’ve stuck around! It get’s better from here on out): I am researching the origins of sex/sexuality/gender research, so that I can write a literary analysis and compare then with now.  The book is called Die Verwirrungen des Zöglings Törleß [The Confusions of Young (Pupil) Törleß], and it is a coming-of-age novel about a boy in boarding school/military school (which is more or less an autobiographical report of Robert Musil’s own experience in school, but with fictional elements).   It’s a great novel, a hefty read though.  I recommend it, but it is very philosophical/psychological, as Musil was in Berlin (which is where Magnus Hirschfeld did his research, the reason why I am in Berlin) when he wrote the novel while also writing his doctoral dissertation in psychology; the book makes you think, but still incorporates every-day elements (like finding school a bore as a young student, or deeply-seeded disputes between schoolmates).  Musil views homosexuality, or at least his experience with it, as a transitory phase, something that was a product of his environment and had no real significance in his life.  If you ask me personally, it sounds an awful lot like denial.  Poor guy.  He couldn’t really help it though, after all, if you could “choose,” why would you choose something that could send you to jail or have you disowned by your family, friends, and community.

So I am here in Berlin to gather more information on Hirschfeld – there is an entire archive here with all kinds of information.  I am looking for anything he used or wrote to describe, quantify, and qualify homosexuality, letters that the thousands of homosexuals sent him, everything really, even though I won’t have time for everything.  I will have the opportunity to visit the archive in a week or so; needless to say, I am quite excited!

Here are some things I’ve learned from Hirschfeld (note: I’m gonna use some sarcasm here, as it get’s pretty ridiculous aka obviously false at moments)

  • Hirschfeld and a small community of other scientists / supporters of the cause believed that there was actually a “third sex.”  Hirschfeld later concluded that there are actually many variations and types of gender, not just man and woman, that’s a pretty progressive idea for this time period.
  • Homosexuals could be identified by the size of their waste compared to their shoulders, by the handwriting, by their gestures and interests, or get this, by the choice of clothes they wear, and we aren’t talking cross-dressing, that comes into the picture shortly (haha)
  • This is my personal favorite: if you like deep-sea exploration, or expeditions, say, to the jungle or dessert, you’re probably gay.
  • If you talk a lot (a gabber), and you’re a man, you’re probably gay
  • Soft, small hands for a male, larger, more muscular hands for a female, was indicative of being a homosexual
  • If you occupy yourself with things that are typically “feminine” (for males) or “masculine” (for females) in nature, you probably like the same sex.  This touches on the significance of the project as well – we live in a world of stereotypes and standards, societal norms, all of which affect our daily lives and how we interact and perceive others, as well as ourselves.  If you are a man who likes sewing and fashion, cleaning the kitchen, or (thank you, Captain Obvious) dressing in women’s clothing, you’re certainly not heterosexual.  These are all stereotypes that have followed society for generations now, unfortunately, none of them are 100% indicative of someone’s sexual orientation.

So why did I decide to stick with this project?  Well, the answer should be pretty clear: modern cultures have made great strides in equality and human rights, but only in small proportions.  More people need to think about prejudices, discrimination, hate, we all need to think of how we interact with others, how we perceive each other and ourselves.  Is it worth it (or even important) to judge Sam Whatshecalled (that’s intentionally ambiguous…did you catch that? If you did, you’re catching on!) because they have a different preference? People need to have an open mind and learn to communicate for the sake of communicating, learning, bettering themselves as well as society as a whole.  OK, I feel preachy right now and that scares me, a lot.

It’s really late, and I’ve already written quite a bit (sorry if you’re bored, but you stuck through to the end, that makes me smile!).  I didn’t get to everything, so PLEASE, if you have ANY questions, comments, corrections (I don’t really proofread, lazy, I know) concerns, ANYTHING on your mind about what you just read, post a comment! Or send me an email or skype message (skype is davide0518).  I’ll definitely be posting more about my project, since I am in Berlin for that one reason, so stay tuned (or tune-out if you really didn’t enjoy this, but not all the time! I promise to keep things spunky and not always academic).  Geez, I just used the word spunky. That reminds me of Rocko’s Modern Life, what a great show.

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