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The Kraus project by Jonathan Franzen

The Kraus project (2013)

by Jonathan Franzen

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A noble, deeply personal, but ultimately unsuccessful project. Kraus's deliberately obscure style coupled with the utter obscurity of the objects of his incessant intramural score settling make for a very turgid read. Franzen's footnotes only occasionally rise above the level of stating the obvious in their diagnosis of the ills of our current iteration of technophilic society. And too often he meanders into indulgently personal memorising. The last few short pieces are worth reading but the longer ones will make many readers put the book aside. ( )
  dazzyj | Jan 25, 2014 |
Franzen in his notes brings out Kraus’s abiding preoccupations: the leveling effects of “middlebrow” culture (The New York Times comes in for mild teasing as a current example, although Franzen notes that tabloids and Internet aggregators offer closer parallels to the middlebrow of Kraus’s day); the corrosions of political and commercial language; and public blindness to the lasting harms of out-of-control, market-driven technology. These are vast themes and immense claims. Unlike his epigrams, Kraus’s cultural despondency and sociopolitical end-is-nighism are difficult to swallow whole. To Franzen’s credit, this volume makes plain that behind Kraus the palatable cafe wit was Kraus the apocalyptic prophet standing, as he thought, on a volcano’s edge.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0374182213, Hardcover)

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 farsighted writers in Europe. In his self-published magazine, Die Fackel, Kraus brilliantly attacked the popular media’s manipulation of reality, the dehumanizing machinery of technology and consumer capitalism, and the jingoistic rhetoric of a fading empire. But even though he had a fervent following, which included Franz Kafka and Walter Benjamin, he remained something of a lonely prophet, and few people today are familiar with his work. Luckily, Jonathan Franzen is one of them.

In The Kraus Project, Franzen, whose “calm, passionate critical authority” has been praised in The New York Times Book Review, not only presents his definitive new translations of Kraus but annotates them spectacularly, with supplementary notes from the Kraus scholar Paul Reitter and the Austrian author Daniel Kehlmann. Kraus was a notoriously cantankerous and difficult writer, 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.

While Kraus is lampooning the iconic German poet and essayist Heinrich Heine and celebrating his own literary hero, the Austrian playwright Johann Nestroy, Franzen is annotating Kraus the way Kraus annotated others, surveying today’s cultural and technological landscape with fearsome clarity, and giving us a deeply personal recollection of his first year out of college, when he fell in love with Kraus’s work. Painstakingly wrought, strikingly original in form, The Kraus Project is a feast of thought, passion, and literature.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:28:59 -0400)

Franzen presents new translations and annotations of the work of early twentieth-century satirist Karl Kraus, who, via his self-published magazine Die Fackel, "attacked the popular media's manipulation of reality, the dehumanizing machinery of technology and consumer capitalism, and the jingoistic rhetoric of a fading empire"--Dust jacket flap.… (more)

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