Franzen Finds an Inspiration

The Evening Standard (London, England), October 3, 2013 | Go to article overview

Franzen Finds an Inspiration


Byline: NICHOLAS LEZARD

THE KRAUS PROJECT: ESSAYS BY KARL KRAUS translated and annotated by Jonathan Franzen (Fourth Estate, [pounds sterling]18.99) I DON'T think we're going to see a braver publishing enterprise this year. On the pages to the left of the spine, three essays, two of them substantial, taking us up to page 262, by the Viennese polemicist Karl Kraus, written in 1910 and 1912. The first is a thorough and considered demolition job on the German Romantic (or, if you wish, post-Romantic) poet Heinrich Heine (1797-1856), the second a meditation on the 50th anniversary of the death of the Viennese playwright Johann Nestroy. These essays are printed in the original German.

On the right-hand side is Jonathan Franzen's translation of these essays (helped by colleagues Paul Reitter and Daniel Kehlmann). Running underneath both, often to a length that means we get no Kraus on either the right or the lefthand pages, are Franzen's notes. These are either explanations of the context in which Kraus was writing or anecdotes about Franzen's youth, his travels in Europe, his girlfriends, his coffee/cigarette/smoking habits in Spain, and, which has become the aspect that has been seized on gratefully by those wondering what the hell is going on, his loathing of Facebook and Twitter, and various other manifestations of the modern technophilic age, such as the iPad or the stunning banalities of the AOL headline. (Or, in one rant that won my heart, a ringing denunciation of the Apple Mac.) What these things are doing together is this, I suppose: Kraus, known as the Great Hater, made a name for himself by blasting the vapidity of the popular press of his time (becoming, so ironically it's barely worth mentioning, popular himself ). His self-published newsletter, Die Fackel (The Torch), from which he fairly quickly eased out all contributors save himself, was a must-read publication that kept itself busy by pointing out the latest idiocies perpetrated by the press. …

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