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


post № 40

15 January 2016


“In these great times”: a small matter of quotation

In Karl Kraus’s “In these great times,” we find the following words that culminate in an unidentified quote:


Do things above possessions not fill us with trepidation when hitherto unheard of human sacrifices have been seen and suffered and when, one grey morning, we hear—breaking out from behind the language meant to uplift the spirit, at the ebb of intoxicating music, between earthly and heavenly hosts—the confession: “What has to happen now is that travelling salesmen have their feelers out at all times and that they incessantly feel out their customer base” [my translation] (5).


What follows is a very brief exegetical discussion of this unidentified quote and is—to the best of my knowledge—the result of original research. Should this not be the case, kindly let me know. …


The German version of Kraus’s unidentified quote reads as follows: “[w]as jetzt zu geschehen hat, ist, daß der Reisende fortwährend die Fühlhörner ausstreckt und die Kundschaft unaufhörlich abgetastet wird.” … This quote has remained unidentified not just in Kraus studies in general, but in all three existing English translations of Kraus’s “In these great times” in particular. There is no mention of the or even a possible source in Patrick Healy’s translation. The same is true of Paul Daniels’s translation. Harry Zohn, by contrast, offers some speculation as to a possible source; he speculates that Kraus may be equating “Reisende” (“travelling salesmen”) with war correspondents and that “the unidentified quotation may be an editor’s instruction to reporters to turn themselves into commercial travelers and examine battlefields for their suitability as markets” (73). … This is incorrect.


In some sense, Kraus’s unidentified quote is not a quote at all; it is a complicated paraphrasing/re-composition of a subordinate clause from a front page editorial in the 4 October 1914 morning edition of the Neue Freie Presse (at the top of the third column). This editorial does not instruct reporters to do anything; it is essentially a call for more advertising and consumerism at a time of war. It is a call for businesses to animate people to consumerism via advertising and unwavering sales efforts. It reads in pertinent part:


The profits of numerous enterprises having no connection to the needs of the army are dropping, and the uncertainty regarding future developments is an intimidating factor for demand. These damaging influences ought not to be denied, but they do not take away from the truth that the discrepancy between purchasing power (Kaufkraft) and purchasing wants (Kauflust) is much larger in Austria than it is in Germany. Even after the cuts in personal household budgets, a very large area where advertising has to be deployed continues to be the persistent and adamant implementation of the commercial principle which demands that travelling salesmen have their feelers out at all times, that they incessantly feel out their customer base, and that not even a World War may make them so nonplus that they permit the mechanical precision of their sales efforts to cease [my translation, my italics].


The italicized part of the subordinate clause is Kraus’s source and reads in German as follows: “daß der Reisende fortwährend die Fühlhörner ausstreckt, daß die Kundschaft unaufhörlich abgetastet wird.” … Yet, a comparison of Kraus’s quote with the original text in the Neue Freie Presse reveals significant deviations.


Kraus’s quote omits the entire main clause and replaces it with the words “[w]as jetzt zu geschehen hat, ist” (“[w]hat has to happen now is”). He quotes only two of three elements—i.e., he omits one element—listed in the subordinate clause and replaces a comma and the word “daß” (“that”) with the word “und” (translated above as “and that” for grammatical clarity in English). … In a word, Kraus’s quote is laden with omissions and insertions. But why would Kraus do such a thing and what does it mean here?


We can only speculate. Kraus himself gives no indication whatsoever as to his motivation—not even in his letters to Sidonie Nádherný during the time period between 4 October 1914 and 19 November 1914 (between, that is, the date the Neue Freie Presse published its editorial and the date Kraus first read “In these great times”). Perhaps, he did so in order to avoid having to paraphrase and/or to discuss the editorial in its entirety as part of a speech denouncing World War I as a commercial enterprise. Perhaps, he did so because, in some sense, he understood his speech to be a response to the editorial published by the Neue Freie Presse. Perhaps, he did so for some other reason. No one knows with any certainty. And more work will have to be done to understand Kraus’s “quote” here. … This is just a beginning.


Peter Winslow


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