...the two novellas that make up Intimate Ties marked Robert Musil’s first great critical failure. Denounced as aimless and experimental...the collection was a fantastic flopola, and it doesn’t really take a careful autopsy to see why. Suffused with a dreamy eroticism but composed in an ironclad prose, the books are perilously short on the irony that would come to dominate Musil’s magnum opus, The Man Without Qualities ... Both novellas share a central fault. The ruminations—unable to waft up naturally from a precisely limned psyche, and so never fully inhabited—are imposed on Claudine and Veronica. Against this objection, Musil poses the ultimate unknowability of the heart’s depths, seeming to take in stride the resulting fact that his ceaseless fine-tuning of his characters’ despair becomes so much paint thrown against the wall ... the collection is probably best viewed as another hole to be struck on the punchcard of diehard Musilites everywhere, if any of them are still kicking around.
Certain moments — certain images — are striking, precise, and lovely, if a bit overwrought ... And, in passages of interiority, Musil gets at the mystery of being alive in the world ... What Musil does beautifully here — what he does, consistently, in his best passages — is chart the border between inside and outside worlds, illustrating the tension between what’s in our heads and what’s actually out there ... Musil seems simultaneously fascinated by the specter of psychoanalysis...and dismissive of its simplicity. As deep as we are in the consciousness of these characters, we rarely understand why they do what they’re doing, because they don’t understand this themselves. Peter Wortsman admits, in his afterword, that he 'cried out with joy and relief' upon finishing his translation. While I hate to admit it, I felt much the same when I reached the end of Intimate Ties. These novellas are for students of Musil, students of German literature, and students of modernism. These novellas are for the completist.
According to the excellent afterward by the translator, Musil himself considered these novellas failed experiments. At its best, the book is a complex, immersive examination of obsessive Eros, but the text too often denies the reader entry.