Readers of Robert Musil’s The Man Without Qualities will recall the “Collateral Campaign,” a fictional initiative to commemorate the seventieth anniversary, in 1918, of the ascent of Austrian Emperor Franz Josef to the throne. As the novel progresses, so too does the campaign: it will be a whole year of festivities, it will be The Austrian Year, The Austrian Peace Year. The planning draws in prominent personages who introduce more and more ambitious proposals; it launches scores of dinner evenings, plenipotentiary committees, and public debates.
Musil’s subject, and the admixture of sympathy and satire he brought to it, seems awfully familiar in 2011. Nowadays, we are fairly encircled by Collateral Campaigns—by artistic enterprises whose intentions, intellectual and social, are unimpeachable, yet which seem always to hover between event and discourse, between process and product. Example: the new BMW Guggenehim Lab in the East Village, which opened last month.