Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Karl Kraus Blogger?

The latest new york review of books has an essay by Adam Kirsch on Austrian critic and satirist Karl Kraus. It is behind the subscriber wall but this bit is interesting... (in short, beware of journalists and op-ed experts)

"But if Kraus were simply a press critic in this sense—pointing out errors and clich├ęs, or even exposing biases and conflicts of interest—he would not remain such a significant figure, seventy-two years after his death. He would be merely a kind of blogger avant la lettre, appending his "glosses" to newspaper items in the way that bloggers today post hyperlinks along with carping comments. The analogy even extends to Kraus's working methods: as Timms writes, he would compose an item for Die Fackel by "pasting a newspaper clipping on a larger sheet of paper, to define an opponent's position. That position would then be encircled—penned in by Kraus's minute handwriting."

But Kraus was a critic of the press in a deeper and more problematic sense as well. During World War I, his longtime feud with the Viennese newspapers took on an apocalyptic character, as Kraus began to blame them for causing the disaster on which they so complacently reported. In November 1914, as the Western Front settled into stalemate, Kraus gave a public reading of his essay "In This Great Time," which appeared in Die Fackel the next month. Though it was his first public statement since the war began, Kraus did not address the war's political and diplomatic causes. The real origin of the world war, he argued, lay not in Austrian expansionism or German belligerence, but in a continent-wide failure of imagination, which allowed the nations of Europe to rush into a catastrophe whose dimensions they could not perceive. "Things are happening," Kraus said in his long, dazzlingly constructed opening sentence, "that could not be imagined and...what can no longer be imagined must happen, for if one could imagine it, it would not happen."

The agency responsible for this atrophy of the imagination, Kraus continued, was his old adversary, the press. "Through decades of practice, [the reporter] has produced in mankind that degree of unimaginativeness which enables it to wage a war of extermination against itself." This logic is what allowed Kraus to argue, in a paradox worthy of Wilde, that the reporting on the war was more important than the war itself: "Is the press a messenger? No, it is the event itself. A speech? No, life itself." He even predicted that "some day people might find out what a trifling matter such a world war was as compared to the intellectual self- annihilation of mankind by means of its press and how at bottom it constituted only one of the press's emanations." "


antonia said...

here is a link to the fackel, german of course.
kraus was a phenomenon. to imagine him as a blogger is an interesting thought-experiment.

Alok said...

thanks, looks like I will have to apply for a course in advanced german.

Canetti's book "A Torch in my ear" gives an excellent overview of Kraus and his infulence in vienna. Janik and Toulmin's book on Wittgenstein is also quite good on Kraus.

Antonia said...

yes these are some excellent sources, janik & toulmin are indeed good on kraus, which is unusual and canetti too for he also precisely decribes the dangers of becoming too enchanted by kraus which is easy.

Michael said...

For anyone wanting to read 'The Last Days of Mankind' in English there is now a translation with notes to be found on