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The Kraus Project: Essays by Karl Kraus

Overview

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 ...

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The Kraus Project: Essays by Karl Kraus

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Overview

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 his definitive new translations of Kraus but also annotates them spectacularly, with supplementary notes from the Kraus scholar Paul Reitter and the Austrian writer Daniel Kehlmann. Kraus was a notoriously cantankerous and difficult author, and in Franzen he has found his match: a novelist unafraid to voice unpopular opinions strongly, a critic capable of untangling Kraus’s often dense arguments to reveal their relevance to contemporary America. Interwoven with Franzen’s survey of today’s cultural and technological landscape is an intensely personal recollection of the author’s first year out of college, when he fell in love with Kraus.

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

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble

Austrian writer and journalist Karl Kraus died in 1936, but his satirical writings have continued to win friends in more contemporary times. Most noteworthy of these is novelist Jonathan Franzen (The Corrections; Freedom) who here guides readers through Kraus essays that he himself has now translated. Even in his own day, the political and cultural critiques of the Viennese writer were regarded as enigmatic and, in those repressive times, intentionally cryptic. A fascinating tribute from one social commentator to another.

From the Publisher
“Soulful, counterintuitive, revealing.”—Dwight Garner, New York Times author of Farther Away

“Engrossing, highly original...As a declared enemy of the easy response in an instant-access culture, Franzen finds in the unduly neglected Kraus a model of how to provoke readers while at the same time getting them to do some work.”—The New York Times Book Review

“It is the achievement of The Kraus Project to provide a solid picture of what makes Kraus incomparable and, paradoxically enough, relevant.”—Bookforum

“Kraus is one of the most uproarious and relevant writers who ever lived.”—Slate

The New York Times Book Review - Edmund Fawcett
The name Karl Kraus means little to German speakers anymore, and less to most Americans. So why has a celebrated contemporary American novelist brought out an annotated translation of two literary essays by this Viennese satirist who was born when Ulysses Grant was in the White House and died before Franklin Roosevelt completed his first presidential term? The full answer comes only toward the end of Jonathan Franzen's engrossing, highly original volume. But that slow burn is part of his purpose. As a declared enemy of the easy response in an instant-access culture, Franzen finds in the unduly neglected Kraus a model of how to provoke readers while at the same time getting them to do some work.
Publishers Weekly
09/09/2013
Franzen (Freedom) approaches his latest project with characteristic ambition: to provide an accessible translation of key essays by the early 19th-century Austrian critic Karl Kraus (1874–1936), explain and contextualize Kraus’s biting satire, come to terms with the young man he was when he first encountered the self-styled “wrathful prophet,” and draw contemporary relevance from Kraus’s work. The result is clear, polished, and often funny—no small accomplishment, given Kraus’s notoriously difficult to translate prose. Franzen has similar aims; he leaves to Reitter the scholarly legwork of explaining obscure cultural references and providing analysis, and instead uses the copious footnotes to provide current analogies for Kraus’s targets and reflect on his own studies in Germany, which lead to meditations on his upbringing, relationships, literary aspirations, and search for a literary father. Several footnotes extend for pages, turning Kraus into background music for scholarly speculation and ruminations. When the narratives coalesce, the “spasm of pleasure” amply repays the reader’s dogged attention, revealing two literary minds operating at the peak of their maturity and strength. Agent: Susan Golomb, Susan Golomb Agency. (Oct.)
Library Journal
Not fiction, but this book should hold you until another grand-scale Franzen novel appears. Viennese satirist Kraus flourished in the first third of the 20th century, influencing writers like Franz Kafka and Walter Benjamin as he gleefully skewered consumerist excess, media frenzy, and the last-gasp militarism of a doomed empire. Franzen translates his thorny and uncompromising essays while offering extended annotations that pull Kraus into today's culture.
Kirkus Reviews
2013-09-01
Two angry men rail against their culture. Franzen (Farther Away: Essays, 2012, etc.) discovered Austrian essayist, playwright and poet Karl Kraus (1874–1936) when he studied in Berlin in 1981-1982. A prominent social critic in early-20th-century Vienna, Kraus had been long forgotten, but his work resonated with Franzen, who saw the sharp, bitter writer as a kindred spirit. Franzen calls Kraus a "farseeing prophet" who hated, above all, the media, which thrived on gossip and was antagonistic to the "kind of spirituality/imaginativeness that, as Kraus saw it, makes us human." As a kind of homage, Franzen has translated four of Kraus' essays for this bilingual, profusely annotated edition. He warns readers that Kraus is a difficult writer, and in translation, his work comes across as stilted and awkward. The essays themselves, however, may be less interesting to readers than the extensive annotations. Sometimes a few lines by Kraus, for example, are followed by several pages of notes: Franzen's autobiographical ruminations and detailed, informative historical context by Ohio State professor Paul Reitter. Novelist Daniel Kehlmann, a friend of Franzen, also rings in with comments. Franzen's personal reflections focus on his response to Kraus, his early ambitions and frustrations as a writer, his engagement to the woman he eventually married and the reasons he embraced "anger as a way of life" at the age of 22. Although he claims that he has outgrown his former rage, like Kraus, he is critical of much in his own culture: Apple products, Steve Jobs, French literary theory, Salman Rushdie's tweets, 1,000-page biographies, the blogosphere, Amazon, John Updike, social media, Facebook and assaults to the natural environment. Readers interested in Kraus will be better served by Reitter's The Anti-Journalist: Karl Kraus and Jewish Self-Fashioning (2008). This book is for Franzen's fans.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781250056030
  • Publisher: Picador
  • Publication date: 9/30/2014
  • Language: German
  • Edition description: Bilingual Edition
  • Pages: 336
  • Sales rank: 673,714
  • Product dimensions: 5.46 (w) x 8.17 (h) x 0.62 (d)

Meet the Author

Jonathan Franzen

Jonathan Franzen is the author of four novels (FreedomThe CorrectionsStrong Motion, and The Twenty-Seventh City), two collections of essays (Farther Away and How to Be Alone), a personal history (The Discomfort Zone), and a translation of Frank Wedekind’s Spring Awakening, all published by FSG.

Karl Kraus (1874–1936) was an Austrian satirist, playwright, poet, aphorist, and journalist. From 1899 until his death, he published the literary and political review Die Fackel.

Biography

Until his award-winning novel The Corrections was published in the fall of 2001, Jonathan Franzen was probably best known for a somewhat dyspeptic 1996 essay he wrote for Harper's entitled "Perchance to Dream." In it, Franzen decried the state of modern American fiction and, by association, that of his own career.

Part of Franzen's frustration may have stemmed from the reception of his first two novels, The Twenty-Seventh City (1988) and Strong Motion (1992). Although both books showcased his formidable literary skills and earned respectful praise from critics, neither one sold well. He won a Whiting Writer's Award for City and, in 1997, the British literary magazine Granta named him one of the 20 best American novelists under the age of 40. Still, major recognition seemed to elude him.

All that changed with The Corrections, a sprawling tale of American family dysfunction that was immediately acclaimed a "postmodern masterpiece." At long last, Franzen had found his voice, emerging from the pressure of trying to emulate his literary heroes Don DeLillo and William Gaddis. The New York Times Book Review called the novel "marvelous"; The New York Observer called it "brilliant"; and the Boston Globe called it "smart and boisterous and beautifully paced." In short, The Corrections put Franzen on the literary map.

A month later, Franzen's star lost some of its luster, when he became embroiled in a public relations fiasco. Kingmaker Oprah Winfrey selected The Corrections for her popular Book Club, but when the author expressed his discomfort with the endorsement, the show quickly withdrew its certification. A vilified Franzen hastened to explain himself, the book was re-Oprahcized -- and in a final salvo, Franzen wrote about the entire experience in a widely read New Yorker piece that only served to compound the controversy. As the line from his book goes, "What made corrections possible also doomed them." No matter; what Franzen lost in Oprah's esteem he gained in untold sales from the publicity, and The Corrections went on to win the National Book Award.

In 2002, a collection of Franzen's cultural criticism (including the famous Oprah piece and a reworked version of "Perchance to Dream") appeared under the title How to Be Alone, reaffirming his status as a writer of elegant nonfiction; and in 2006, he forayed into memoir with The Discomfort Zone, a self-lacerating look at his youth, his family, and the forces that shaped him into a writer.

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    1. Hometown:
      New York, New York
    1. Date of Birth:
      November 30, 1958
    2. Place of Birth:
      Western Springs, Illinois
    1. Education:
      B.A., Swarthmore College, 1981; studied as a Fulbright scholar at Freie Universität in Berlin
    2. Website:

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