PD Smith at Kafka’s Mouse:
One of the most memorable moments in Robert Musil’s disturbing novel about adolescent angst, Die Verwirrungen des Zöglings Törleß (1906; trans. Young Törleß), is when the troubled protagonist lies down in the grounds of his school and gazes up at the deep blue autumn sky. It is as if Törleß is seeing sky for the first time and he is shocked by its unfathomable depths:
“He felt it must be possible, if only one had a long, long ladder, to climb up and into it. But the further he penetrated, raising himself on this gaze, the further the blue, shining depth receded. And still it was as though some time it must be reached, as though by sheer gazing one must be able to stop it and hold it. The desire to do this became agonizingly intense.”
For Törleß, this encounter with the infinite comes to represent the ambiguity of experience and ultimately the inexpressible nature of reality. As Götz Hoeppe’s excellent history of our attempts to explain the blue of the sky shows, from moments of wonder like these, scientific theories grow.