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

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post № 44

25 February 2017

 

A quick update

You may be wondering why there has not been any new Kraus translations or blog posts over the last year or so. The reason is quite simply that we have been busy with other things: projects, life, etc. We hope to get back to translating Kraus before very long.

I, for my part, have been working on an English translation of Ludwig Wittgenstein’s Familienbriefe. My translation will be published by Bloomsbury under the title Wittgenstein’s family letters: corresponding with Ludwig, a wonderful volume and the first English translation of select correspondence between the Wittgenstein siblings and other Wittgenstein family members—Hermine, Paul, Gretl, Helene, Max Salzer, Marie Salzer, and Ludwig—over a period stretching some forty years.

 

Wittgenstein_Family_Letters

 

This project was initiated by my friend Radmila Schweitzer, the Secretary General of the Wittgenstein Initiative in Vienna, and has benefitted from the support of Wittgenstein scholars, friends, and colleagues from Italy, Austria, Great Britain, Germany, and the United States, whose kind support, guidance, criticism, and encouragement have made this project better than it would have otherwise been. Of particular note in this regard is, first, Bloomsbury, who has provided kind and professional support from the very outset and, second, the editor of this volume, Prof. Brian McGuinness, one of Ludwig Wittgenstein’s biographers and a preeminent Wittgenstein scholar. His guidance and counsel have proven invaluable, and this project is all the better for it.

On a personal note, I wish to say that Wittgenstein’s family letters has been exciting and has confronted me with challenges unlike any I have hitherto faced as a translator. Chief among these challenges is the translation of seven different voices, which vary and change from situation to situation, year to year, etc. —All in all, Wittgenstein’s family letters has been a wonderful project, and I hope it meets and exceeds expectations.

Peter Winslow

 

 

post № 43

4 June 2016

 

The fascination with Karl Kraus

When I focused my research on Karl Kraus in June 2012, I had—apart from reading a number of his works—already come to know him through the eyes of one of his closest friends. I had been working on a biography of the Austrian writer and director Berthold Viertel (1885-1953)—you can read more about him in German here—for some time and had analyzed Kraus as an important influence on Viertel. It was one of the few friendships in Kraus’s life that not only lasted for thirty years (1905/6 until his death in 1936), but also advanced to a first name basis in 1924. Viertel’s accounts of Kraus—largely unknown today—of course influenced my attitude towards and examination of Kraus.

 

On the one hand, Viertel strongly identified with Kraus; he had read Die Fackel since it first came out in April 1899: in a way he grew up with Kraus’s ideas on how to live and to think in the twentieth century and on how to criticize conventions and the establishment. Time and again he made very clear that he stood in the tradition of Kraus’s “critical modernism” (cf., Beller and Janik 16, 31, 41–43 and Janik 16–22 and 226)—and this influence is quite visible not only in his opinions, but also in the language he uses. On the other hand, Viertel soon became aware that “you don’t eat of this Karl with impunity” [my translation], as he put it in an undated letter to Alfred Polgar (91.15.218, K32, A: Viertel, Deutsches Literaturarchiv Marbach). It was important for Viertel not to be completely absorbed by Kraus’s mind-set (as many admirers were), but also to remain critical of Kraus’s positions and to maintain the “innocuousness of one’s own creativity” [my translation] (188).

 

This worked—at least to a certain extent: not yet fourteen years old, Viertel first objected to Kraus’s account of Jewish religious education teachers in a letter to the editor of Die Fackel (F 13: 31). He disagreed with him on “Heine and the consequences” after hearing the first reading of Kraus’s text in May 1910; a heated debate ensued and continued even after Kraus’s death, when Viertel reflected on Heine again (67). After working very closely with Kraus for two years, Viertel took a job as a director for Stefan Großmann’s Freie Wiener Volksbühne in 1911, also because Kraus had chosen to henceforth write Die Fackel alone—without any contributions or assistance. While Großmann was an established satirical figure in Die Fackel and Kraus loathed his intermingling of art and enterprise, Kraus did not mind Viertel’s dealings with Großmann; nor did he mind Viertel’s later dealings with Max Reinhardt, whom Kraus also frequently mocked. In a way, he understood Viertel’s need to be pragmatic as a theater director and accepted his increasing enthusiasm for film and jazz. He even praised Viertel for showing him how that direction could also be art. Above all, however, he believed in Viertel’s humanistic standards and held him in high esteem for his personal charm and his writing (F 649–656: 2-10).

 

Two disagreements did, however, have a critical impact on their friendship. The first took place at the beginning of the First World War, when Viertel—with his work at the Freie Wiener Volksbühne likely playing a co-causative role here—was out of touch with Kraus: with poems such as “Kote 708,” Viertel was one of the many poets who glorified the war. Witnessing terrible losses of the Austro-Hungarian army in Serbia, where Viertel was stationed as an officer, he soon regretted his initial enthusiasm and apologized to Kraus by writing the essay “Karl Kraus. Ein Charakter und die Zeit” (“Karl Kraus: a character and the times”). And Kraus accepted his apology (F 423–425: 23). The second arose over Kraus’s partisanship for Engelbert Dollfuß in 1934. Viertel, reading Die Fackel (F 890-905) in London, was shocked that Kraus did not defend the Austrian labor movement. For some time, there was silence between them, and Viertel—for the first time—even refused to congratulate Kraus on his birthday. In December 1935, Viertel came to, and the two discussed the issue all through the night. They could not reach a consensus, but, as Viertel writes, they parted as friends. Kraus died just a few months later (312).

 

From Viertel I had learned not to submit to Kraus’s “spell” too easily. I chose to engage “anti-biographically” with his papers, a form of engagement that aims at the deconstruction of “‘the man himself’ into a pattern of contradictions” (23f). Yet, after four years in Kraus research, watching myself and others, I realized how difficult it is to take a differentiated approach to Kraus, even within academia: somehow it always comes down to either you take his side or you don’t. There is still little established “analytical ground” between remnants of a “cult of the genius,” on the one hand, and sometimes hateful rejection of Kraus’s intellectual tradition, on the other. This is likely due to Kraus’s inclined position between canonization—all his works are available online and in print, big research projects on Kraus are funded, and some biographies were written—and (paradoxically) neglect.

 

Kraus is, as Jonathan Franzen has put it, strangely “foreign,” or at least “more so than his better-known contemporaries, because his work was so particularly tied to his own time and place” (5). But, in Franzen’s view, “Kraus has more to say to us in our own media-saturated, technology-crazed, apocalypse-haunted historical moment than his more accessible contemporaries now do” (ibid.). And before Franzen, Edward Timms, the renowned Kraus expert whose two-volume study is considered a benchmark in Kraus studies, tried to “rescue Karl Kraus from neglect and misinterpretation” and wanted to “take up the torch of a great tradition” (76 & 87, respectively).

 

When—openly or not—aiming at continuing applications of Kraus and the transmission of an intellectual tradition, Kraus scholars betray an affirmative deference to the ideals and values of their intellectual hero and, by extension, a certain humanistic worship of genius. Avoiding this is no easy matter. It is, after all, strongly enmeshed with claims to the relevance of one’s subject and one’s own position, and it proves especially challenging when it comes to matters biographical (this may also be one of the reasons why there continues to be a certain anti-biographical impulse for and about Kraus).

 

Is it still necessary to “rescue” the “greatest modern satirist” (88)? Maybe. For in a way, of course, I agree with both Franzen and Timms: Kraus is great, his thought is important, and more people should read him. Certainly, there are problematic and controversial aspects to Kraus’s life and work as well; scholars such as Timms have already given a differentiated account of Kraus’s political development and addressed difficult topics such as Kraus’s sexual relationship to the fourteen-year-old Irma Karczewka.

 

However, it remains, I think, important to reflect on the peculiar kind of “cult of the genius” that persists among Kraus readers and researchers—sometimes snidely called, sometimes proudly calling themselves “Krausianer.” This “cult” has a history in both the life and the afterlife of Kraus; it is entangled with identity politics, modern history, and intellectual traditions. It can still easily get ideological and emotional. Unexamined this “Geniekult”—that Kraus was opposed to a certain extent during his lifetime—impairs critical thinking and contradiction. As Viertel’s example shows, however, critical thought and antithesis was not only Kraus’s most important intention but also possible with regard to his own person. This should inspire us—even though he may be canonized and thoroughly researched—to engage critically with and to reinterpret Kraus as a “cultural hero” time and time again.

 

Kathi Prager

 

post № 42

24 January 2016

 

Wittgenstein & Kraus: some speculation

In a well-known remark from 1931, published in Vermischte Bermerkungen (Culture and Value), Ludwig Wittgenstein writes that he had been influenced by Karl Kraus:

 

There is, I believe, some truth in thinking that I am really only reproductive in my thinking. I believe that I have never invented any movement of thought, but that they have always been given to me by someone else. I just passionately seized them outright for my clarification work. Boltzmann, Hertz, Schopenhauer, Frege, Russell, Kraus, Loos, Weininger, Spengler, Sraffa have influenced me in this way. Can you take Breuer and Freud as examples of Jewish re-productivity? What I invent are new Gleichnisse [my translation] (476).

 

But this remark is extremely difficult; it is excerpted from a longer remark where Wittgenstein contemplates “Jewish ‘genius,’” the “Jewish thinker,” the “Jewish mind,” and other topics worthy of earnest consideration, but all beyond the scope of this blog post. … What follows cannot be new, someone had to have written or spoken about it somewhere else; I just don’t remember ever having seen or heard it before. Be that as it may, what follows is little more than speculation any way—speculation, that is, regarding how Kraus may have possibly influenced the early Wittgenstein.

 

And this speculation becomes more questionable still because the above remark—in whole or in part—does not seem to lend itself to any head-on analytical confrontation. Wittgenstein did not write it as part of some analytical discourse. He gives no substantive indication as to what he means by “movement of thought” (Gedankenbewegung). Peter Winch translates this as “line of thought” (16e), but his translation leaves us with problems similar to those posed by Wittgenstein’s German (a mark of a good translation?). Is a “Gedankenbewegung” a movement in the sense of, say, an artistic movement or is it something else altogether? Nor does Wittgenstein give any substantive indication as to what he means by “influence.” Is Wittgenstein conflating influence with re-productivity? … And how is he using the word “Gleichnisse” here? Winch translates this as “comparisons” (ibid.), but this seems questionable, maybe even suspicious—it seems to be, as it were, too influenced by Wittgenstein’s later thinking. Could Wittgenstein mean ‘equivalencies,’ ‘identities,’ ‘analogies,’ or something else?

 

Given the difficulties here, I am prepared—for purposes of this blog post—both to ignore them and to beg any questions connected with them based upon little more than a suspicion that the Wittgenstein scholar Beth Savickey is right: an investigation concerning Kraus’s influence upon Wittgenstein may benefit from a review of Kraus’s works themselves (10). Should we be able to establish that both Kraus and Wittgenstein have or at least appear to have certain thoughts or activities in common, then we shall have provided some, even if only some possible, basis from which further and more substantial investigations can be launched. We have to start somewhere. But where? Presumably where ever it is that Kraus is supposed to have influenced the early Wittgenstein. Yet, this is not at all clear. … And the issue is, to some extent, compounded by the facts.

 

Kraus was some fifteen years Wittgenstein’s senior and had already more or less become a Viennese institution prior to Wittgenstein’s tenth birthday; Kraus launched Die Fackel on 1 April 1899 with the express aim of “draining the expansive phraseological swamp” [my translation] (F 1: 2). And it was most likely through his older sister Gretl—who, Ray Monk tells us, was “an enthusiastic reader of Kraus’s journal and a strong sympathizer of almost everything he represented” (17)—that Wittgenstein became acquainted with Kraus at some point between 1903 and 1906 while he was at the Realschule in Linz. Wittgenstein had Die Fackel sent to him between October/November 1913 and June/July 1914 while he was in Norway. On 4 July 1914, Wittgenstein contacted Ludwig von Ficker, the publisher of Der Brenner, in order to donate a considerable sum of money to artists in need (the poets Rainer Maria Rilke and Georg Trakl were among the beneficiaries), and Wittgenstein did so, so he claims, because of what Kraus had written about von Ficker in Die Fackel (see Monk 107 and F 368-369: 32). Both during and after World War One, Wittgenstein was friends with Paul Engelmann, who had personally known and worked with Kraus during the war (see Engelmann 71) and with whom Wittgenstein had discussed Kraus’s work. And, in 1918, Wittgenstein even tried, albeit without success, to get his Tractatus logico-philosophicus published by Kraus’s printer, the publishing house of Jahoda & Siegel—seemingly in the belief that its relevance to Kraus’s work ought to be apparent on its face (cf., Monk 157). …

 

While Wittgenstein neither says what this relevance is nor mentions Kraus anywhere in his Tractatus logico-philosophicus, it has long been held that this relevance consists in the critique of language. Engelmann, for instance, writes:

 

The influence which Kraus exercised on Wittgenstein cannot be easily discerned at a first glance, because Wittgenstein does not display Kraus’s most conspicuous trait of personal polemics. Wittgenstein’s polemics are completely impersonal: the adversary he contends against in the Tractatus is philosophy itself. […] In his polemics Kraus resorts time and again to the technique of taking his victim ‘at his word’, that is, of driving home his accusation and exposing threadbare intentions by the simple means of citing the accused’s own words and phrases. As Kraus in his literary polemic takes an individual adversary at his word, and through him indirectly a whole era, so Wittgenstein in his philosophical polemic takes ‘language’ itself (i.e. the language of philosophy) at its word (124-125).

 

And in their famous Wittgenstein’s Vienna, Janik and Toulmin expressly expand on this idea and argue that “even, in its own way, Ludwig Wittgenstein’s Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus” was “intimately and consciously related to, and even [an] extension[] of, the critique of language and society conducted by Karl Kraus” (93). … While this view is certainly correct, it is very broad and general. But what if we can make it more specific and back up that specificity with textual evidence? What if we can identify a relationship between some specific piece of writing which Kraus read to audiences and published during World War One, on the one hand, and the Tractatus logico-philosophicus which Wittgenstein wrote during that same war, on the other?

 

The most promising place to begin a search for such a relationship would be “In these great times,” a speech Kraus delivered on 19 November 1914 and published on 5 December 1914 in a dedicated issued of Die Fackel (F 404). It is the most promising place to begin not only because it seems reasonable that Wittgenstein would have known Kraus’s speech—after all, he was a reader of Die Fackel—but also because there seems to be additional circumstantial evidence here. In a letter to his sister Hermine dated 12 April 1917, Wittgenstein propounds a view pertaining to developments of World War One that could have been taken from Kraus’s speech, that just seems to smell of Kraus’s speech. In response to Hermine’s thoughts as to why the war had escalated, Wittgenstein intimates his belief that the escalation of the war had its cause in commerce and “a complete victory of materialism” [my translation] (Familienbriefe, letter 14). To be clear: Wittgenstein’s view in 1917 could be construed as a simple summary of Kraus’s “In these great times” of 1914. Later in that same letter, we also find a line reminiscent of a line in Kraus’s speech. Where Kraus laments our inability to imagine what has to happen at that time of war (“in these times wherein the unimaginable occurs and wherein what has to occur is no longer capable of being imagined (if it could, then it would not happen)” [my translation] (F 404: 1)), Wittgenstein responds to the news that his sister Gretl had jumped down his brother Paul’s throat by confessing his inability to imagine such a thing, and he goes on to write: “But there are just some things we are incapable of imagining” [my translation] (Familienbriefe, letter 14).

 

If we read Wittgenstein’s quip in light of Kraus’s “In these great times,” then a complicated understanding emerges, which—subject to additional biographical research—may be commensurable with the complicated relationship that seems to have existed between Wittgenstein and Gretl. … On such a reading, Wittgenstein’s quip may be indicative of his disapproval that Gretl’s behavior is completely in line with Kraus’s diagnosis of the times: the unimaginable has occurred where more imagination should have been advisable. …

 

In addition to the (admittedly highly) circumstantial evidence provided above, there also seems to be a textual relationship between “In these great times” and the Tractatus logico-philosophicus; in both works, we find a call to silence, a critique of language, and breaking with silence in order to prevent misunderstanding. Kraus opens his speech with a critique of definite language, the phrase “in these great times,” and goes on (i) to effect a further critique of his contemporaries’ language, (ii) explains his silence from July 1914 (when Die Fackel was last published prior to this speech) through 19 November 1914, (iii) claims that he is breaking his silence to prevent misunderstanding, and (iv) calls to silence in general. His speech reads in pertinent part as follows:

 

In these great times which I have known since they were this small; which shall become so again, if they are given time enough for it; and which we, because such a regressive transformation is not possible in the realm of things organic, prefer to accost as the portly and truly hard times that they are, weighing heavily on us all; in these times wherein the unimaginable occurs and wherein what has to occur is no longer capable of being imagined (if it could, then it would not happen); in these earnest times which have laughed themselves to death at the possibility that they could ever become earnest; which, surprised by their tragedy, are now longing for diversion and, having been caught in the act, are trying to find words for it all; in these loud times which are booming with the nightmarish symphony of deeds causing reports and with the nightmarish symphony of reports responsible for deeds: in these times here, you should not expect any words of my own. None, but these, which are intended to prevent my silence from being misinterpreted. Too deep is my reverence for the immutability of language, to deep my subordination to language in the face of this misfortune. In the opulent empires of impoverished imagination where human beings die of spiritual hunger without ever having felt that hunger—where quills are dipped in blood, swords in ink—what is not being thought has to be done, but what is being thought is unspeakable. Do not expect any words of my own. Nor am I capable of giving voice to any new ones because there is just so much noise in the rooms we write in, and we should withhold judgment as to whether that noise is coming from animals, from children, or simply from mortars. There are those who are advocating deeds in an act of defilement of word and deed and who are twice as worthy of contempt. Extinction has not yet befallen that profession. And having nothing to say, because it is time for deeds to do the talking, they shall continue to talk. Having something to say means stepping forward and being silent! [my translation] (F 404: 1-2).

 

In the preface to Tractatus logico-philosophicus, Wittgenstein writes that the whole meaning of his book could be summarized as follows: “what can be said at all can be said clearly, and what we cannot talk about we must pass over in silence” (Tractatus, Pears & McGuinness at 3). The Tractatus logico-philosophicus is in a very real sense a critique of language. And, in the penultimate number of that work (6.54), Wittgenstein writes that his propositions break with, stand in the stead of, silence in order to prevent misunderstanding:

 

My propositions serve as elucidations in the following way: anyone who understands me eventually recognizes them as nonsensical, when he has used them—as steps—to climb up beyond them. (He must, so to speak, throw away the ladder after he has climbed up it.)

          He must transcend these propositions, and then he will see the world aright (Tractatus, Pears & McGuinness 6.54).

 

 

In reiteration: Wittgenstein (1) read Kraus’s works; (2) believed that his Tractatus logico-philosophicus is relevant to Kraus’s work; (3) tried to get his Tractatus logico-philosophicus published with Kraus’s printer, the publishing house of Jahoda & Siegel; (4) may have seen his work as being relevant to Kraus’s “In these great times;” (5) may have provided some circumstantial evidence that he knew Kraus’s speech in words found in a letter to his sister dated 12 April 1917; and (6) calls, in his Tractatus logico-philosophicus, to silence, critiques language, and breaks with silence in order to prevent misunderstanding in a manner analogous to that found in Kraus’s “In these great times.”

 

Such speculation—poorly presented as it is—can, of course, not be satisfying in the least and would have to be worked out in greater detail, but the relationship between Kraus’s “In these great times” and Wittgenstein’s Tractatus logico-philosophicus seems to be at least plausible enough so as to encourage future analysis. … Whether that relationship proves to hold or not remains to be seen. Whatever the case, however, a full-fledged investigation along the lines speculated above promises to be interesting. Perhaps this is a beginning.

 

Peter Winslow

 

post № 41

20 January 2016

 

Kraus event in Hamburg

On 12 February 2016, a recent book entitled Detlev von Liliencron entdeckt, gefeiert und gelesen von Karl Kraus published by the Wallstein Verlag will be introduced in Hamburg, Germany:

 

Event: Detlev von Liliencron entdeckt, gefeiert und gelesen von Karl Kraus

Date: Friday, 12 February 2016

Time: 8:00p.m.

Place: Jacques’ Wein-Depot Hamburg-Hamm-Nord, Sievekingsallee 68, 20535 Hamburg, Germany.

 

If you can make it, please attend this Kraus event in the beautiful Free and Hanseatic City of Hamburg.

 

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

 

post № 39

21 December 2015

 

New translation: Two runners

Two runners” is a translation of a poem that Kraus first published without a title in a 1910 edition of Die Fackel (F 300: 32); Kraus went on to publish it verbatim in two other works of his: in his second volume of aphorisms Pro domo et mundo in 1912, again without a title (283), and in the first volume of his Worte in Versen in 1916, this time under the title “Zwei Läufer” (12). It is from this last publication that both our translation and the four previous English translations of this poem have received their title. … This is to say that our translation is, to the best of our knowledge, the fifth English translation of this poem. Harry Zohn included a translation in his In These Great Times: a Karl Kraus reader (151). Josef Schächter included a translation in the preface he wrote for the English edition of Paul Engelmann’s Letters from Ludwig Wittgenstein: With a Memoir (quoted in Szasz’s Anit-Freud: Karl Kraus’s Criticism of Psychoanalysis and Psychiatry (55)). And Edward Timms has translated this poem twice, once in his Karl Kraus, Apocalyptic Satirist: Culture and Catastrophe in Habsburg Vienna (232-233) and once in his Karl Kraus, Apocalyptic Satirist: The Post-War Crisis and the Rise of the Swastika (613). Why, then, does the world need a fifth translation of this poem?

 

The answer is that all four previous translations are deficient in some way: they, in various degrees, do not retain the meter, the rhyme, and/or the form of the original German. Our translation retains all these to the extent possible in translation; our translation (i) bears deviations in meter similar to the deviations contained in the original, (ii) retains the AA/BB/CC/DD rhyme scheme of the original, and (iii) retains both the form of an arrow and the visual and acoustic mirror between the first two and the last two lines of the poem. … Yet, our translation does more than that; it also takes into consideration Kraus’s apparent reliance upon Shakespeare for certain choices of word and a direct quote from Philipp Kaufmann’s German translation of Othello. …

 

But we will be discussing this and more in—what we believe is—a novel interpretation of this poem, which we will be sharing in a separate blog piece once we finish it. … We hope before very long.

 

Brigitte Stocker and Peter Winslow

 

post № 38

21 December 2015

 

Kathi Prager joins a bit of pitch

Kathi Prager, a researcher at the Ludwig Boltzmann Institute for the History and Theory of Biography and the Vienna City Library, has agreed to join Brigitte and me here at a bit of pitch. She is currently responsible for reorganizing the Karl Kraus Archive and creating/editing Karl Kraus Online. At a bit of pitch, Kathi will be blogging, among other topics, about the Kraus-Kreis and its interactions with other creative circles active in Vienna in the early twentieth century. Her first blog piece will be published sometime in early 2016. Beyond blogging, however, Kathi will also be helping us do research for translations and other blog posts.

 

Please join us in welcoming Kathi to a bit of pitch. We are very glad to have her on board!

 

post № 37

1 December 2015

 

a bit of pitch – a translation panel

a bit of pitch is expanding. The impetus for this expansion is an idea that Brigitte Stocker, a Vienna-based translator and Kraus expert specialized in the later Kraus, puts forth in an up-coming paper where she explores certain issues surrounding Karl Kraus in English translation.

 

Her idea consists in a new form of translating that involves not only the translator and the text, but a panel of translators and researchers collaborating online. The translation that emerges online would be seen as a work in progress to be enhanced not only by professional translators and English native speakers, but also by advanced readers, researchers, and Kraus experts who can help decode (i) literary allusions, (ii) documentary material, (iii) historical events, and (iv) local details, which Kraus included in his writings (see Austrian Studies, Vol. 23 (2015)).

 

Brigitte has agreed to join me here at a bit of pitch in an attempt to implement her idea in these pages. In a word, a bit of pitch is now expanding into a translation panel. The inaugural translation panel effort will be a translation of Kraus’s poem “Zwei Läufer” (“Two Runners”). Stay tuned! We plan to post the translation before very long. In the meantime, you can follow Brigitte on Twitter here.

 

We are also looking for additional translators and researchers who are interested in collaborative translation work whose sole objective consists in providing good English translations of Karl Kraus’s work. If you are interested, please send an e-mail to pwinslow@abitofpitch.com.

 

Please join me in welcoming Brigitte to a bit of pitch!

 

post № 36

16 November 2015

 

Working on Jonathan Franzen’s »The Kraus-Project«

On 19 November 2015, Paul Reitter, Professor in the Department of Germanic Languages and Literatures at Ohio State University, will be speaking about his contribution to Jonathan Franzen’s The Kraus Project in Vienna, Austria. You can read the event program in German here.

 

Event: Working on Jonathan Franzen’s »The Kraus-Project«

Date: Thursday, 19 November 2015

Time: 7:00p.m.

Place: Lesesaal der Wienbibliothek, Rathaus, Lichtenfelsgasse entrance, Stiege 6, 1st floor, A-1010 Vienna, Austria

 

If you can make it, please join the good folks in Vienna for this important Kraus event.

 

post № 35

31 October 2015

 

Karl Kraus online

It is an exciting time to be interested in Karl Kraus. Karl Kraus online was launched on 27 October 2015 with the first of three “chapters.” These “chapters,” clusters of documents and materials, are organized under the rubric “Der Vorleser,” “Die Rechtsperson,” and “Der Herausgeber.” Given that only “Der Vorleser” has been completed to date, this project is to be understood as a work in progress; yet, this understanding ought not mislead us into misunderstanding its importance. Karl Kraus online is the result of an on-going and ambitious collaborative venture between the Wienbibliothek im Rathaus and the Ludwig Boltzmann Institut für Geschichte und Theorie der Biographie with a two-fold objective. On the one hand, it seeks to re-organize the Karl Kraus Archive and, on the other, it seeks to offer a material-based online (anti-)biography of Karl Kraus (see here for a full description in German). The idea is as simple as it is brilliant.

 

The idea is to make Karl Kraus accessible and surveyable (vermessbar) online. For the first time, we can investigate, from the comfort of our own studies, Kraus material hitherto accessible only in the Karl Kraus Archive in Vienna. For the first time, we can determine on the basis of publically available documentary evidence who helped organize Kraus’s public readings, which writings Kraus read on which dates, where he read them, who commented on Kraus’s readings in letters, and who reviewed them in newspapers. But there is more. … While original recordings and video of Kraus reading from his own writings have been available both online and off for some time now, these recordings and video are available for the very first time all in one place—namely, in a documentary context where connections between Kraus, the writings read, the venue, and more can be identified, explored, and understood in all their complexity.

 

All in all, Karl Kraus online is a very welcome addition to the world of Kraus enthusiasts and scholars alike. But stay tuned. The cluster “Die Rechtsperson” is scheduled for completion in 2017 and “Der Herausgeber” in 2019. In the meantime, however, we—as users of Karl Kraus online—shall have time enough to get to know Karl Kraus the reader.

 

post № 34

18 October 2015

 

a bit of pitch turns one

One year ago, 15 October 2014, I launched www.abitofpitch.com with just three translations from Karl Kraus’s Die Fackel: “In praise of an inverted way of life,” “Politics,” and “Morality and criminal justice.” Since then, I’ve added two additional essays, ten glosses, two selections of aphorisms, and three poems. I have even begun work on a translation of Kraus’s wonderful and important speech “In these great times,” but have unfortunately not been able to find the time to finish it; I’ll get there soon enough. … All in all, however, I am quite satisfied with my output over the last year, especially given both that I have a full-time job (I am the head of translation at a boutique translation agency specialized in legal translation) and that a bit of pitch is a hobby website.

 

I launched a bit of pitch in the belief that Kraus is doing something with and in his writings which is worthy of our attention and understanding. One of Kraus’s greatest achievements—and I am not the first person to say so—consists in his forcing us to read slowly and, by extension, to understand written texts in a manner commensurate with the facts and elements of a given situation. His writings show that this kind of understanding is often surprising and humorous, but they also show that this kind of understanding is often very difficult.

 

This belief and the fact that only a handful of his writings had appeared in English translation in the past were reason enough to embark on my own translations of Kraus’s writings; my express aim was and is to make more of them available in English. … I shall keep on keepin’ on. And I hope that you too shall continue to read my blog and translations of Kraus’s writings. Thank you for your interest in Kraus and my work. I greatly appreciate both.

 

post № 33

19 September 2015

 

New translation: Half-asleep

Half-asleep” is a translation of the poem entitled “Halbschlaf” (F 474-483: 81) and is, to the best of my knowledge, the first English translation of this poem. Should this be false, kindly let me know where I can find an existing translation. I would be very interested in reading it.

 

Happy reading!

 

post № 32

6 September 2015

 

Presentation of the on-line biography of Karl Kraus

On 27 October 2015, the on-line biography of Karl Kraus shall be presented at the Wienbibliothek in Vienna, Austria. You can read the event program in German here. The event will include (i) a joint greeting from Sylvia Mattl-Wurm, director of the Wienbibliothek im Rathaus, and Wilhelm Hemecker, director of the Ludwig Boltzmann Institut für Geschichte und Theorie der Biographie; (ii) a presentation of the Kraus on-line biography by Katharina Prager of the Ludwig Boltzmann Institut für Geschichte und Theorie der Biographie at the Wienbibliothek; (iii) a film of Karl Kraus reading “Die Raben” (it starts at 4:45 here), which shall be introduced by Brigitte Stocker; and (iv) a reading by Robert Reinagl, an actor at the Burgtheater in Vienna.

 

Event: Presentation of the on-line biography of Karl Kraus

Date: Tuesday, 27 October 2015

Time: 7:00p.m.

Place: Lesesaal der Wienbibliothek, Rathaus, Lichtenfelsgasse entrance, Stiege 6, 1st floor, A-1010 Vienna, Austria

 

If you can make it, please join the good folks in Vienna for this important event. I, for my part, am hoping to be there (if I can get the time off from my day job).

 

post № 31

26 August 2015

 

New translation: Confession

Confession” is a translation of the poem entitled “Bekenntnis” (F 443-444: 28) and is, to the best of my knowledge, the first English translation of this poem. Should this be false, kindly let me know where I can find an existing translation. I would be very interested in reading it.

 

Happy reading!

 

post № 30

25 August 2015

 

Karl Kraus: artists, solutions, and riddles

On 5 October 1915, Karl Kraus published the following aphorism: “Künstler ist nur einer, der aus der Lösung ein Rätsel machen kann” (F 406-412: 138). One English translation of this aphorism has—so it would seem—become the most proliferated mistranslation of any Kraus aphorism in English. The mistranslation omits the word ‘nur’ (‘only’), turns ‘Künstler’ (‘artist’) into ‘writer’ and ‘Lösung’ (‘solution’) into ‘answer,’ and reads: “A writer is someone who can make a riddle out of an answer” (see here, here, and here for just three examples). In a word, this mistranslation constitutes a crass misrepresentation of the aphorism that Karl Kraus published on 5 October 1915.

 

This mistranslation gives rise to the impression that Kraus is defining what a writer is. But Kraus does no such thing. On the one hand, this aphorism does not pertain particularly to writers (Schriftsteller); it pertains generally to artists (Künstler)—a group that includes writers, painters, actors, actresses, etc. On the other, the impression that Kraus is offering a definition can arise only if we (i) view this aphorism in isolation from other texts where Kraus opines on art as an endeavor in contravention to established norms of reasoning and (ii) ignore the tone of the aphorism. … What follows is therefore an attempt to set the record straight on two counts. The first count consists in brief and non-comprehensive exegesis showing what this aphorism might mean. The second count consists in a discussion of both the tone of this aphorism and a true and complete translation of it, which is compatible with the letter and spirit of Kraus’s text. First things first…

 

I.

Kraus’s aphorism quoted above appears in the Die Fackel as part of a compendium consisting of various texts—aphorisms, poems, inscriptions (Inschriften), and a monolog of the Grumbler (Nörgler)—all set under the title “Nachts” (F 406-412: 94-168). It reappears verbatim at the end of chapter II of a separate work also entitled Nachts, a collection of aphorisms first published in 1919; that chapter bears the title “Kunst” (“Art”). And while Kraus does not reproduce this aphorism verbatim in any later editions of Die Fackel or—to the best of my knowledge—in any other writings, he does hold fast both to the letter and to the spirit of this aphorism in two other pieces: (i) in an inscription entitled “Analysis” from October 1925 (F 697-705: 91) and (ii) in an essay entitled “The Rhyme” from April 1927 (F 757-758: 36). … Not in any of these four places in Die Fackel does Kraus stray from the thought that it is artists (and not writers) who are capable of turning solutions (and not answers) into riddles.

 

The beginnings of this thought appear to go back to the first half of 1912. In his essay “Nestroy und die Nachwelt” (“Nestroy and posterity”), first published on 13 May 1912 (F 349-350: 1-23), Kraus laments:

 

For our understanding failed to understand that it was indeed capable of growing within a generation once it was removed from mind and spirit, but that it would and did lose its ability to propagate itself upon that removal having been effected. If two times two is really four, as they claim it is, then this product is owed to the fact that Goethe has written the poem “Meeresstille.” But now we know what two times two is with such exactitude that we shall become incapable of doing the math ourselves in a hundred years hence. Something hitherto non-existent must have gotten into the world. A devil’s work of humanity. An invention for shattering koh-i-noor in order to provide its light to any and all who do not have it. For fifty years now, the machine has been running, that machine where mind and spirit are put in the front in order to come out the back as print, dilutive, disseminative, destructive. The givers lose, the presentees become poor, and the middlemen are meant to live. An intermediary entity has been established to trip up the values of life in entangled conflict with one another. It is subject to that blight of intelligence that art and mankind make their peace… [my translation] (F 349-350: 2-3)

 

The thought that artists can turn solutions into riddles has its beginnings in the interplay between cultural goods (poems, art) and mathematics. And on 19 September 1913—ca. one and one-half years later—Kraus expands on the idea of an interplay between cultural goods (art) and mathematics. As in May 1912, Kraus believes that art is of primary import for understanding mathematics/logic and, by extension, for our ability to reason. He writes:

 

Logic is art’s enemy. But art may not be logic’s enemy. 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. [my translation] (F 381-383: 72)

 

Here, Kraus conflates logic with mathematics (justifiably or not) and asserts the truth of a mathematical contradiction in terms. He believes that art and logic/mathematics are not mutually exclusive and that art ought to be used in our reasoning; because they are not mutually exclusive, we may doubt the veracity of neither. That much seems to be clear. Yet, it is unclear as to how art is (to be) used in our reasoning, what role it plays, and how it gets us to two times two is five.

 

‘Digested’ is an earthly, even beautiful, metaphor, but a metaphor all the same. Absent any true understanding of Kraus’s view here, it will remain difficult to say what he means. … But maybe Kraus does not mean anything more than that art ought not to inform our reasoning solely for the purpose of riddling out solutions to problems. Maybe he means nothing more than that art ought also to inform our reasoning for the purpose of riddling out solutions per se: viz., the solutions themselves ought to be riddles given the facts of the problem or situation. It is in this spirit that Kraus’s aphorism—“Künstler ist nur einer, der aus der Lösung ein Rätsel machen kann”—is to be understood. Kraus’s view seems to be that solutions of artists’ can be riddles in contravention to established norms of reasoning. … But what does that mean? Is it a call for finding new ways of thinking and reasoning? I don’t know. Nor am I sure that anyone really does.

 

Whatever it means, it is unlikely to suffice as a definition. Admittedly, Kraus’s view could conceivably be brought into the form of a definition. But definitions require more than just the right form; they also require clarity and coherency, and it is unclear whether Kraus’s view is clear or coherent in any way which may satisfy the criteria of a definition. When shall we know whether something has satisfied this definition? Incertitude seems to be built into it. Established norms of reasoning apply, but they may not lead us to correct outcomes. When and how shall we know whether we have gotten something right? … Yet, neither the lack of clarity, nor the lack of coherency, nor the built-in incertitude ought to take away from the beauty or the importance of Kraus’s aphorism, whatever it means.

 

II.

Like most of his writings, Kraus’s aphorism is intended to provoke and to incite us to our own thoughts. Yet, understanding the particular provocation or incitement requires that we understand both the text and the tone of the particular aphorism. … To understand Kraus’s aphorism as a definition would be to misunderstand its tone. Such misunderstanding is understandable in the English-speaking world if for no other reason than that Harry Zohn, a forerunner in Kraus translation and a brilliant translator in his own right, has also translated Kraus’s aphorism as a definition. His translation reads: “Only he is an artist who can make a riddle out of a solution” (Zohn 51). (As an aside: my discussion of Zohn ought not to be understood as negative criticism of Zohn; it’s not, nor is it intended to be. It is critical engagement with him. If we are going to make mistakes—and we all make mistakes—then we should all strive to make the kind of mistake that Zohn makes here: i.e., a mistake that is well thought-out, critically engaged, and based upon the (textual) facts.)

 

Zohn’s translation is, in one sense, a true and complete translation; he translates all the text accurately: he translates ‘Künstler’ as ‘artist’ and ‘Lösung’ as ‘solution,’ and he does not omit the word ‘nur’ (‘only’). But Zohn misses the tone; his translation does, at any rate, not capture it in English. While Kraus’s aphorism is doubtless to be read as an insight into what artists are, his tone suggests a kind of resignation. I read “Künstler ist nur einer” as “An artist is only someone”—I read this, that is to say, as Kraus throwing up his hands, shrugging his shoulders, and raising his voice a bit, as if he were saying “that’s as good as I’m going to get it, I’m done.” This is not the tone that definitions are made of. This is the tone that challenges are made of. It is as if Kraus were saying: “leave it be or do it better.” Kraus is provoking us; he is inciting us to think about artists, solutions, and riddles. But how do we get this provocation and incitement into English? How do we improve on Zohn’s translation?

 

A true and complete translation of this aphorism—i.e., a translation true to the letter and spirit of the text—might run: “An artist is only someone who is capable of turning solutions into riddles” [my translation]. This translation is combatable with other texts from Kraus such as the excerpt from “Nestroy and posterity” and the “logic is art’s enemy” aphorism quoted above. And its tone is one of provocation and incitement. It forces readers, so I would like to believe, to read it as if they were throwing up their hands, shrugging their shoulders, and raising their voices a bit.

 

post № 29

14 August 2015

 

New translation: A sentence

A sentence” is a translation of the gloss entitled “Ein Satz” (F 324-325: 24) and is, to the best of my knowledge, the first English translation of this gloss. Should this be false, kindly let me know where I can find an existing translation. I would be very interested in reading it.

 

Translating this gloss has been a real challenge. Kraus is mocking a run-on German sentence by re-creating a run-on German sentence with a polemical interplay of form and content. This interplay has been extremely difficult to capture in English because of the differences in grammatical structures in English and German (specifically subordinate clauses). While I would very much like to believe that I have captured this interplay, I am too close to the material to reach any truly objective assessment. Whatever the case, the objective of my translation has been to re-create—to the extent possible and desirable—the experience that I have and that I believe others had to have had in reading Kraus’s gloss in German. I hope you enjoy this translation as much as a German speaker might the original.

 

Happy reading.

 

post № 28

21 July 2015

 

A Karl Kraus timeline: 1874-1899

What follows is a timeline without any claim to novel information; it is not even the fruits of any original research. The aim has been but to provide a consolidated compendium of comprehensive, but non-exhaustive facts of Karl Kraus’s life between 28 April 1874 and 1 April 1899. The aim, that is, has been to provide—in my own words and translations—the fruits of others’ labors, which have hitherto been dispersed throughout various publications, all in one place and in an easily comprehensible format. It is my hope that further timelines covering later time periods will follow in the future near or far. But first a word on what follows.

 

The events in Kraus’s life which are set forth below appear in chronological order and are broken down by year and date. While the events themselves and the years in which they took place are, to the best of my knowledge and belief, established fact in Kraus studies, some of their dates are given as “unknown”—identified with an em dash (—) in the table below. This mark is meant only to suggest that I do not know and have hitherto been unable to identify them. It is not meant to suggest that the specific dates of the events are unknowable; I have placed them wherever they seem to make the most sense within the given year. Should anyone have any definite information regarding the dates of any “unknown” events below or should anyone identify—contrary to expectation and belief—any information as incorrect, please contact me (pwinslow@abitofpitch.com). I would be glad to hear from you.

 

 

1874 28 Apr. Karl Kraus is born to Jacob and Ernestine Kraus as the ninth of ten children. Kraus’s older siblings are, in chronological order, Emma (5 April 1860), Richard (November 1861), Louise (22 July 1863), Malwine (14 August 1865), Alfred (18 May 1867), Gustav (1869-1871), Joseph (1 February 1871), and Rudolf (3 October 1872).
1875 12 Dec. Kraus’s sister Marie “Mizzi” is born as the last of ten children.
1877 The Kraus family moves to Vienna, near Stadtpark.
1880 Kraus begins elementary school at the Volksschule in Vienna.
1884 Kraus finishes elementary school.
  autumn Kraus begins his studies at the Franz-Joseph-Gymnasium.
1887 spring Kraus calls at the home of Professor Heinrich Stephan Sedlmeyer, his professor at the Franz-Josef-Gymnasium, to request help with his “German style.” Sedlmeyer gives him a style book, albeit reluctantly. Sedlmeyer reports that he believed Kraus to be holding himself back more than anyone else.
1888 ca. Apr. Hugo Bettauer reports that Kraus received “a magnificent-looking work for his fourteenth birthday. Some atrociously beautiful book with kitschy illustrations, bound in red with gilt edging” [my translation] (quoted in Aus großer Nähe 39). Kraus exchanges it “for something by Shakespeare” (ibid.). (You can read more here.)
  various Kraus performs in various theater productions at the Gymnasium.
1891 22 Aug. Kraus participates in a charitable event in Baden bei Wien. Schick reports that Kraus performed a “humorous imitation intermezzo In der Burgtheaterkanzlei.”
  24 Oct. Kraus’ mother, Ernestine, dies suddenly; her death hits Kraus very hard. He begins to act out, and his grades begin to suffer.
1892 Apr. Kraus’s first print publication appears: a book review of Gerhart Hauptmann’s Die Weber in the April edition of the Wiener Literatur-Zeitung.
  Kraus meets the group Jung Wien, which includes Hermann Bahr, Arthur Schnitzler, Richard Beer-Hofmann, Felix Salten (of Bambi fame), and others.
  spring Kraus graduates from the Franz-Joseph-Gymnasium, but just barely because of his conduct, which had worsened considerably since his mother’s death—but on the same day as Hugo von Hofmannsthal; the two meet at Beethovenplatz to celebrate their “release.”
  2 Sept.

Kraus publishes “Notizen” in Das Rendezvous, which contains an announcement of Maximilian Harden’s launch of his periodical Die Zukunft.

Maximilian Harden—the notorious “Apostata,” known for his critical work in Theofil Zolling’s Gegenwart—is founding a new periodical in Berlin, which shall be published by Stilke: Die Zukunft. Whoever knows Harden, and this number should not be few, shall know what to think of this new endeavor, which in its universality shall exceed all kindred journals. Such a periodical had to come about, and we gladly welcome its founding and wish Harden the best of luck. A shame, though, that everything great, modern, and epic in literature must ever come from Germany. In Austria, there is still nothing astir [my translation] (FS I 35).

  21 Oct. Kraus holds his first public reading and sends the program to Detlev von Liliencron, whom Kraus admires. Kraus and Liliencron carry on friendly correspondence, and the two meet each other personally soon thereafter.
  Dec. Kraus matriculates at the University of Vienna to study law at the behest of his father. But he does not attend any seminars because he spends most of his time at Café Griensteidl.
1893 14 Jan. Kraus plays Franz Moor in Rudolfsheimer’s production of Schiller’s The Robbers and is just horrible. He promises Arthur Schnitzler that he will never act again.
  9 Feb. In response to numerous inquiries—so runs the title of the brief article—Kraus announces an anthology of contemporary satire, which he never completes.
  Mar.

Kraus dislikes the dishonesty he perceives as prevalent at Café Griensteidl. He writes a letter to Schnitzler:

I hated and hate this false, feigned “decadence,” ever self-indulgent; I fight and will always fight this posing, morbid, and masturbatory poesy! [my translation] (quoted in Schick 29).

  9 May Kraus publishes “Zur Ueberwindung des Hermann Bahr” in Die Gesellschaft—an open attack on Hermann Bahr, which took even Bahr’s opponents such as Liliencron by surprise.
  8 June In a letter to Kraus, Liliencron counsels caution in matters relating to Hermann Bahr and advises that Kraus’s tone in his “Zur Ueberwindung des Hermann Bahr” was too harsh.
  Aug. Kraus gives a public reading of Gerhart Hauptmann’s Der Weber in Bad Ischl, which is received very well.
1894 Jan. Kraus publishes four articles in the Berliner Neuteste Nachrichten.
  Mar. On the strength of his January articles, Harden invites Kraus to write for Die Zukunft. Kraus sends in a number of articles, but Harden doesn’t publish any of them; Kraus shows no hard feelings. He begins corresponding with Harden.
  Kraus switches degree programs from law to German studies and philosophy. This switch is the cause of a conflict between Kraus and his father. Kraus temporarily moves in with Felix Salten.
  Kraus befriends Peter Altenberg. Altenberg tells a rather humorous tale of how the two became friends: namely, that he won Kraus over by breaking out in song while the two were in Ebensee on route to Traunkirchen: song “Heini von Steyer,” lyrics by Keller, music by Engelsberg.
1895 Kraus endeavors to end the conflict with his father by implementing a kind of damage control policy.
  ca. June Kraus switches cafés from Café Griensteidl to Café Central.
  12 June Kraus publishes a review of Gröger’s Adhimukti in the Neue Freie Presse, where he lampoons Schnitzler, Beer-Hoffmann, and Hofmannsthal. They begin to distance themselves from Kraus.
  6 Nov. Schnitzler reports that he and the others—presumably all of Jung Wien—have fully disassociated themselves from Kraus.
1896 Kraus sends a package of Peter Altenberg’s writings to S. Fischer Verlag in Berlin—“behind my back,” as Altenberg tells it. S. Fischer publishes them in what becomes Altenberg’s first book: Wie ich es sehe.
  15 Nov. First installment of Kraus’s biting satire “Die demolierte Literatur” appears in the Wiener Rundschau.
  1 Dec. Second installment of “Die demolierte Literatur” appears in the Wiener Rundschau.
  14 Dec. Salten boxes Kraus’s ears in a coffeehouse because of Kraus’s attack on him in “Die demolierte Literatur.” Schnitzler reports that Salten’s attack was a welcome sight to all.
  Dec. Kraus sees Annie Kalmar perform in Maurice Donnay’s Die Verliebten. This is the first performance by Kalmar, which Kraus is documented as having attended.
1897 1 Jan. Third and final installment of “Die demolierte Literatur” appears in the Wiener Rundschau.
  25 Feb. Salten is ordered by the court to pay 20 fl. for boxing Kraus’s ears.
  Apr. Kraus sees Kalmar in Gerhardt Hauptmann’s Der Biberpelz at the Deutsches Volkstheater.
  5 Apr. Kraus publishes his review of Gerhardt Hauptmann’s Der Biberpelz and claims: “The production of Der Biberpelz has rehabilitated the Deutsches Volkstheater for its years of non-literary output” [my translation] (FS II 42).
  Apr. Kraus sees Kalmar in Richard Nordmann’s Die Liebe at the Deutsches Volkstheater.
  26 Apr.

Kraus publishes his review of Richard Nordmann’s Die Liebe where he juxtaposes Die Liebe with another play, which was also put on at the Deutsches Volkstheater, Roberto Bracco’s Pietro Caruso. Kraus writes:

The performance had surely done its part in contributing to the flop [the production of Die Liebe], but it is of more literary import than Roberto Bracco’s success will ever be [my translation] (FS II 53).

  summer Kraus personally meets and befriends Harden in Karlsbad.
  4 Sept.

Kraus writes to his oldest brother, Richard, to inform him that he has written to their father to wish him happy birthday. Kraus also thematizes the familial conflict and suggests that it was of a general nature characterized by fundamentally incompatible dispositions: writer and businessperson, art and commerce. Kraus writes:

Because I am in the happy position that my reason revolts from time to time, I am supposed to believe that I have some defect of the mind? It is owing to the smartest and most tender of policies which I adopted some two years ago that I have been curbing my temperament and doing everything I can not to let the divide between our family sphere and my endeavors get any larger than it already is. You will not believe me when I assure you that carrying out these tactics is often tantamount to martyrdom for me. You and the others can, of course, find common ground with father, in commerce; even differences, insofar as there were any, could at worst be of a singular and specific nature [my translation] (quoted in Marbacher Katalog 34-35).

1898 Kraus drops out of college.
  Kraus becomes editor (Chroniqueur) of Die Wage, a weekly.
  25 July

Kraus writes to Die Welt, a Zionist weekly published by Theodor Herzl, seeking a correction to a previously published candidate list for the “Zionistencongress” where Kraus’s name was included. Erwin Rosenberger, a co-worker of Herzl’s, refuses to print any correction and reports that Kraus was

disgruntled because his correction request was not published in Die Welt. Disgruntled and uneasy. Could it not be possible that people will actually come to believe that Karl Kraus is a party member of the Jewish State movement? … That had to be avoided [my translation] (Rosenberg, quoted in Aus großer Nähe 52-53).

  Sept. Kraus publishes “Eine Krone für Zion”—inter alia to clear up any confusion regarding what he thinks about Zionism.
  Nov.? Kraus ends his work with Die Wage.
1899 Jan. Kraus begins preparations for his own journal and eventually receives help from his older brother Richard and his father. The former advises on material matters, the latter provides the paper for the initial numbers of the journal and grants Karl a loan of 1,000 Gulden.
  12 Jan. In response to a letter from Kraus (I haven’t been able to find it), Harden declares that he is willing to help Kraus—in an advisory capacity—in founding his own journal.
  Jan. The liberal Neue Freie Presse catches wind of Kraus’s intention to launch his own journal and uses Harden to broker a job offer: the Neue Freie Presse offers Kraus a job as satirist—to fill Daniel Spitzer’s position, which had been vacant since his death in 1893. Kraus turns it down.
  Feb. Kraus sees Kalmar perform in Theodor Herzl’s Unser Kätchen.
  Feb. Kraus writes to Harden and advises him that his journal will appear in the spring of 1899.
  13 Feb.

Harden responds and advises against the spring for various reasons and proposes that the fall would be more conducive to any new journal. Harden goes on to advise not just on material and substantial matters (paper, title, introductory article, etc.), but on the Neue Freie Presse’s offer to Kraus. Harden writes:

Spitzer II: not to be dismissed. Suggest to [Moriz] Benedikt that you write one article a month from now forward. And then do the Laterne as of 1 October (without telling Benedikt of course) [my translation] (quoted in Marbacher Katalog 39).

  Feb. Kraus writes to Harden and advises that, despite Harden’s advice, he will launch his journal in the spring and that he will not be taking the post at the Neue Freie Presse.
  17 Feb. Harden responds to Kraus and reiterates his advice regarding both the spring as launch date and the offer from the Neue Freie Presse.
  11 Mar. Kraus writes to Harden and advises that his journal will launch either on 18 March or 1 October. Kraus asks whether Harden would write a “few introductory words or something of the like” [my translation] (quoted in Marbacher Katalog 40).
  Mar. Harden writes to Kraus pressing further that October is the better launch date.
  25 Mar.

Kraus writes to Harden. Kraus informs Harden, among other things, that he would have followed the latter’s advice if the publisher had only given in and that the publisher did not want Kraus to worry about administrative matters. Kraus goes on:

[the publisher] is guaranteeing everything, says that the prosperity of any journal in Austria (if it is not a review) is dependent upon other factors than in Germany and—is publishing Die Fackel on either Tuesday or Wednesday. […] You will be getting the first printed copy of Die Fackel. No. 1 will contain a foreword, then an article showing how I came to Die Fackel and sketching the milieu in which I have hitherto been active (Wage, etc.). Then 5-6 political notes, further 1 big article on the Viennese clique/brood nesting between press, theater, and society. At the end, theater and various other glosses, reviews, etc. [my translation] (quoted in Marbacher Katalog 40).

  29 Mar. Kraus is plagued by self-doubt, and he imagines the scathing criticism his journal may receive: “Aha, he’s dancing to Harden’s tune. A rip-off of a well-known archetype, etc. [my translation] (quoted in Marbacher Katalog 41). At 7:00p.m., Kraus sends Harden the first printed copy of Die Fackel.
  1 Apr. Kraus launches Die Fackel. The first number is essentially comprised of the writings Kraus announces to Harden in his letter dated 25 March 1895.

 

 

post № 27

9 July 2015

 

Karl Kraus’s brother Rudolf Kraus

On 1 July 2015, I posted to Twitter and Facebook that three of Karl Kraus’s siblings (Emma, Louise, and Rudolf) possibly died in the Holocaust and that I would report more once I have more information. … I have some: while I am still trying to find out more regarding Kraus’s sisters, Emma and Louise, both Edward Timms and Friedrich Pfäfflin confirm that Rudolf died at Auschwitz-Birkenau in 1943. He was 71 years old.

 

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.

 

post № 25

18 June 2015

 

Fred Bridgam to read Kraus in London

On Sunday, 21 June 2015, Fred Bridgam, retired senior lecturer in German at the University of Leeds, will be reading Karl Kraus in English translation as part of a pre-concert talk at King’s Place, London. While Kraus is not listed on the site linked to, the good folks behind the Swept Away twitter account have assured me that Kraus will indeed be included.

 

For those of you who don’t know, Fred Bridgam is co-translating Kraus’s The Last Days of Mankind into English with Edward Timms, the renowned Kraus scholar. Amazon.de is accepting pre-orders and has listed the publication date as 24 November 2015. Kraus enthusiasts have been waiting for a full-length English translation of Kraus’s magnum opus for a long time. The wait is almost over.

 

In the meantime, attend the pre-concert talk.

 

post № 24

1 June 2015

 

New translation: A prejudice, a premature judgment

A prejudice, a premature judgment” (1913) is a translation of the gloss entitled “Ein Vorurteil” (F 378-380: 24) and is, to the best of my knowledge, the first English translation of this gloss. Should this be false, kindly let me know where I can find an existing translation. I would be very interested in reading it.

 

This gloss is, in a number of ways, classic Kraus. He begins with an apparently harmless report supported by certain evidence (an eye-witness account), proceeds to measure that report against the facts, and finds it wanting. The author of the report claims to have seen and heard Ms. Pasqué on stage. But the report is incommensurate with the facts—not because the eye-witness account of the performance somehow gets the facts of the performance wrong; Kraus even admits that they’re right. The report is incommensurate with the facts because it itself is not what it purports to be: it purports to be an eye-witness account of a performance, but no eye had been capable of bearing witness to that performance. It is, as it were, a true lie in praise of dulcet tones and art, but a lie all the same. The truth is all that matters and is no matter here—a wonderful play by Kraus.

 

post № 23

26 May 2015

 

Karl Kraus and Annie Kalmar: part one

Karl Kraus met the actress Annie Kalmar at some point, presumably, between 28 April 1900 and 25 June 1900. We do not seem to know much about her life prior to this time. We know that Annie Kalmar was her stage name and that she was born as either Anna Elisabeth Kaltwasser, as her mother called her (Wie Genies sterben 91), or Elisabeth Kaldwasser, as her Wikipedia entry reads, or Anna Elisabeth Kaldwasser, as Timms gives it (72). Despite the uncertainty of her birth name, it seems certain that she was born on 14 September 1877 in Frankfurt am Main, Germany, to one Dorethea Kaltwasser. We do not seem to know who her father is. But Kalmar does seem to have developed an early interest in the theater before she left for Vienna to train with Rosa Keller-Frauenthal at the Deutsches Volkstheater. She entered into a five-year contract at the age of seventeen to be, so she claims in her first letter to Kraus in 1899, a “showpiece and extravaganza prop for cheap French comedies” (Wie Genies sterben 11) [my translation]. And she performed in no less than twenty-eight plays between 14 September 1895 and 28 April 1900 (see Wie Genies sterben 12)—between, as it would happen, her eighteenth birthday and Kraus’s twenty-sixth birthday.

 

Kalmar seems to have settled into her personal and professional lives in Vienna rather quickly. By September 1896, she is documented as associating, and possibly being friends, with fellow actress Olga Dvořak; she even frequented the same coffeehouses that Kraus and the members of Jung Wien did. Though she and Kraus did not become acquainted with each other until 1900, she did know Arthur Schnitzler and Felix Salten (of Bambi fame). Indeed, Schnitzler seems to have known her well enough that, in a diary entry dated 10 September 1896, he was able to make a general derogatory comment about her intelligence: “There [in the coffeehouse], Theodor Pollak, Salten, Robicek, Ms. Kalmar.– Olga Dv. as usual, drunk. Kalmar gorgeous, dumb, flirtatious” (216). And, in 1897, we find Kalmar trying to convince Emmerich von Bukovics, the then director of the Deutsches Volkstheater, that she had outgrown her role as a “showpiece and extravaganza prop.”

 

In a surviving letter fragment from that year, Kalmar complains to von Bukovics that she is up to “bigger tasks” and that she has been prevented from doing anything “befitting of [her] actual profession” (Wie Genies sterben 9) [my translation]. She goes on:

 

As you know, Director, my contract with your stage has about three years left, and I am […] kindly requesting that, beginning now, you gradually give me better and more important engagements (ibid.) [my translation].

 

Yet, whether von Bukovics had really so prevented her and whether the reasons for his actions were personal, professional, or other remains unclear. Whatever the case may be, we do not—to the best of my knowledge—hear anything more about Kalmar’s time at the Deutsches Volkstheater until some point in 1900 when tensions between her and von Bukovics came to a head during rehearsals for an Othello production, which Kalmar never got to perform in—possibly after she met Kraus (cf., Wie Genies sterben 15-16).

 

In an undated letter to von Bukovics, she protests an insulting letter from him and requests that she be immediately released from her duties at the Deutsches Volkstheater:

 

In response to your insulting and impertinent letter from the 16th of this month, I am requesting that you immediately release me from my duties. […] I am also requesting that you tell me what the situation is that you cite in your letter. I am aware that I was quite nervous and irritable on the days we had our Othello rehearsals, and I must tell you that this was the precursor to a very serious illness. Having anything more to do with your institute would disgust me, and I am urging you to grant my request that I be immediately released from my duties (Wie Genies sterben 15) [my translation].

 

While we know that her “very serious illness” was tuberculosis, we can only speculate as to what “situation” von Bukovics had mentioned in his letter to Kalmar. The “situation” may just be—as intimated in her letter above—that Kalmar was “nervous and irritable.” It may be—although it is not at all clear how probable it is—that Kalmar showed up to the rehearsals drunk; her drinking seems to have been widely known and was, as we shall see in another post, even mentioned in a scandalous editorial in the Neues Wiener Journal on 13 April 1901, less than one month before she died (see Wie Genies sterben 58). The “situation” may also have been something else entirely. We just don’t know. Nor do we seem to know anything more as to why remaining at the Deutsches Volkstheater would have disgusted her.

 

 

At the time Kalmar was dealing with her issues, Kraus was dealing with his own. His life at the time was, in a very real sense, characterized by conflict and development. In 1892, he matriculated at the University of Vienna and began studying law at the behest of his father; in the summer of 1894, however, he switched to the humanities in order to study philosophy and German after having already made a name for himself as a theater and literary critic. This switch “had,” so Schick, “presumably been one of the reasons for a familial conflict” which saw Kraus “temporarily move from his father’s apartment to stay with a friend” (31) [my translation]. That friend was Felix Salten, whom we shall encounter again in another post, but in a much different capacity. And a letter from Kraus to his oldest brother Richard dated 4 September 1897 suggests that this familial conflict was of a general nature characterized by fundamentally incompatible dispositions: writer and businessperson, art and commerce. Kraus writes:

 

Because I am in the happy position that my reason revolts from time to time, I am supposed to believe that I have some defect of the mind? It is owing to the smartest and most tender of policies which I adopted some two years ago that I have been curbing my temperament and doing everything I can not to let the divide between our family sphere and my endeavors get any larger than it already is. You will not believe me when I assure you that carrying out these tactics is often tantamount to martyrdom for me. You and the others can, of course, find common ground with father, in commerce; even differences, insofar as there were any, could at worst be of a singular and specific nature (Marbacher Katalog 34-35) [my translation].

 

The familial conflict, that is to say, endured through some time in 1895 and came to an end—if Kraus is to be believed—only after he had adopted a kind of damage control policy in contravention to his natural disposition. In 1895, at the time he is adopting this policy, he publishes only ten articles—well less than half of his publications in 1892, 1893, and 1894. And it is possible that this reduction in publications is connected with Kraus’s familial conflict.

 

Yet, his familial conflict was not the only one Kraus was having at the time. His writing was also becoming a source of conflict with his friends and acquaintances. He had been associating with the members of Jung Wien as early as 1893, which included Arthur Schnitzler, Felix Salten, Hermann Bahr, Richard Beer-Hoffmann, Hugo von Hofmannsthal, and others. And Kraus’s association with them seems to end invariably in various conflicts at various dates. On the 12 June 1895, for instance, Kraus published a review of Fannie Gröger’s Adhimukti in the Neue Freie Presse; he writes in pertinent part:

 

Ms. Gröger shall bring a welcome change into this, our young Austria where the talents sit so close to one another at the coffeehouse table that they mutually impede each others’ development” (FS I: 218) [my translation].

 

While, on the surface, this remark appears to be little more than a general swipe at Jung Wien, it was more than that. It had clear targets. In a diary entry of the same date, Schnitzler notes that Kraus’s remark is a clear reference to him, Beer-Hoffmann, and von Hofmannsthal. And Kraus’s relationships with the members of Jung Wien seems to deteriorate from here—so much so in fact that, just five months later, in a diary entry dated 6 November 1895, we find Schnitzler noting that he and the others no longer associate with Kraus. The ultimate break, however, came a year later—in November and December 1896—with the publication of the first two parts of “Die demolierte Literatur.”

 

“Die demolierte Literatur” is Kraus’s first full-fledged satire and arguably where he found his voice…

 

[To be continued]

 

post № 22

23 May 2015

 

A brief note: The Last Days of Mankind

Paulus Manker, an Austrian film director, actor, author, and screenplay writer, is hoping to bring parts of Karl Kraus’s The Last Days of Mankind to a stage in Wiener-Neustadt between now and 2019 and then to perform the entire play in 2019—on the occasion of the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Republic of Austria. The Kurier has published an interview with Manker where he briefly discusses this project. You can read that interview in German here.

 

While Manker hints that his production of The Last Days of Mankind is still taking shape, the initial public rehearsals are scheduled to take place in August. ——This project will certainly be one worth keeping an eye on. And I will be doing so. Let us wait and see what comes of it.

 

post № 21

7 May 2015

 

Kraus’s nieces and Arthur Schnitzler

In a diary entry dated 4 July 1910, Arthur Schnitzler notes that he saw two young ladies, Kraus’s nieces, at Schönbrunn, who claimed to know—because Kraus is supposed to have told them so—that Peter Altenberg was

 

well-to-do, even rich, and that, while he was sick, he hid his money under his headboard (Kopfpolster)—and this is supposed to be the reason he didn’t want to get up. (?) On this account, then, all his begging would have to be traced back to some perfectly pathological parsimony (159) [my translation].

 

Schnitzler believes not a word. He seems perplexed and slightly amused. His question mark is one of the most expressive I’ve ever seen in print; it seems to be saying “who could believe such a thing.” And he goes on to demonstrate with a hyperbolic (even rude) reductio ad absurdum precisely why that account ought to be regarded as non-sense.

 

Non-sense aside, however, and assuming that Kraus’s nieces are telling the truth (i.e., that they were not just pulling Schnitzler’s leg): did Kraus ever say such a thing in earnest? It is difficult to believe that he would have. He was good friends with Peter Altenberg and certainly knew him well enough to know that he was, as a matter of fact, neither well-to-do nor rich. But would Kraus have ever said such a thing in jest? The story is ridiculous enough that it may have been intentionally contrived, perhaps as some kind of a bad joke, perhaps to play on his nieces’ credulousness. Kraus did, on occasion, play on people’s credulousness (cf., F 445-453: 5), and he did, at times, go to great lengths to have a bit of fun at someone else’s expense. He prank-called Alfred Kerr everyday for an entire week, and he and Sigismund von Radecki set up a somewhat elaborate scheme to catch out a couple of private detectives hired by Imre Békessy (you can read about these two episodes here). And the story has non-sense lurking directly beneath the surface in a way that may have appealed to Kraus—perhaps in the same way that patently fake editorials being sent to and published in newspapers of repute had appealed to him (cf., F 336-337: 5-9). Just think of all the things that would have to be true in order for this story to be true; it would have to be true that Kraus really said it in earnest, that Altenberg really was well-to-do or rich, that Altenberg was faking his poverty, that at least one person knew and held in (general?) confidence that Altenberg was faking his poverty, that a considerable sum of cash fits in a Kopfpolster, that Altenberg really hid his money there, and that there was some connection between Altenberg’s illness and his bed beyond the obvious. But this is all speculation.

 

And none of it suffices to establish that Kraus did, either in fact or with any probability, tell his nieces the story which they claim to have heard from him. And until more information comes to light proving or disproving Schnitzler’s account, we are left with but an amusing diary entry and some speculation. We can take it or leave it.

 

post № 20

18 April 2015

 

Literaturmuseum in Vienna

This is just a quick note of reminder that the Literaturmuseum opened this weekend in Vienna. The pictures going around the Twittersphere look amazing—there’s even a doll of Kraus holding an issue of Die Fackel. You can see it here. And I am very much looking forward to visiting the Literaturmuseum on my next trip to Vienna.

 

post № 19

5 April 2015

 

Paul Schick: Karl Kraus’s subjective moments

In December 1965, Paul Schick published a short monograph comprising some 170 pages and entitled Karl Kraus mit Selbstzeugnissen und Bilddokumenten. While there is, regrettably, no English translation of this monograph, it underwent at least eleven editions through 1999. And for good reason: Schick is quite good at making and keeping Kraus interesting; he is especially good at chasing up connections between Kraus the person and Kraus’s work. Schick even goes so far as to claim that Kraus’s “fight [against the corruption of the mind (Geist)], which made up his life, emanated from his own experiences, exercised influence over them, and was stimulated by them time and again” (9).

 

Schick refers to such personal experiences, influence, and stimulation as “subjective moment[s]” and claims that they are “evident even in notes of facts that have no apparent reference to Kraus himself” or “in outwardly objective glosses” (ibid.). Yet, the brevity of Schick’s monograph means that he has space only to show that there are connections between certain subjective moments and Kraus’s work; it means that he has no space to go into them in any detail. Despite the brevity and the restricted space, however, Schick engages in considerably rich discussions regarding Kraus, which very often rely upon and attempt to link together three kinds of evidence: biographical, personal (subjective moments), and empirical.

 

Of course, Schick’s discussions never present the evidence as neat and clean as all that; they very often involve complex, cross-pollenating thematizations of different aspects of Kraus and his work. And of course this division of evidence, too, has its issues. But it is helpful; it helps us understand the value of Schick’s contribution to our understanding of Kraus, which—to the best of my knowledge—has gone more or less unnoticed in biographies of and biographical discourse regarding Kraus, where the focus has, by and large, remained on Kraus’s views and activities as satirist and publisher of Die Fackel. Let me give one example from Schick’s monograph to illustrate his contribution.

 

Schick cites certain biographical evidence given by Helene Kann (69), whom Kraus met in Bad Ischl in 1904 and with whom he remained close friends until his death in 1936. Kann recalls a work habit of Kraus’s; she writes:

 

[Kraus] seemed to work out a clear view of an entire event before he said anything about it. Based upon his silence, often spanning a time period of several days, we would know that he was going to write about the event. When he was done thinking, he would, in long debates, state his position to his friends, refute objections, and rebut with glaring logic any arguments that seemed incorrect to him (Aus großer Nähe: Karl Kraus in Berichten von Weggefährten und Widersachern 183) [my translation].

 

On the basis of Kann’s biographical evidence, Schick intimates the existence of a link between Kraus’s thinking in silence before writing and Kraus’s public silence between 10 July 1914 and 19 November 1914, the date on which Kraus publically broke his silence about the war and delivered his speech “In these great times.” While Kraus’s silence during this time is complex and includes both his abhorrence of the war and his relationship with the Baroness Sidonie Nádherny von Borutin, Schick sees a subjective moment capable of explaining more than the mere fact that the outbreak of World War I had caused Kraus’s silence; he sees a subjective moment capable of explaining the personal reasons behind Kraus’s silence at least between July 1914 and August 1914.

 

Schick claims that Kraus, “plagued by apocalyptic visions,” had a sense of what was to come and that the outbreak of the war had, for that very reason, hit him quite hard (75)—so hard, in fact, that he had to travel to Innsbruck in order to speak with friends about it. Schick writes:

 

In August 1914, Karl Kraus traveled to Innsbruck in order to speak with friends. In private talks, he expressed his abhorrence of the war, but he still underestimated just how long it would endure. His anticipation at the time that the war would be over in two years meant that his friends believed him to be a pessimist; no one believed that the war could have went on for more than a year. “In such cases, however, we are capable of working only with apocalyptic, and not with any mathematical, precision” (F 462-471: 171), Kraus went on to confess in the third winter of war (76) [my translation].

 

On Schick’s view, then, the outbreak of World War I was—to borrow from Kann’s register—an event that Kraus was unclear about, and it is because Kraus was unclear about such event that he is silent about it between July 1914 and August 1914. There is certain textual evidence in “In these great times” that supports not only Schick’s view, but also the contention that Schick’s view seems to provide an accurate accounting of Kraus’s silence through 19 November 1914 (cf., the entire first paragraph of that essay). In a word, Schick is telling an intricate story where Kraus’s work habits, world events, and his fears about those events seem to have motivated both his public silence and his trip to Innsbruck.

 

While Schick’s view certainly seems plausible, a discussion more comprehensive than the one he provides would be required to show whether it is true or false. His story leaves us with a palpable absence of information; he does not mention Kraus’s friends by name, although Ludwig von Ficker, writer and publisher of Der Brenner, was presumably among them. He does not mention to what extent, if any, Kraus’s relationship with Nádherny contributed to Kraus’s silence during this time. The sudden citation of Die Fackel raises more questions than it answers: e.g., to what extent is Kraus’s recollection from 1917 (the “third winter of war”) representative of or congruent with his actions in 1914; to what “cases” is Kraus referring? And the structure of Schick’s paragraphs and narrative here leaves unanswered whether Kraus’s trip to Innsbruck is—on a personal level—commensurate with or constitutes a break from his work habit regarding events in the world, as described by Helene Kann: did Kraus go to Innsbruck with an already formed opinion or did he go to Innsbruck to get help from his friends in forming such an opinion?

 

Be that as it may: the value of Schick’s contribution to our understanding of Kraus does not depend upon the truth or falsity of any particular story he is telling or trying to tell. The value of Schick’s contribution is a requirement for our method of investigation: namely, that we do justice to the intricacies of the biographical, the personal (subjective moments), and the empirical facts of Kraus’s life and work whenever it is possible to do so. Schick’s monograph has shown that exploring these intricacies are capable of leading to a fuller and richer understanding of Kraus than has hitherto been the case, which in its turn leads to a better understanding of his work.

 

post № 18

26 March 2015

 

Karl Kraus & his biography: what’s in a life?

While this blog is not the place to provide an overview of the landscape of biographical discourse on Karl Kraus, it is a good place to provide the beginnings of a general statement on a general characteristic of that discourse: namely, that Kraus’s life is, not to put too fine a point on it, an often neglected aspect of his biography. At present, the most accessible biographical discourse on Kraus is often tantamount to discussions of his views and activities as satirist and publisher of Die Fackel—so much so, in fact, that (1) Friedrich Rothe could call his well-done German academic study of Kraus not just a biography, but the biography and (2) Edward Timms’s wonderful two-volume academic study of Kraus has been confused for a biography on at least one occasion.

 

This is not to suggest that certain biographical facts of Kraus’s life are not well-documented and accounted for. Of course they are. Kraus was born in Jičín, northeast of Prague, on 28 April 1874, he and his family moved to Vienna in 1877, and so on. But lives consist of more than just facts, and a discussion of the views and activities of a satirist and publisher does not a biography make, however interesting those views and activities may be.

 

The reason that Kraus’s life is often absent from his biography may be that Kraus the man is a just a poor subject of a biography. It may be that the interesting aspects of his life consist in little more than the views he cultivated and the activities he engaged in as a satirist and the publisher of Die Fackel and that everything outside of those aspects is worthy of little more than a simple accounting for the sake of completeness. But that does not seem to be the case. The 2008 compendium entitled Aus großer Nähe: Karl Kraus in Berichten von Weggefährten und Widersachern, edited by Friedrich Pfäfflin and published by the Wallstein Verlag, suggests otherwise. The anecdotes and reports complied there suggest that, while doubtless separate from one another, Kraus’s life and Kraus’s work are interrelated with points of contact and overlap. And there is, to the best of my knowledge, no biography of or biographical discussion regarding Kraus that has addressed these interrelations in any detail.

 

What follows are two anecdotes illustrative of these interrelations. They are obvious, but raise the kinds of questions that need to be asked, if we are ever going to get a picture of Kraus richer than his views and activities as a publisher.

 

Heinrich Fischer reports that Kraus prank-called Alfred Kerr, the Berlin-based theater critic and essayist, every day for an entire week. Kerr and Kraus were in the midst of a dispute; Kraus was in Berlin for a few weeks after having struck the last blow (“Der größte Schuft im ganzen Land” (F 787-794: 1-208)), and Kerr had announced his intention to respond, though he never did. Fischer remembers:

 

And every afternoon after our meal at Kempinski—for an entire week—Kraus would get up, mischievously place his finger on his lips, and whisper: “Your word, you can’t tell anyone.” And then he and I would go to the phone booth to call Alfred Kerr (Aus großer Nähe 149) [my translation].

 

Fischer goes on to tell of two calls where Kraus pretended to be an attorney from Kurfürstendamm (Berlin) and a bookstore employee from Saxony who was just passing through Berlin—Kraus’s skills for mimicry and imitation are well-known and documented. Once he got Kerr on the line, Kraus would introduce himself in character, praise Kerr as a great literary figure, and ask Kerr what he planned to do about “that Viennese upstart” Karl Kraus (ibid.) [my translation]. Kerr would get all riled up, and Kraus would pass the receiver to Fischer, so that the latter could “enjoy the angry monolog coming from the other end of the line” (ibid.) [my translation].

 

Fischer’s account of these prank calls suggests that they were more than just good fun for Kraus, although they were certainly that as well. His account also suggests that Kraus had wanted to give Kerr a bit of encouragement (Fisher even uses the word later on), so that Kerr might get his response to Kraus published sooner rather than later. There seems to be a concrete relationship between Kraus’s written satire and his life. But what is it? How prevalent is it? And how are we supposed to understand that relationship?

 

Another anecdote that raises the same and similar questions has come down to us from Sigismund von Radecki. In the mid-1920’s, Kraus led a fight against Imre Békessy, a corrupt journalist and publisher known, among other things, for pay-to-play schemes. And Békessy pulled out all the stops against Kraus. He printed retouched and falsified photos of Kraus as a cripple and alcoholic (Aus großer Nähe 23). He even went so far as to hire detectives to stake out Kraus’s apartment. Radecki remembers that he and Kraus came up with an idea to have a bit of fun at the detectives’ expense:

 

With the detectives lurking behind the bushes, I was supposed to go to Kraus’s apartment door carrying a briefcase and, right before I got to the door, to open it, to look for something inside, and to drop a letter on the sidewalk, as if by accident. Then, from the window, we were going to watch the detectives jump for the letter and open it. But the letter didn’t contain anything more than a piece of paper with a single sentence written on it: “Hinaus aus Wien mit dem Schuft!”—Unfortunately, the detectives were afraid of being so obvious about taking the letter (Aus großer Nähe 273-274) [my translation].

 

post № 17

20 March 2015

 

New translation: Night, selected aphorisms

Night” constitutes but the beginning of what shall become a larger selection of Karl Kraus’s aphorisms in English translation from the time period between 1912 and 1919—the time period serving as the basis for Kraus’s third and final volume of aphorisms entitled Nachts. As such, the title given to this selection of Kraus’s aphorisms here may be somewhat misleading. Kraus not only published the aforementioned volume of aphorisms under that title, he also published selections of aphorisms in Die Fackel under that title (see F 360: 1-25, F 376-377: 18-25, and F 381-383: 69-76, for instance). The selection of aphorisms presented here all originate from Die Fackel—be it the aforementioned “Nachts” pieces or other selections of aphorisms published in Die Fackel between 1912 and 1919. And this selection makes no claim to being a complete translation of either Nachts, Kraus’s final volume of aphorisms, or any other selection of aphorisms published in Die Fackel. The title is intended only as an indication of both the context of these aphorisms and the time period in which they were written and published.

 

post № 16

12 March 2015

 

New translation: A misunderstanding

A misunderstanding” (1911) is a translation of the gloss entitled “Ein weitverbreitetes Mißverständnis” (F 338: 1-2) and is, to the best of my knowledge, the first English translation of this gloss. Should this be false, kindly let me know where I can find an existing translation. I would be very interested in reading it.

 

Because my English translation of the title is not a literal translation of the German and because it is not readily identifiable to German-speakers as a translation of this gloss, I would like to say a quick word about my decision to opt for a non-literal translation here.

 

The German title might be rendered literally as “[a] widespread misunderstanding.” I have, however, opted to abbreviate and to rearrange the structure of the title in English for the purpose of tone. It seems to me that “[a] misunderstanding spread far and wide […]” renders the tone of this gloss more faithfully than a literal translation would. A literal translation would—so I would venture—even set the wrong tone and be a bit choppy stylistically in the context of this gloss. Admittedly, these are subjective considerations, and my decision here is a subjective one. Yet, it also satisfies two metrics common to any good translation: accuracy and completeness. These are no doubt complicated metrics, and unpacking them would be beyond the scope of any blog post introducing a translation. But suffice it to say that my understanding of accuracy includes, as hinted at above, the tone of the text, such that I strive—almost without exception—to render the tone of Kraus’s writings faithfully in my English translations of his writings.

 

Whether I have been successful is not for me to say. I am too close to the material. But I can hope.

 

Happy reading.

 

post № 15

8 March 2015

 

New translations: two very short glosses

While I am finishing up my translations of “In these great times” and “A misunderstanding” (the latter is a fine gloss by Kraus), I have gone ahead and translated two very short glosses and finally gotten around to publishing them here at a bit of pitch. They are: (1) “After numerous requests,” a gloss lampooning Harden, a favorite target of Kraus’s, and (2) “The censor in Prague,” a gloss pointing out the ineffectual nature of banning performances of Shakespeare—everyone can just go read him.

 

Happy reading!

 

post № 14

8 March 2015

 

The Wittgenstein Initiative

The Wittgenstein Initiative is a Vienna-based independent non-profit with a mission as ambitious as it is important. The Wittgenstein Initiative aims to harness the originality of quintessentially Viennese thinkers whose visions were proffered in the hope of effecting real change in the world. One of these thinkers is Ludwig Wittgenstein, the namesake of the Initiative. Others include Karl Kraus, Adolf Loos, Sigmund Freud, Friedrich von Hayek, and Arnold Schönberg. And it is in the spirit of these thinkers and cultural change-makers that the Wittgenstein Initiative is seeking to move us towards re-conceptualizing and re-experiencing our engagement with the world through art and thought (see its Vision & Mission).

 

As such, one of the explicit motivations behind the Wittgenstein Initiative is Wittgenstein’s belief that poetry and the arts can teach us more than science by itself ever could. This belief means—so it seems to me—that effecting personal and societal understanding of an inter-connected and integrative nature is of paramount importance to life; it means a multitude of mutually enriching interactions between intellectual endeavors. As the names above suggest, the Wittgenstein Initiative is looking to past interactions for insight and instruction on how to move us forward. These past interactions include, but are by no means limited to, those that philosophy has had with literature and architecture (Wittgenstein, Kraus, and Loos), philosophy with psychology (Wittgenstein and Freud), literature with architecture and vice versa (Kraus and Loos), economics with philosophy (von Hayek and Wittgenstein), and music with literature (Schönberg and Kraus).

 

For this reason and others, the Wittgenstein Initiative is an exciting one and promises to become more exciting still. A survey of its events as of the date of this post are enough to convince me of that: Ludwig Wittgenstein, the Great War and the Unsayable, Wittgenstein and MusicAllusions and Quotes in Ludwig Wittgenstein’s Writings; and Friedrich von Hayek.

 

Go and have a look-see. You can find out more about the Wittgenstein Initiative here and join it here.

 

post № 13

21 February 2015

 

Karl Kraus’s letters to Baroness Sidonie Nádherny

Karl Kraus’s letters to Baroness Sidonie Nádherny von Borutin are beautiful, sad, and loving. And it is difficult to read them without tearing up from time to time. That there is no English translation of Kraus’s 1,065 known letters to Nádherny is an unfortunate fact of the English-speaking literary world. The Wallstein Verlag has published a wonderful two-volume German edition entitled Briefe an Sidonie Nádherny von Borutin: 1913-1936. The first volume contains Kraus’s letters to Nádherny, the second volume appendant material: an essay by Elias Canetti, writings by Nádherny herself, an informative timeline of the relationship between Kraus and Nádherny, and more.

 

I suspect that these letters have not been translated into English because only Kraus’s letters to Nádherny have survived; Nádherny’s letters to Kraus have not. And because Nádherny’s letters have not survived, we do not have Nádherny’s voice in this correspondence. Having only one side of a two-sided correspondence makes it difficult to know how we are to understand this or that letter in German, which in turn makes it is difficult to know how we would have to render this or that letter in English. This difficulty suggests that there are (perhaps insurmountable) risks of uncertainty in reading and translating these letters. These risks are enough to make any translator leery.

 

Still, an English translation of selected letters from this correspondence would be a welcome addition to the English-speaking world. I do not mean to suggest that reaching a selection would be easy; it would not be (my head spins just thinking about it). I do think, however, that a well-done selection would be well worth the effort and difficulties.

 

May someone think the same and get this project started.

 

post № 12

31 January 2015

 

Update: In these great times

My vacation has come and gone, and I have still not finished my first draft of Karl Kraus’s “In these great times.” I do not have any good reasons, and I will spare you all the bad ones. Please know that I am making progress, but this progress is very slow. “In these great times” is an extremely difficult text; harmonizing the tone, for instance, has proven to be more difficult than it has on any other translation I have ever worked on.

 

Since I will not be able to complete this translation by March 2015, I thought that readers might like to see what I have been able to get into workable form so far. It is not much—only the second paragraph (some 1,500 words). Do feel free to have a look-see. You can read it here.

 

Happy reading!

 

post № 11

28 January 2015

 

A brief note: three views on satire and violence

Like Charlie Hebdo, Kraus’s satire is at times intentionally offensive. And he gave offense in the quite personal knowledge that satire can result in a physical attack on the satirist: Kraus himself was attacked on several occasions. On one such occasion, Felix Salten—who, as you may know, will go on to write Bambi—boxed Kraus’s ears as a response to Kraus’s satire “Die demolierte Literatur.” And in a diary entry dated 15 May 1896, Arthur Schnitzler reports that the assault was a welcome sight to everyone at the coffee house that the incident took place in. On another such occasion, Kraus was assaulted shortly after the launch of Die Fackel. In a “Statement of Accounts” closing out the first quarter of Die Fackel (F 9: 27), Kraus lists anonymous hate mail (236), anonymous threats (83), and assaults (1). Kraus goes on to cite a “beloved loudmouth,” a member of “Concordia or something,” as having stated that “Herr Kraus shall have to change his writing style a bit, if he places any value on surviving the first quarter of his Fackel.”

 

These two incidents and the responses to them intimate two views of satire and violence which may have been acceptable in Vienna at the turn of the twentieth century. On the one hand, Schnitzler seems to be of the view that violence is sometimes a welcome response to satire whenever it results in Schadenfreude occasioned by socially accepted retribution for hurt pride. On the other, the “beloved loudmouth” seems to be of the view that violence is sometimes an inevitable response to satire, a kind of professional hazard that the interests of self-preservation should make it advisable to avoid. I do not know whether these two views have any adherents today or whether they have been modified by scholars, intellectuals, or the public at large. But I do know that the attack on Charlie Hebdo and the murder of its staff have been the occasion of a new view on satire and violence. In any event, it is a view that I have never heard and am unfamiliar with. And I am presenting it here without comment.

 

In his “The Limits of Satire,” Mr. Tim Parks, an associate professor of literature and translation at IULM University in Milan, offers us the view that the staff of Charlie Hebdo appear to have provoked their own murders by having failed at art and satire. Mr. Parks writes:

 

Since satire has this practical and pragmatic purpose [i.e., to bring about change through ridicule], the criteria for assessing it are fairly simple: if it doesn’t point toward positive change, or encourage people to think in a more enlightened way, it has failed. That doesn’t mean it’s not amusing and well-observed, or even, for some, hilarious, in the way, say, witty mockery of a political enemy can be hilarious and gratifying and can intensify our sense of being morally superior. But as satire it has failed. The worst case is when satire reinforces the state of mind it purports to undercut, polarizes prejudices, and provokes the very behavior it condemns. This appears to be what happened with Charlie Hebdo’s images of Muhammad (third paragraph).

 

Mr. Parks’s view of the satirist as a sometimes suicidal provocateur is a novelty. He seems to believe that the failings of satirists’ cause them not to be the occasional victims of violence, but to be the occasional victimizers of themselves through other people. He seems to believe that failed satirists sometimes commit suicide by violent maniac at involuntary times and places—in the case of Charlie Hebdo, at work just before noon.

 

post № 10

15 January 2015

 

New translation: The cross of honor

The cross of honor” (1909) is a translation of “Das Ehrenkreuz” (F 272-273: 2-5) and is, to the best of my knowledge, the third English translation of this essay. Harry Zohn, one of the forerunners in Kraus translation, translated this essay and included it in his anthology In These Great Times: A Karl Kraus Reader. Frederick Ungar, another forerunner in Kraus translation, also translated this essay and included it in his anthology No Compromise: Selected Writings of Karl Kraus.

 

Why, then, does the world need another translation of this essay? The answer is two-fold and probably unsatisfactory. On one hand, there is the subjective reason that both Zohn and Ungar have not handled certain stylistic issues very well. Their Kraus is just not the Kraus I know and love. On the other, there is the objective reason that both Zohn and Ungar have each translated this essay not only with at least one inconsequential omission for reasons that are simply indiscernible to me, but also with certain mistakes that are simply uncharacteristic of their work in general. A translation rectifying these issues seems justified. And I have attempted to provide that translation.

 

post № 9

6 January 2015

 

More translations: glosses, aphorisms, and a poem

Today, a bit of pitch has taken its first step towards building out this website and providing the beginnings of a selection of Karl Kraus’s writings that may one day be able to pass for a more or less representative picture of Kraus’s activities as the writer and publisher of Die Fackel. Since 15 October 2014, a bit of pitch has published a small number of Kraus’s essays. Today, a bit of pitch is proud to present a small number of Karl Kraus’s other writings in English translation: namely, three glosses, a short selection of aphorisms, and one poem. First things first.

 

1.     Kraus’s glosses: (a) Kraus published what must be thousands of glosses in the pages of Die Fackel. As of the date of this post, only a handful of these have appeared in English translation: namely, in Harry Zohn’s In These Great Times: A Karl Kraus Reader and in Frederick Ungar’s No Compromise: Selected Writings of Karl Kraus. (b) Kraus’s glosses treat of almost every conceivable topic, such that a representative thematic selection would be difficult, if not impossible, to achieve. Yet, in keeping with an objective of Frederick Ungar’s, I shall be endeavoring to select glosses that are characteristic of or informative for Kraus’s activities as writer. Glosses selected for English translation shall therefore include, but certainly not be limited to, those with which Kraus is playing with language in the service of a given objective, commenting on his own activities as writer, teasing out latent or non-obvious meanings in the words of others’ (often in the form of an unmasking), and mixing/commingling these and other activities. (c) While a number of the glosses published in Harry Zohn’s In These Great Times: A Karl Kraus Reader and in Frederick Ungar’s No Compromise: Selected Writings of Karl Kraus could be re-translated to reflect certain advancements in translation, I shall be concentrating on getting hitherto untranslated glosses into English. Accordingly, the three glosses presented here have not appeared in English translation outside of a bit of pitch and constitute the beginning of what shall become a larger selection of glosses. They are: “A Viennese manslaughter” (1911), a translation of “Wiener Totschlag” (F 321-322: 22-23); “Far be it from me to read Professor Bernhardi” (1913), a translation of “Fern sei es von mir, den Professor Bernhardi zu lessen” (F 368-369: 1-4); and “The World War was just their fault” (1925), a translation of “Sie sind bloß am Weltkrieg schuld” (F 686-690: 79).

 

2.     Kraus’s aphorisms: (a) Kraus published three volumes of aphorisms: Sprüche und Widersprüche, Pro domo et mundo, and Nachts. As of the date of this post, only one full volume of the these three volumes has appeared in English translation: Jonathan McVity’s English translation of Sprüche und Widersprüche, artfully rendered as Dicta and Contradicta. In addition to McVity’s full-length translation, a number of other selected aphorisms has appeared in English translation: namely, in Harry Zohn’s Half-Truths and One-And-A-Half Truths: Selected Aphorisms and in Frederick Ungar’s No Compromise: Selected Writings of Karl Kraus. (b) The themes that Kraus addresses in his aphorisms are various and range—as evidenced, for instance, by the tables of contents of Sprüche und Widersprüche, Pro domo et mundo, and Nachts—from women and morality; to the press, politics, and stupidity; to reading and writing; to society, journalists, and psychoanalysis; to art and artists; to Vienna and Berlin, and beyond. While achieving a representative thematic selection of Kraus’s aphorisms is theoretically possible, it is practically very difficult for a number of reasons, including the requisite background knowledge that would necessitate exasperating explanatory matter. My solution? Abandon my selection to whim and a subjective evaluation of what counts as a quality aphorism by Karl Kraus. (c) Because Mr. McVity’s Dicta and Contradicta is a competent translation of Sprüche und Widersprüche, the aphorisms included in that volume shall not be re-translated and published here at a bit of pitch. There is—quite simply—no need to do so. The selected aphorisms presented here have been culled from the pages of Die Fackel, hail from the time period between 1909 and 1912—the time period serving as the basis for Kraus’s second volume of aphorisms, Pro domo et mundo—and constitute the beginning of what shall become a larger selection of aphorisms in English translation. I have collected them under the title “Pro domo et mundo” so as to indicate the context in which and time period from which they originate.

 

3.     Kraus’s poem: (a) During his lifetime, Karl Kraus published nine volumes of poems, his Worte in Versen. As of the date of this post, no full volume of Worte in Versen and only a number of poems has appeared in English translation: namely, in Albert Bloch’s collection of poems (which I have read of, but not been able to locate), in Harry Zohn’s In These Great Times: A Karl Kraus Reader, and in Frederick Ungar’s No Compromise: Selected Writings of Karl Kraus. (b) Like Kraus’s glosses and aphorisms, Kraus’s poems treat of a wide range of themes: nature, language, hypocrisy, animals, experiences of all kinds, and so on. I shall be selecting poems for translation by using the same method that I use to select aphorisms for translation: whim and a subjective evaluation of what counts as a quality poem by Karl Kraus. (c) Because the poems that have appeared in English translation to-date are, in my opinion, done quite well, I do not intend to re-translate them. There is—quite simply—no need to do so. The first poem presented here in English translation has not yet appeared in English translation and constitutes the beginning of what I hope shall become a larger selection of poems. The poem is entitled “The labyrinth” (1916) and is a translation of “Der Irrgarten” (F 443-444: 29).

 

post № 8

24 December 2014

 

In these great times: a work in progress

As I announced on a bit of pitch’s Facebook page on 25 October 2014, I have been working on an English translation of Karl Kraus’s initial response to the outbreak of World War I—his speech “In dieser großen Zeit,” which he delivered on 19 November 1914 at the Mittlerer Konzerthaussaal in Vienna and published on 5 December 1914 in No. 404 of Die Fackel. Following Zohn, I have kept the English title as “In these great times.”

 

Because my day job and other responsibilities have kept me from doing any serious work on this translation (November and December always bring very heavy workloads), I thought it might be interesting to publish, before the new year, what I have been able to get into working form: namely, the opening paragraph. You can read it here.

 

My plan is to finish the first complete draft of this speech between 5 January 2015 and 19 January 2015, when I am scheduled for a two-week vacation. Assuming that I can, in fact, finish my first draft during those two weeks, the finished translation will, with some probability, go live sometime in February 2015 or March 2015. Stay tuned.

 

post № 7

22 December 2014

 

An abridged gloss

The German version of the gloss below runs some 1,200 words; it appears here in abridged translation for two reasons. First, Kraus commingles—as is just barely hinted at (and quite possibly not very happily) in the translation below—Luther-Deutsch and literary German throughout this gloss. Second, translating such commingled German is beyond the abilities of the present translator, who has enough problems with getting the latter into readable English.

 

But why translate this excerpt at all? This gloss, in general, and this excerpt, in particular, presents a direct statement from Kraus himself regarding at least one aim that he intentionally pursued in his use of adversarial quotes and citations.

 

———

 

Far be it from me to read Professor Bernhardi

for were I to read it, then I would feel compelled to quote it, and were I to quote it, then you would know how to read it. For you all know that the things you find pleasing elsewhere suddenly take on a different face here by becoming what they are. For an angel appeared to me and said: go, and quote them. So, I went and quoted them. And am capable of exposing existences to starvation simply by letting them repeat verbatim what got them riches in the first place. And verily, I say unto you, I possess a sketch by Salus, which was published in the Sunday Zeit. And if I reprint it here, Europe’s countenance would get all long from the solicitude, and it would be as before the war. But I am not going to do it, as I am a decent human being. I use these secret powers that enable me to make German and Austrian authors contemptible before God and man only after having given due consideration to the matter. Schnitzler’s time has not yet come. […]

Karl Kraus (F 368-369: 1-4)

Translated by Peter Winslow

 

post № 6

14 December 2014

 

An episode from Kraus’s youth

The following is an anecdote by Hugo Bettauer regarding an episode that took place sometime around Kraus’s fourteenth birthday in 1888. It is an excerpt from the very interesting and well-done compendium entitled Aus großer Nähe: Karl Kraus in Berichten von Weggefährten und Widersachern, edited by Friedrich Pfäfflin and published by the Wallstein Verlag (2008). Each report/anecdote in this book is prefaced with the author’s name and an editorial liberty in the form of a brief description. The following anecdote bears the one-word description “Exchange” and can be found on page 39 of the book.

____

 

[…] Kraus’s honesty is strange, a way of just telling the truth that has the effect of hurting anybody who finds themselves surrounded by conventional lies as early as adolescence.

For example, I remember that Kraus and his brother (who was just one year older than he was) would do a Jause-meet with their friends from school almost every afternoon under the large and bulgy kerosene lamp. And they gave Kraus a magnificent-looking work for his fourteenth birthday. Some atrociously beautiful book with kitschy illustrations, bound in red with gilt edging. The donors, who had certainly meant well, were not exactly amused when, just a few days later, Kraus told them pan-faced that he went to the bookstore and exchanged it for something by Shakespeare. They felt that to be completely tactless. Even if he did not like the book with the gilt edging, they said, he would have to keep it anyway, say how much he liked it, and even claim that he had enjoyed reading it. That’s just how it’s supposed to go. [my translation]

____

 

This is just one of the many wonderful stories about Kraus in Aus großer Nähe: Karl Kraus in Berichten von Weggefährten und Widersachern. There is, unfortunately, no English translation of this book yet. If you can read German, however, then you should read this book. You will not be disappointed.

 

post № 5

26 November 2014

 

New translation: Citing Austria’s psychology

Citing Austria’s psychology” (1906) is a translation of “Zur Psychologie Österreichs” (F 209: 1-7) and is, to the best of my knowledge, the first translation of this piece. Should this be false, kindly let me know where I can find an existing translation. I would be interested in reading it.

 

A kind of abstract: Kraus continues with a theme recurrent in his writing; in what appears here as the opening paragraph (see footnote 1 of the translation), Kraus claims that Shakespeare had certain powers of foresight for events of historical import and draws on Shakespeare’s King John to show the veracity of his claim.

 

post № 4

15 October 2014

 

New translation: Politics

Politics” (1908) is a translation of “Politik” (F 264-265: 1-4) and is, to the best of my knowledge, the first English translation of this essay. Should this be false, kindly let me know where I can find an existing translation. I would be interested in reading it.
    

A kind of abstract: In this piece, Kraus engages in—what one might call— performance writing. The text is, as it were, a demonstrative embodiment of Kraus’s praise for the positive, and not the negative, subject of his piece, the artist Rudolf Wilke; Kraus is doing what he praises Wilke for doing in his art. In so doing, Kraus moves from jest to chastisement and from chastisement to lamentation and remembrance. These movements show Kraus dabbling in the cryptic to show that the absence of empty talk affords the reader the possibility of grasping what is essential in life as a preparatory effort for personal creation—artistic or cultural in nature.

 

post № 3

15 October 2014

 

New translation: Morality and criminal justice

Morality and criminal justice” (1902) is a translation of “Sittlichkeit und Criminalität” (F 115: 1-24) and is, to the best of my knowledge, the first English translation of this essay. Should this be false, kindly let me know where I can find an existing translation. I would be interested in reading it.

 

A kind of abstract: In this essay, Kraus comingles legalese and literary prose in an invocation of Shakespeare and mounts a two-part defense against a “confusion of improbabilities” caused by two adultery trials. He exposes judicial contradictions and hypocrisy which, among other things, precipitate extortion and betray a judiciary openly hostile to women. His aim seems to be to effect change in the judiciary and society or—should that fail—at least to vex the scoundrels party to the moral and social catastrophe that is the occasion of this essay.

 

post № 2

15 October 2014

 

New translation: In praise of an inverted way of life

In praise of an inverted way of life” (1908) is a translation of “Lob der verkehrten Lebensweise” (F 257-258: 10-14) and is, to the best of my knowledge, the third English translation of this essay. Harry Zohn, one of the forerunners in Kraus translation, translated this essay and included it in his anthology In These Great Times: A Karl Kraus Reader. The second translation is available at Die Weltbühne in English Translation.

 

Why, then, does the world need another translation of this essay, this satirical justification for night owls, as it were? Both Zohn and Die Weltbühne in English Translation prefer an overly literal translation. There is, of course, nothing inherently objectionable about such translations. They are even desirable at times; they can preserve understanding at the cost of good prose when an occasion demands the former and not the latter. It is, however, my opinion that the over-literalness of the translations by Zohn and Die Weltbühne in English Translation makes it seem as if Kraus had—if you like—simply concatenated witticisms and loosely structured them in paragraphs. But Kraus did no such thing. Kraus offers a well-structured and linearly progressive argument. And the translation published here attempts to remedy the disparity that I see between Kraus’s essay and the two existing translations of it.

 

post № 1

15 October 2014

 

A preface: introducing a bit of pitch

a bit of pitch is dedicated to publishing selected writings of Karl Kraus in English translation and constitutes a kind of remedial action targeted against the unfortunate situation in the English-speaking world that Karl Kraus, one of the most important (and prolific) German-speaking writers of the 20th century, remains largely untranslated. As of the date of this post, only a small number of his writings has been translated into English.

 

It is, however, neither possible nor desirable to remedy this situation in its entirety. The sheer magnitude in the disparity between the total number of pages that Kraus has written and the total number of pages that have appeared in English translation is, in and of itself, preventative of any total remedial undertaking by a lone translator. But there are other considerations too. Some of Kraus’s writings are untranslatable. Some of them are just uninteresting. And some of them are hardly understandable today without comprehensive explanatory matter on fin-de-siècle Vienna. In a word, it is neither possible nor desirable to translate everything Kraus ever wrote. What is possible and desirable—and what I shall be attempting with a bit of pitch—is to make modest progress in getting Kraus’s writings in English translation where modest progress can be made.

 

a bit of pitch is, therefore, my attempt to provide English translations of selected writings of Karl Kraus, which (i) are (hopefully) interesting to a contemporary English-speaking audience, (ii) are generally understandable with a bit of work on the part of the reader, and (iii) do not require comprehensive explanatory matter on fin-de-siècle Vienna or anything else.