by Karl Kraus [translated from the German by Frederick Ungar]
"I didn't ask for sunshine, and I got World War III."
Sex Pistols, "Holidays in the Sun"
If "The Cross of Honor," a homily on some of the idiocies of Austrian prostitution laws c. 1909, was a good example of a rather frisky and witty Karl Kraus, the later "Tourist Trips to Hell" is an excellent example of an altogether different Herr Kraus: angry, indignant, denunciatory...punk? Our hero, you see, wasn't much of a fan of World War I nor of the motley collection of culture-less entities variously gathered under the rubric of mankind. Two out of two ain't bad, eh? "I have in my hands a document that surpasses and seals the shame of this age, and would warrant assigning a place of honor in a cosmic boneyard to this money-hungry mess that calls itself mankind. If ever a newspaper clipping meant a clipping of creation--here we face the utter certainty that a generation to which such solicitations could be directed no longer has any better instincts to be violated" (4). The newspaper clipping in question, a two-page spread from the Basel, Switzerland rag Basler Nachrichten pimping "BATTLEFIELD EXCURSION TRIPS BY CAR!" in oversized type to woo just-post WWI vacationers to visit the battlefield at Verdun in order to understand "the quintessence of the horror of modern warfare" in between guided tours and sumptuous dining "with ample meals at first-rate restaurants" for the all-inclusive price of 117 Swiss francs (6-7), is an outrage that prompts Kraus to mock it in ad-like bullet points by comparing it to a sort of media version of Verdun in which "this most gruesome spectacle of bloody delirium through which the nations let themselves be dragged to no purpose whatsoever" pales in comparison with the "enormity" of the offending ad (4). Overkill? Not the way Kraus sings it, anticipating the Sex Pistols' formulation of "a cheap holiday in other people's misery" only sans jackboots and power chords. In any event, the following bullet points, all lifted from pages 5 and 8 of Kraus' broadside, will allow you to decide for yourself what a tourist trip to hell might look like:
- You receive a newspaper in the morning.
- You will learn that 1,500,000 bled to death exactly at the spot where wine and coffee--and everything else--are included.
- You understand that all this came about so that some day, when nothing was left of the glory except moral bankruptcy, at least a battlefield par excellence would still be available.
- You realize that what the competition can offer--the Argonne and Somme battles, the boneyards of Rheims and St. Mihiel--is a mere trifle compared with the first-class offering of the Basler Nachrichten. They will doubtless succeed to fatten their list of subscribers using the casualties of Verdun.
- You realize that these nations have criminal laws to protect the life and even the honor of these press scoundrels who make a mockery of death and a profit out of catastrophe, and who particularly recommend this side trip to hell as an autumn special.
- You will have unforgettable impressions of a world in which there is no single square centimeter not rutted by shells and advertisements.
- And if, even then, you have not recognized that your very birth has brought you into a murderers' pit and that a mankind which profanes even the blood it shed is shot through and through with evil, and that there is no escaping it and no help--then the devil take you to a battlefield par excellence!
I love the idea of the Tourist Battlefield Site chasing the war dog, so to speak. Life is a cabernet!ResponderBorrar
A night later, Jill, I wonder how much of this was just a matter of "too soon." I mean, the language in and the idea of the ad Kraus mocked both deserved to be mocked. However, nobody seems to be troubled by the idea of Civil War battlegrounds in the States being tourist sites and such today. Of course, I don't think you'll find a "Life is a Cabernet" poster at a wine bar at Antietam either. Hmm...Borrar
Ah, but at Gettysburg you can find Ghost Tours (featuring Authentic Dead Gettysburg Soldiers) and a Teddy Bear "Factory" to make your very own Civil War Teddy Bear Guy. Personally, I would prefer wine....Borrar
You are obviously way more up to date on your Gettysburg Theme Park data than I am. Do they still have the Meade- and Lee-themed tea cup rides there?Borrar
No but they have a McClellan restaurant! (in which I refuse to eat, needless to say). You may ask, why am I so up on Gettysburg? Am I perhaps a Reenactor or something? No, the truth is more horrifying: I graduated from Gettysburg High!Borrar
At least it wasn't Benedict Arnold University!Borrar
I am as always negative about humanity as Kraus is here. But sometimes when I am, some of my thinking is very much in line with his.ResponderBorrar
Brian, Kraus' negativity about humanity--while perhaps "rhetorically enhanced" here and there--often seems to be grounded in a specific, understandable complaint which makes it somewhat difficult to figure out just how much of a crank he was. I might not share the "extreme" opinions he offers, but I can certainly relate to them! Tom's point below (and a point he has raised over at his blog as well) is important, though: Kraus had a special distaste for rival journalists and perhaps other writers in general. To a certain extent, Verdun might just be his cover story or pretext here.Borrar
"Tourist Trips to Hell" is the purest concentration of Kraus I have seen - and he didn't even write half of it.ResponderBorrar
It just struck me why "You receive a newspaper in the morning" gets its own bullet. Given what Kraus thinks of newspapers...
Tom, there's a Wikipedia entry on Kraus that talks about his promotion of "détournement" as a pre-Situationist writing tactic--am now wondering if "Tourist Trips to Hell" is the sort of subversive table turning they're talking about given your point about how much of the piece Kraus actually wrote. "Purest concentration of Kraus"? I can see that. Will have to read at least another 30-35 pages of Kraus over the remainder of the year, though, to see how that holds up!Borrar
I should address Jill's point some time. A word I have not used yet is "kitsch." For Kraus, like Hermann Broch who called Vienna "the metropolis of kitsch," kitsch is not just a symptom of decadence but a cause. False art, after some intermediate steps, leads to Hitler.ResponderBorrar
The example of Kraus is useful for setting a limit on the weight I give to words and language - I sure don't think they are as all-important as he did!
I'll have to try to keep your kitsch-as-cause of decadence explanation in mind as I read more of Kraus. He comes off as such a true believer in many of the things he says that it's hard to suss out where the satire ends and the extremist lunacy begins. In any event, a world class crank!Borrar