Academic journal article German Quarterly

The Anti-Journalist: Karl Kraus and Jewish Self-Fashioning in Fin-de-Siècle

Academic journal article German Quarterly

The Anti-Journalist: Karl Kraus and Jewish Self-Fashioning in Fin-de-Siècle

Article excerpt

Reitter, Faul. The Anti-Journalist: Karl Kraus and Jewish Self-Fashioning in Fin-de-Siècle Europe. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2008. 256 pp. $35.00 hardcover.

"Both: Journalism and Kraus," Gershom Scholem obscurely remarks in his diaries, "are children of the Jewish middle ages. But Kraus is a worthy and therefore unhappy child" (150). Similarly puzzling is Walter Benjamin's observation that Karl Kraus presents "the greatest breakthrough of halakhic writing into the mass of the German language" (162). Scholem's and Benjamin's appraisal of the Viennese critic, essayist, and playwright regarding his role within Judaism is certainly rare and opaque, and yet Paul Reitter takes their unusual claims seriously enough to revisit Kraus's writings in his current study. Rather than understanding Kraus only as the vitriolic adversary of the largely secular Jewish feuilleton and parochial interests (a position that, combined with his often antisemitic rhetoric, has earned him the unflattering title of a Jewish self-hater), Reitter presents a different picture of Kraus's writings.

While Reitter does not dispute the principal validity of readings that see Kraus's attempts to distinguish himself from the various Viennese Jewish groups and affiliations as a reaction to antisemitism, his analysis focuses on what he calls Kraus's strategic and subversive use of antisemitic discourse. One of Reitter 's most telling examples is Kraus's provocative essay "Heine und die Folgen" (19 10). For Kraus, Heine had, from his exile in Paris, "brought back to us the French sickness," the feuilleton (96). It is Heine whom Kraus holds responsible for initiating a kind of journalism in Austrian and German newspapers that disregards the border between reliable news reportage and literary language, between content and form. Karl Kraus appears to have no patience for the corruption of the German language that he detects in the feuilleton, but Reitter points to a shift in Kraus's writing style around 1908, the year in which his friend Adolf Loos had published the essay "Ornament und Verbrechen." Seeing in the feuilleton a form of ornamentation through poetic elements analogous to that of ornaments on use-objects, Kraus intensified his attacks on what he called in the Heine essay the "utiliterature." Yet he did so by "writing in a more elliptical, intricately figurative style, a style whose syntax often poetically mimics the shape of the objects it represents" (94). Reitter argues that there is a connection between these two developments, that when Kraus began to "demonize literary journalism as the 'black magic' that would 'destroy the world,' he stepped into a new structural proximity to literary journalism, and into a new need to distance himself from it" (94f.).

Paul Reitter draws a connection between Kraus's sharp criticism of Theodor Herzl, who incorporated antisemitic language in his essay " Mauschel" in order to decry Jewish opponents of Zionism, and Kraus's attack on Heine and his presumptive journalistic heirs. …

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