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The Kraus Project

The Kraus Project [Kindle Edition]

Jonathan Franzen
3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)

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Product Description

A great American writer’s confrontation with a great European critic – a personal and intellectual awakening.

A hundred years ago, the Viennese satirist Karl Kraus was among the most penetrating and prophetic writers in Europe: a relentless critic of the popular media’s manipulation of reality, the dehumanizing machinery of technology and consumerism, and the jingoistic rhetoric of a fading empire. But even though his followers included Franz Kafka and Walter Benjamin, he remained something of a lonely prophet, and few people today are familiar with his work. Thankfully, Jonathan Franzen is one of them.

In ‘The Kraus Project’, Franzen not only presents and annotates his definitive new translations of Kraus, with supplementary notes from the Kraus scholar Paul Reitter and the Austrian writer Daniel Kehlmann. In Franzen Kraus has found his match: a novelist unafraid to voice unpopular opinions strongly, a critic capable of untangling Kraus’s often dense arguments.

Painstakingly wrought, strikingly original in form, ‘The Kraus Project’ is a feast of thought, passion and literature.

Product details

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 1237 KB
  • Print Length: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Fourth Estate (1 Oct 2013)
  • Sold by: Amazon Media EU S.à r.l.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B00CCUB9N8
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Not Enabled
  • Average Customer Review: 3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #222,111 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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15 of 19 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Torchbearer or Parasite? 15 Oct 2013
By Entartete Musik TOP 1000 REVIEWER
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Having written 'In Memory of W.B. Yeats' in February 1939, W.H. Auden later penned a rather more cutting response to the Irish Bard.

To get the Last Poems of Yeats,
You need not mug up on dates;
All a reader requires
Is some knowledge of gyres
And the sort of people he hates.

Change a few details here and there and this poetic sally could have been written about another of Auden's touchstones, the Viennese satirist and polemicist Karl Kraus. Kraus was also famous for hating people and expanding upon that hate in his largely incomprehensible journal Die Fackel, published in Vienna between 1899 and 1936. Yet he inspired and inspires significant fans, drawn to his baleful attacks against the greats, including Heinrich Heine, and his support for underdogs, such as Franz Wedekind (or internationally overlooked figures like Johann Nestroy). Jonathan Franzen is the latest in this short line of Kraus advocates who, using his influence within a largely conservative, return-watching book industry, has issued The Kraus Project as his latest tome.

The volume is, in essence, Franzen's translation of four Kraus essays, Heine and the Consequences (1910), Nestroy and Posterity (1912), Afterword to 'Heine and the Consequences' (1911) and Between Two Strains of Life: Final Word (1917) and the brief but chilling poem from the time of Hitler's assent to power, Let No One Ask... (1934). But the really interesting meat of the matter is to be found in Franzen's annotations 'with assistance and additional notes from Paul Reitter and Daniel Kehlmann'. Using Kraus's clever-clever, labyrinthine demolition of the (in Kraus's view) all-too-lionised Heine as a springboard, Franzen seeks to create a bridge between then and now.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 3.6 out of 5 stars  11 reviews
54 of 59 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Disappointing 8 Oct 2013
By E. A. Moon - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I was looking forward so much to 'The Kraus Project' that I pre-ordered it. It would seem that someone like me would be the perfect audience for this book. While I can read some German, Kraus in the original is quite beyond me. I've read some Kraus in translation (and enjoyed it overall) and am very interested in the culture of German-speaking countries, especially from the late 19th century to before WWII. I, like Franzen, spent a life-changing time abroad in school in Germany in the 1980s when I was in my 20s (Munich for me, Berlin for him).

Franzen translated two long essays by Karl Kraus ('Heine and the consequences' and 'Nestroy and posterity'), two shorter essays ('Afterword to "Heine and the consequences"' and 'Between two strands of life: final word') and a poem ('Let no one ask ...'). He was assisted by two people--Kraus scholar Paul Reitter (professor at Ohio State University), and the Austrian novelist Daniel Kehlmann. It is a bilingual edition, and there are incredibly copious footnotes by Franzen, Reitter and Kehlmann. Some of the footnotes explain what Kraus was getting at (cultural allusions, etc.). A lot of the footnotes are really autobiographical essays by Franzen describing his time in Germany in the early 80s where he first studied Kraus and became enamored of him.

The book came about a week ago, and as I read I got this awful, sinking 'the emperor has no clothes' feeling that just got stronger the more I read. I'm not talking about Jonathan Franzen and his collaborators. I'm talking about Kraus himself.

I've heard forever that Kraus is untranslatable, but what that really seems to mean is, he's almost unreadable no matter what the language. Even with the footnotes, it was a VERY hard slog to see what Kraus was getting at, and sometimes it was just plain impossible. It wasn't the fault of the translation. One of Franzen's assistants is Austrian, a native speaker of German; the other is an academic and a Kraus specialist, obviously with extreme fluency in German. If these two people threw up their hands and said they didn't know what the hell Kraus was getting at (which happened on several occasions in the book), how is a non-specialist reader supposed to figure it out? Perhaps more important, if it's that prolix in the original, why should anyone care to read it in English?

There were things I liked about 'The Kraus Project'. I don't disagree with Kraus's gimlet-eyed look at the downside of mass media and technology. The poem at the end was lovely, well translated and explained. For the most part, the footnotes were interesting and I read every single one of them (which anyone will have to do to have any hope of understanding the essays). Because this a bilingual edition, people who can read German have the original right there to compare with the translation--I often looked at the German as well as the English. The cover is great. Clearly a lot of editorial care was taken with the book.

Just as clearly, this was a labor of love on Jonathan Franzen's part, and I feel quite sad that I finished this book without feeling at least some of that love myself. I really wanted to love this, and didn't, despite the best efforts of Franzen, Reitter and Kehlmann. There were a few things I liked about it, and I think it is amazing that any publisher would have agreed to put out such a fine edition of a book that will appeal to such a tiny readership. Overall though, I can't remember the last time I have been so disappointed in a book.
16 of 20 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Resurrecting Talent 10 Oct 2013
By Arthur Chandler - Published on
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
Karl Kraus is a difficult author to get close to, in part because of his prickly personality, in part because of his flailing outbursts, expressing his dislikes by alternating between sweeping denunciations and bitter aphorisms.

The translator(s) deserves praise for attempting a resurrection of attention to Kraus. A few of Franzen's apt translations from the first essay:

"Nothing is more important to journalism than restoring the gloss, again and again, to the glaze of corruption."

"She' a lazy Susan of the mind"

"... an observer who in opulent adjectives amply compensates for what Nature denied him in nouns..."

If you wants more Kraus: delve into Jonathan McVity's translations of Dicta and Contradicta. In the meantime: thanks and praise to Franzen for these fresh translations.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Main Feat Is Its Readability 24 Jan 2014
By Matt M. Martin - Published on
When I first saw this book, I balked. It looked like a tedious vanity project, something that would never get published if it wasn't attached to Jonathan Franzen LTD. Translating a notoriously unreadable and unlikeable early 20th-century Austrian misanthrope's time-specific essays? Well...

It's nice to be proven wrong, though, and if anything, this shows how strong a writer Franzen is. The book translates two long essays by Kraus (along with two afterwords and a poem), retaining the original German on the left page with the English translation on the right. Franzen, helped substantially by Paul Reitter and Daniel Kehlmann, then annotates the text, with footnotes that far outstretch the original text.

This is a blessing, really. Kraus divides his essays lambasting and lauding two writers of his era, and while he has some sharp turns of phrase and certainly a wry wit, he also writes a lot of sentences that are dense as meteorite (some of which neither Franzen, Reitter, nor Kehlmann can parse out). Kraus is also given to a bad blend of topicality and vagueness, being either too specific or not enough, with sentences like "...the milder jarring of his times denied his response the consciousness of its finality--that blessed incentive to seal revenge on the material in his enjoyment of form." You have to know exactly who he's talking about, what the person he's talking about has done, and then you have to infer what Kraus means from his cryptic hinting. 100 years later, Franzen invites us to skip this line.

The reason for the book now is that Franzen sees a great similarity between Kraus' writings about feuilletons (writers of travel fluff, today's Travel + Leisure contributors) and today's blog culture. Franzen sees Kraus as a man who was clairvoyant by a century, and in annotating Kraus, Franzen includes some of his own best editorial writing yet, arguing against total electronic distraction, informational pornography, sensationalizing influences in all media, and more generally, the fact that everything is wrong about the technochemical hellscape we're rushing to change the world into.

And Franzen's right. He's right about everything, which is probably why he's so despised by Internet culture. The burden of being right is heavy, and Franzen bears it here, mimicking Kraus but being far more readable, humorous, clear-headed, and thus persuasive.

What's surprising here, though, and what makes this book so good, is how personal this is. Franzen uses a couple of the annotations as a way to resurrect and reconcile his difficult younger self, the self who originally studied Kraus while living in Germany. Moreso than even The Discomfort Zone, Franzen offers very personal essays on his first marriage and its dissolution, his flailing for identity as a young man, and his yin-yanging pride and self-loathing. It's fascinating reading, Franzen at his most open (indeed, the jacket photograph shows him as a hopelessly nerdy, Doogie Howser-like scholar suspicious of the very camera taking his photo). This is where the book shines, because while its history can be interesting, it's also weighed down in Viennese ephemera, all of which only makes Franzen's sudden personal essays all that much more sudden and welcome. That he has the confidence to sneak in some of his best nonfiction work in an offputting translation project shows a master at work.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Karl Kraus, 1874-1936 19 Jan 2014
By Allen Smalling - Published on
"How is the world ruled and led to war? Diplomats lie to journalists and believe these lies when they see them in print."

The above is just one of the many aphorisms attributed to a Viennese thinker and journalist called Karl Kraus. His writing was a force to be reckoned with, but his personality was so acerbic and his wit so astringent that most of what he said consisted of books he had published himself, and articles he wrote for his own journal, DIE FACKEL. When he was born, the Austro-Hungarian Empire was nearing the peak of its power; he died just a couple of years before Nazi jackboots marched across his Austria. Author Jonathan (THE CORRECTIONS) Franzel provided the lengthy running commentary to a selection of Kraus's writing, most of it two long articles about the mid-19th Century German poet Heinrich Heine, whom Kraus felt overrated and tried to disparage, and Heine's near-contemporary, Austrian playwright Johann Nestroy, whose reputation Kraus thought overly trivialized and tried to boost.

Franzen's commentary is absolutely necessary, and useful; but his efforts are somewhat undercut by the fact that professional translators, not he, made the translation from German into English, a difficult task for even the best scholars. The book's format consists of the original German on left-handed pages and the English translation to the right, with Franzel's commentary appearing as footnote and sometimes overwhelming the original texts. Kraus polished his art in a decaying and corrupt empire during a time of national cynicism and despair, and as such what Kraus says about two literary figures from the Nineteenth Century is probably not so significant as his take on the uses and abuses of intellect, scholarship, and the machinations of those in charge who try to justify their power by exercising it during bewildering circumstances, both for them and for their subjects. As such, this book is recommended, but it is far from easy.

For more Karl Kraus quotes and aphorisms, see
5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Really, the Franzen Project... 20 Nov 2013
By James Klagge - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
This is an odd book. I may be the only person who read it b/c it is about Kraus, rather than b/c it was produced by Franzen. It surely would not have been published if it hadn't had Franzen's name on the cover. As a college student Franzen got interested in the Viennese essayist Karl Kraus (1874-1936). This book consists of 2 lengthy essays by Kraus, 2 shorter pieces associated with one of the essays, and a short poem. The essays are about 2 19th Century German writers, Heine and Nestroy. Kraus detested Heine and loved Nestroy, and made his case in these essays.
The most striking thing about the book is its spatial typography. The essays are presented in the original German (on left-hand pages) with Franzen's translation (on the facing right-hand pages). Because Kraus's German is so hard to translate, the reader is meant to (be able to) consult the original German as needed. But the largest part of the book (literally) is the footnotes that explain/elaborate/take off from the text. Since the footnotes are (of course) at the foot of the pages and not at the end, the book must have been a typographical nightmare for the editor. Since the footnotes are to the English text and so always begin on the right pages, this often results in blank space on the left-hand pages. And since several of the footnotes are extremely long, it also results in many pages (actually, 50) that are only "footnotes."
The typesetting and footnoting of the book is so unusual that I did a scan of the book, rounding to tenths of pages and then adding up. Here is the typesetting topology of the book: Of the roughly 300 content-ful pages of the book, 64 pages are German text. Consequently, 64 pages are English translation. (English tends to be slightly more compressed than German, but that didn't make a relevant difference here.) Because the footnotes only begin on right-hand pages, there is inevitable blank space on many left-hand pages. This blank space, incredibly, amounts to 36 pages worth. The footnotes amount to about 133 pages!
Now for the footnotes: Franzen is not an expert in German literature or in German culture, so he makes regular use of commentary by Paul Reitter for insight into Kraus, and comments from Daniel Kehlmann for insights into German-Austrian culture. 48 pages worth of footnotes are from Reitter; 6 pages worth are from Kehlmann. That leaves 79 pages worth of footnotes for Franzen. He discusses some problems of translation and interpretation, but mostly he offers us an autobiographical commentary about what Kraus has meant to him and a cultural commentary on what Kraus's thoughts might mean for our modern world. For example, Krause, in the essay on Heine, is inveighing against a popular style of short essay called the "feuilleton." Franzen sees the blog as a contemporary version of the feuilleton, and so uses this as a launching pad for his own critique.
I'm impressed that FSG published this and that we have these translations with helpful commentary. The cultural commentary and personal autobiography by Franzen was rather indulgent, but quite readable. In sum, I liked it, but it wasn't anything great.
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