“there is no one these days, absolutely no one, who still looks like what he should look like, for we use our heads even more impersonally than our hands.”

From The Man Without Qualities, Robert Musil

 

Walter was frustrated. He searched, he wavered. Suddenly he burst out: “He is a man without qualities!”

“What’s that?” J Clarisse asked, with a little laugh.
“Nothing. That’s just the point—it’s nothing!”
But the expression had aroused Clarisse’s curiosity. “There are millions of them nowadays,” Walter declared. “It’s the human type that our time has produced.” He was pleased with the expression that had so unexpectedly come to him. As though he were beginning a poem, the words drove him forward before he had got the meaning. “Just look at him! What would you take him for? Does he look like a doctor, or like a business man, or a painter, or a diplomat?”

“But he isn’t any of those things,” Clarisse pointed out matter-of-factly.
“Well, do you think he looks like a mathematician?”
“I don’t know! How should I know what a mathematician is supposed to look like?” “Now you’ve said something very much to the point! A mathematician doesn’t look like anything! Which means, he will always look so generally intelligent that there is no single definite thing behind it at all! With the exception of the Roman Catholic clergy, there is no one these days, absolutely no one, who still looks like what he should look like, for we use our heads even more impersonally than our hands. But mathematics is the peak of it all, it has got to the point of knowing as little about itself as human beings—some day when they are living on energy-pills instead of meat and bread—are likely to know about meadows and little calves and chickens!”

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