Something does, on occasion, fall from a torch. A bit of pitch.
Karl Kraus (F 279-280: 5)

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post № 26

26 June 2015

 

Speculative notes: logic and art, Kraus and Nádherný

On the 19 September 1913, Kraus published the following aphorism:

 

Logic is art’s fiend. But art may not be logic’s fiend. Logic must have but tasted of art and have been digested by it in its entirety. To claim that two times two is five, you have to know that two times two is four. But whoever knows the latter will say that the former is false (F 381-383: 72) [my translation].

 

This, like many of Kraus’s aphorisms, is difficult; Kraus’s clarity of expression is just as contradictory as it is suggestive. And Kraus is no doubt picking up on a thought expressed in his essay “Nestroy and posterity,” which he published on 13 May 1912 (cf., F 349-350: 2). But it seems to be compounded by a biographical component too. … While what follows is speculative notes, it is difficult to shake the idea that Kraus may be permitting his love for Sidonie Nádherný von Borutin to impinge upon his work. … For the sake of completeness, it should be mentioned that this claim, if true, would provide (little more than) the beginnings of a case for the reexamination of Edward Timms’s claim, according to which: “The most striking feature of this love relationship [between Kraus and Nádherný] is that it made so little impression on Kraus’s published writings” (253). So, here it goes…

 

Kraus met, and fell in love with, Nádherný just eleven days prior to the publication of this aphorism. In a diary entry dated 12 September 1913, Nádherný reminisces about the night they met, 8 September 1913, and suggests that there had been a kind of love-at-first-sight. Kraus, for his part, had been shaken by the experience; Nádherný writes in citation of Kraus’s words and actions: “I’ll be getting to work now – quite promises with trembling hands – a woman hasn’t touched me like that for years” (quoted in BSN II 629) [my translation]. … We cannot say with any certainty either to what extent or whether at all this meeting shook Kraus beyond the moment reported.

 

Whatever the case, Nádherný intimates in a diary entry dated 14 September 1913 that the experience of being shaken was mutual. She writes:

 

Wanting to save – there, sin and betrayal become purity alone. Being good. Being capable of both, we have to go farther, farther – oh, at that point, there shall be no limits, no fulfillment (Genügen), no regard, thinking, refinement, loyalty – shall become inhuman – only obsession, sin, is human. For I want genuine temptation, want to be shaken deeply in order to know how I am capable of being redeemed. – Why is there no one who is capable of taking all my giving – who understands it? Why is it all too little! – K.K. is in my blood; he makes me suffer. He pursued my very being like no other before, he understood like no other before – I can do nothing, if I forget him not (quoted in BSN II 630; editorial marks have been intentionally removed) [my translation].

 

Nádherný’s words up to “For I want genuine temptation […]” appear to be a kind of conflation between her voice and Kraus’s voice—almost as if she were reporting on a conversation between her and Kraus where their words and feelings were intertwined or in unison. If this appearance has any truth to it, then there may be a possible connection between Kraus’s aphorism above and their love for each other.

 

The possible connection here may be a structural identity. In both his aphorism and her diary entry, two things appear to be conflated and contradiction becomes meaningful in an extreme way. Kraus seems to conflate logic with mathematics (justifiably or not) and finds that a falsity is true. Nádherný appears to conflate her voice with Kraus’s and finds that sin and betrayal become purity. … And if this structural identity has its roots in a conversation between Nádherný and Kraus—as I read Nádherný’s diary entry to suggest—then maybe Kraus is permitting his love to impinge upon his published aphorism.

 

But this all needs to be explored and spelled out in much more detail. … In the meantime, however, Timms’s claim stands.

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