by Karl Kraus [translated from the German by Helene Scher]
Since Tom from Wuthering Expectations has already sufficiently immortalized both Kraus' caustic aphorisms and his only half-translated but yet doubly apocalyptic play The Last Days of Mankind, I'd like to exit stage right from my formal participation in Karl Kraus Week with a quick look at Kraus' delirious self-encomium innocuously titled "Self-Admiration." Before we begin, though, I should probably admit that one of the questions that's been increasingly nagging me during my 33-page introduction to the Austrian wiseass this week--although one that I've been more or less assiduously avoiding anyway--is trying to determine where the slippery satirist ends and where the full-on real life nutjob begins. Is such a thing even possible to pinpoint? In his introduction to the Kraus et al. anthology that I've been using, Dirck Linck, while not exactly answering my question, at least gives me the comfort of knowing that even sage specialists have taken late Kraus' literary aims seriously within their particular regional and temporal contexts: "What Kraus, Broch, and Canetti present in their works is a symptomatology of the epochal violence that was clearing the ground for the terrors of National Socialism. It is no coincidence, therefore, that both Broch and Canetti backed up their literary works with significant theoretical reflections on mass psychology, jurisprudence, and politics, all aimed at the totalitarian disposition of the century" (x). "Self-Admiration," it will soon become clear, is an apolitical early work that has nothing to do with "the totalitarian disposition of the century" or anything like that although I do like the sound of the description enough to repeat it. That being said, can the five-page essay get us any closer to identifying where the artist ends and the con artist begins when it comes to Kraus' idiosyncratic aesthetic disposition? Ridiculously, I'm not really sure! Kraus begins his lively but problematic essay with two epigraphs, one from Schopenhauer and one--devilishly--from Kraus himself. The latter: "Self-admiration is permissible if the self is beautiful. It becomes an obligation if the reflecting mirror is a good one." Before the laughter has died down, Kraus assails the reader with yet another back-patting brick through the window in his opening sentence: "That I accept the reproach of self-admiration as the observation of a character trait well known to me and that I respond, not with contrition, but by continuing the provocation--this my readers should know by now" (19). In what follows, Kraus makes the argument--ironic perhaps but just how ironic?--that it's not wrong for him to be arrogant or vain given his talent level. "Viennese intellectuals ought to be grateful to me for having taken the trouble off their shoulders and preserved their reputation" he writes. "Whoever gladly dispenses with praise from the multitude, will not deny himself the chance to be his own partisan" he adds (ibid.). Lambasting the Viennese critics who "are hiding their respect for me, which grows greater by the day, behind the cowardly mask of convention," Kraus then drops two tasty autobiographical tidbits about how he and his one-man newspaper were apparently perceived by some in his early 20th century audience, claiming that "I am considered to be merely a watchdog for the corrupt machinations of a city" in one paragraph and that he is "an author who publishes his diary as a periodical" in another (20). If it's hard to know how much Kraus was joking at this remove in time, perhaps the question doesn't really matter all that much anyway. For it's hard not to like a writer who can conceive of his oeuvre as a diary and who will defend himself from the accusation from "riffraff" that "my preoccupation with myself, my position, my books, and my enemies" takes up half his "literary activity" when he himself readily admits, "it takes up all of my literary activity" (23). I, for one, am sorry that Karl Kraus Week has come to a close.
Thanks again to Tom for inciting me to read the irrepressible crackpot Karl Kraus as part of Wuthering Expectations' The Austrian Literature Non-Challenge. Tom's final post this week, "Kraus the prophet - Don't ask why all this time I never spoke," pays a fitting tribute to Kraus' complexity with some melancholy reflections on what finally silenced "one of the few true satirists." "Self-Admiration" can be found on pages 19-23 of Dirck Linck, ed., Selected Short Writings: Karl Kraus, Hermann Broch, Elias Canetti, Robert Walser (New York & London: Continuum, 2006). Kraus: "The world considers it more important for someone not to regard his work as great than that it be great." Goethe, as quoted by Kraus: "Only good-for-nothings are modest" (22-23).