by Richard Kostelanetz (November 2014)
In memory of the great American social critic Thomas Szasz (1920-2012), whose Kraus translations became my milestone.
Having used automatic translations for the first drafts of my translations of Guillaume Apollinaire, F. T. Marinetti, and Gustave Flaubert, writing initially in French and Italian, I decided to do likewise for a favorite German writer, the Viennese Karl Kraus (1874-1936), again rewriting his sentences as though they were my own, thus producing in English a Karl Kraus so different from other available translations that I call my texts Kosti’s Karl Kraus. Typically perhaps, I’ve added a few of my own sentences written in a Krausian spirit.
Need I add that my translations, made in and for the 21st Century, depend upon technologies developed within recent decades? Note that this Karl’s name is spelled with only one S, to distinguish him from certain inferior writers parading a homonym with a double ß. Readers familiar with my writings will no doubt note my identification with another city writer scarcely interested in nature, critters, or rural life, whose Vienna was as central to his sensibility as New York City is to mine. Bless him.
Typically Viennese can be as insular as New Yorkers are. Some fifty years ago, I sat in a seminar conducted by the great art historian E. H. Gombrich, born in Vienna but by then exiled in London for decades. At first I couldn’t make sense of strong opinions that seemed contradictory to me, as he commended, say, both Ludwig Wittgenstein and Sigmund Freud. Mentioning my confusion to a veteran Gombrich watcher, I learned the key—the Vienna of his youth. What was there in the 1920s and 1930s he admired; whatever he viewed as contributing to Vienna’s decline, he disparaged. Perhaps Karl Kraus was among Gombrich’s Viennese heroes, notwithstanding Kraus’s withering contempt for Sigmund Freud.
Fortunate am I to reside in the city where I was born.
At the end of my Karl Kraus, I reprint a review written for the monthly Liberty in 1991 and subsequently reprinted in my book Skeptical Essays (2012).
–Richard Kostelanetz, FarEast BushWick, NY 11385-5751, 14 May 2014
Language is a divining rod that, if pointed in the right direction, identifies truths.
When my writing is blocked by the wall of language, then I draw back my bloody head and move forward.
Any linguistic work translated into another language resembles someone going across the border naked before donning clothes familiar on the other side.
One can translate an aphorism but not a poem.
An interpreter who can cross a border naked cannot, nonetheless, get a new skin.
Any writer who can turn memorable aphorisms should not waste his time writing transcient essays.
Aphorisms, unlike correspondence, cannot be dictated to a secretary.
Bullshitters have no other use for language than deception.
Inexhaustibility is the chimera making illusory power of language endless, forever replenishing literature.
Language is the common prostitute that an honest writer turns virginal.
An aphorism, while not necessarily true, should surpass any truth, ideally in one great leap.
Word and essence—linking them is all that I have ever sought in life.
Without distinguished words, distinguished sentences, and then distinguished paragraphs criticism is just opinion.
From the well of language I have drawn many a thought that I cannot finally put into the most appropriate words.
The closer one looks at a single word, the further away it moves from your mind.
Consider language the mother of thought, not its handmaiden.
Never perfectly true, an aphorism is either more true or less.
Many a stylistic problem confusing in my head has been resolved by flipping heads or tails.
Heinrich Heine so loosened the undergarments of the German language that today every little salesman can fondle her breasts.
Whatever writing depends upon subject matter dies with that subject matter; whatever lives in language survives as language.
READING AND WRITING
As my public and I can understand each other very well, it does not hear what I say and I don’t write what it wants to hear.
In reading superior literary works I gain pleasures that depend upon my extra effort.
Better to enjoy the work of another’s mind, I must first take a critical attitude toward it, making it my own. For which reason I shall more easily and gladly rewrite a book than just read one.
As my readers think that I write for now because my writings are based on today, so I shall have to wait until my writings are deemed outdated to discover if they might still be timely.
In publishing my magazine no longer do I have collaborators, because I was once envious of them for repelling those readers whom I want to lose myself.
If you read all writers twice, both good and bad, you will recognize the former and forget about the latter.
Some authors are so deeply obscure that the readers are slow to scratch their surfaces.
One mystery intrinsic in writing is that a whole line could be written by half a mind.
Is it better not to express what one means than write what one does not mean?
Behind every word in an aphorism stands thousands of pages of reading.
I would have stagefright if I had to speak personally with every one of my readers.
Some writers are already so popular that anyone vilifying them becomes more popular than they are.
Killing me off would be more feasible than eliminating what I’ve written.
Sooner than view a situation from all sides, which is what readers would usually prefer, I persist in viewing a situation from only one side, thus saving myself many words and much disappointment.
Pitiful is writing that depends upon exclamation marks, question marks, and dashes as though they were whips, snares, and goads.
Any writer caught plagiarizing should be required to copy his violated source by hand one hundred times.
When an acquaintance of mine told me that reading one of my essays aloud gained him a wife, I counted this among my greatest successes, remembering how easily a provocative essay could make one lose his spouse or, worse, how I could have fallen into such unfortunate situation myself.
A skeptical writer can make a riddle out of an answer.
As nothing is more horrible than my self seen in the mirror of hysteria, so nothing is more vulgar than my style in the dirty hands of another, a weak imitator punishing me.
At the beginning of my writing life was a review copy [of Harold Rosenberg’s The Tradition of the New] that I received from its publisher and then reviewed. Then I cowrote a book that this publisher accepted and sent on to someone else as a review copy whose recipient then did as I did. This is how writing lives develop.
Though the writer may not have better taste than a reader, the former gains authority from having previously written about his taste.
No one reading a work of mine should be able to identify any seam, even if every aphorism here was torn apart and sewn together one hundred times.
No strong writer receives as many nasty letters as is commonly assumed, for among every one hundred jackasses in the world less than ten will admit to being jackasses and then no more than one is foolish enough to write.
I dreamed of an encyclopedia walking up to a polymath and opening him up.
If my request that my writings be read twice has aroused great indignation, even if unjustly so, consider that I do not ask that they be read only once.
How can I find enough time for not reading so many bad books?
The journalist writes to inform; the aphorist, to be remembered.
Any book out of print falls out of posterity’s mind.
If I have done nothing more than show the distinction between an urn and a chamber pot, this distinction above all provides culture with elbow room. Divide people failing to make this distinction into those who use the urn as a chamber pot and those who use the chamber pot as an urn.
Many people finding fault with me praise me nonetheless, even as I continue to find fault with them.
To write a novel may be pure pleasure. To live within a novel presents certain difficulties. In reading a novel, I do my best to keep myself out of it.
When a woman beside me in a lovers’ bed offered to “put you in my next novel,” I leaped up, donned my clothes, and sprinted home.
Let my style capture all the sounds of my time, to the annoyance of certain contemporaries, especially if later readers should hold it to their ears like a seashell.
When I take up my pen, nothing can happen to me. Fate, remember that.
Never exactly true, an aphorism is either a half-truth or a one-and-a-half truths.
Unless hate can inspire a writer, he might as well spend his days in love.
A playwright taking a bow shows not humility but presumption. Why does a face devoid of makeup want to show itself on the stage afterwards? Before the performance he had even less business there, so that paying him royalties is equivalent to cheating the actors.
I trim my opponents’ size to fit my arrows.
The esthete stands to beauty as the pornographer stands to love, and the politician stands to life.
I knew a man who carried his education in his vest pocket because it offered more room than his head.
The newspaper reporter who has killed our imagination with his limited truth also threatens our life with his lies.
If anesthesia permits wounds without pain, a neurasthenic endures pain without wounds.
Since the law prohibits the keeping of wild animals and I get no enjoyment from pets, I prefer to remain unmarried.
Two lovers who did not get married have, since separating, been living in mutual widowhood.
He thinks he’s the only person who’s forgotten that I do not know him.
Don’t forgive jerks who know very well what they do.
The extraordinary ability of a woman to forget is not the same as the talent of a lady unable to remember.
Come on, don’t be a bore, says a Viennese to anyone visible bored in his company.
An illusion of depth often results if a blockhead is also a muddlehead.
Intercourse with a woman requires more imagination than masturbation.
Few can cast out an error inherited at birth and replace it with a mature truth.
Every purportedly “beautiful” woman is ugly to some.
Some women new to my bed are less attractive the morning after.
Whenever animals yawn, they acquire human faces.
Only after midnight do Viennese geniuses think about each other.
The devil must be an optimist if he thinks he can make people worse than they are.
Any woman refusing to look me in the eye while making love is probably imagining herself in bed with someone else.
Barbershop chatter irrefutably proves that heads exist for the sake of hair.
If you ask your neighbor only about things you know better yourself, then his advice could prove valuable.
Cursed be the law that permits too many fellow citizens to stand as the sorry consequences of uncommitted abortions.
Whatever teachers digest, their pupils eat.
Men’s immorality triumphs over female amorality.
If experiences offer savings that a miser puts aside, wisdom becomes an inheritance that a wastrel cannot exhaust.
Ingratitude is often disproportionate to the benefits received.
For people unable to understand German [or English] I will not write journalese.
Newspapers have roughly the same relationship to the historical record as fortunetellers stand to metaphysics.
Fools read newspapers religiously.
By serving the present journalism destroys its usefulness to posterity.
Only to an illiterate are newspapers Literature.
A journalist is stimulated by a deadline. He writes worse when he has time. [Or, as a New York Times staffer once told me, “No one ever wrote a great book while working at the New York Times.”]
The prostitute resembles the journalist in that neither is expected to experience any feeling; but she differs from him in being able to experience feelings.
If one reads a newspaper only for information, one does not learn many truths and certainly not even the truth about newspapers, which is that they are not statements of contents but contents themselves and thus intellectually limited.
Two measures of a journalist are an absence of ideas and the superior ability to express them.
To readers newspapers disseminate information about new art while undermining their receptivity to it.
Any newspaper claiming to be “of record” reveals its cracks easily.
Few professional historians can write slickly enough for newspapers.
Anyone writing history regards newspaper reportage as a weak first draft, as journalism influences historians less than dinner-table chatterers.
Newspapers are about yesterday and sometimes the day before yesterday.
During wars, news reports stand up as people, people wither into editorials, and clichés walk around on two legs while men are having theirs shot off.
Journalists with nothing to say hope to discover something to say as they write.
If a historian is not a prophet facing backwards, a journalist pretends afterwards to know everything beforehand.
Journalists say what their editors want said.
Despite its pompous terminology, psychoanalysis is not a science but a religion—the faith of a generation incapable of any other.
Psychoanalysis is the disease for which it purports to be the cure.
Everyone with a well-run mental machine ought to have the threshold of his consciousness cleaned a few times a year.
Analysis accounts for any schnorrer [Yiddish for beggar] explaining how riches grow.
Psychoanalysts pick our dreams with their hands in our pockets.
Psychology is a bus racing against an airplane.
If God made man out of dust, the psychoanalyst reduces him to it.
Psychoanalysts resemble a rabbit willingly swallowed by a boa constrictor just to see what it was like in there.
While your conscious probably hasn’t much use for my unconscious, I have implicit faith in my unconscious, especially in its ability to deal with your conscious.
If mankind, with all its repulsive faults, is an organism, then regard the psychoanalyst as its excrement whose very name, do note, unites “psyche” and “anus.”
Psychology is useless at providing recipies for poison.
If something is stolen from you, don’t go to the police, who are not interested. Don’t go to a psychoanalyst either, because he’ll tell you why you really did the stealing.
Psychoanalysis resembles the poor man’s explanation of wealth. Because he lacks it, the others must have gained it by force or fraud. Why he lacks happiness only the psychoanalyst claims to understand.
They own the press, they own the stock exchange, and now they also own everyone’s subconscious!
Psychoanalysis is reportedly a big hit in the United States, to no surprise, as Americans love everything they haven’t got, starting with antiques and a soul.
Most people are sick, though only a few regard this is something to be proud of; and these are psychoanalysts.
In my unconscious I have stronger insight into the consciousness of a psychoanalyst than in his consciousness he knows about my unconscious.
The difference between psychiatrists and other mentally disturbed people resembles the relationship between protuberant and receding—between concave and convex— madness.
Psychoanalysts’ children do not fare well, as a toddler the son must admit to experiencing erotic feelings while defecating and later must tell his father what goes through his mind when, on the way to school, he sees a horse defecating. Lucky indeed he would be if he reaches the age when he can confess to dreaming that he raped his mother.
Psychoanalysts raise the general question of what to think about, how to regard, people who claim to know yourself better than you do.
As the business plan for any psychoanalyist requires keeping customers by any means available, the loss of a regular customer measures failure.
Because shrinks regard themselves as “professionals,” they aspire to charge their clients as much per hour as lawyers or physicians and, if only to measure their success, strive to reside wherever lawyers or doctors do, not just in the winter but in the summers as well.
Credit Freud with creating the image of a Dream State where things are just as bad there as they are here.
The shrine at which the artist worshiped is now defiled by dirty boots belonging to psychologists.
Artists have a right to be modest and a duty to be vain.
Just as science is spectral analysis, so art realizes light synthesis.
In art it is less important that one takes eggs and fat and thus that more than one artist has fire and a pan.
Love and art do not represent what is beautiful but what is made beautiful by skillful representation.
One ultimate aim of psychoanalysis is attributing art to mental weakness, and then tracing such weakness back to the point where, according to analytic dogma, it originated—namely, the lavatory.
Imagination has the right to feast in the shade of the tree that the artist imagines a forest.
Even an excellent pianist must drown out the noises made by good society after dinner.
Certain talents lose their precocious strength with age, while other talents don’t emerge until middle age.
Love and art embrace not what is beautiful and by that embrace become beautiful.
Unscrupulous is the artist who invites a woman into his studio on the pretext that he wants to seduce her and paints her instead.
An artist working in a pristine studio is a char(wo)man telling a tale.
Psychopathologists now examine authors after they are dead. This serves the poets right, as writers should have raised human consciousness to a level where no one would listen to such pretentious pathologists.
Only an artist can make a puzzle out of a solution.
Think of jealousy as a dog’s bark that attracts thieves.
Some possess a great talent for psychology in addition to an even greater talent for seeing through it.
Nerve doctors who pathologize genius should have their heads crushed beneath the collected works of genius, just as those humanists who decry the vivisection of guinea pigs while applauding the subjection of works of art and dead artists to psychologizing deserve the same fate.
Most “theory” offers truth to some and muddle to most others.
Working with one other as a partner or an assistant is feasible, while two or more people require manipulation and, worse, bullying.
Girls cannot be taught soon enough how not to make children come into the world.
As a powerful religion, psychology turns doubt into bliss as it “explains” what might otherwise remain mysterious. Engendering not humility but arrogance, this new doctrine enjoys great earthly success, in some places lording over all other creeds and cults.
As I grow older, much that I experience I already remember.
A man regards the female body is an imaginary object for only his mental images of it are free of disappointment.
About sex the whole world is utterly stupid, regarding sexual life in terms either of a division between the sexes or of decisions made on moral grounds. If no one is supposed to know what is really good for him, then nectar comes from witches’ brew, so we are warned. Whoever dreamt this up should have been stoned to death. It is as absurd to hold such a view as it is to assert that just because a substance is repulsive, it cannot, when mixed with food, serve as a spice. In fact, man’s imagination provides the spice of his erotic life.
Sex education in schools becomes a platform, supported by claims to hygiene, for preventing young people from satisfying their own curiosities.
Art like wine inspires some while putting others to sleep.
Rare is the critic like myself who can be so popular that anybody publicly vilifying him (me) becomes yet more popular.
One fault of Germans is not that they sometimes kill gratuitously but that they justify murder with citations from Immanual Kant.
Nowadays lunatic doctors and their sidekicks spout a steady stream of nonsense about homosexuality, customarily dividing homosexuals into two classes—those who cannot be anything but homosexuals, and those who could refuse supposedly if they want to do so. Having made this distinction, our guardians of law and morality then distribute compassion and contempt among them. In due time, anywhere from 129 to 175 years from now, mankind with probably rise to the dizzying heights of declaring that “congenital” homosexuals are not sick and will thus insist on forgiving them; and thus that “acquired” homosexuals, no longer sinful, will no longer fear the coercions of criminal law, the contempt of society, and the curse of blackmail. Methods for establishing these amorphous distinctions I leave, of course, to the psychiatric executioners.
If I’d known in advance that my work would share immortality with certain other writers, I would have preferred oblivion.
Behind woman’s clothing certain bodies look better imagined than seen.
IDEAS AND OPINIONS
If an idea is a love child, an opinion gains currency in bourgeois society.
Sound opinions have no value until other people hold them.
Education scarcely provides ammunition for confronting surprising threats.
One’s automobile is more likely to kill and maim people than personal guns or knives.
As stupider people arise early, more newspaper “news” happens in the morning.
Education is a crutch with which the foolish help the wise to prove that they are not idiots.
The psychiatrist diagnoses a madman as “sane” by his objections to being incarcerated.
Count “diagnosis” among the more widespread diseases.
Social policy represents the desperate attempt to do eye surgery on a cancer patient.
A “gourmet” once informed me that he preferred the “scum of the earth” to the cream of society.
Cosmetics is feminine cosmology.
Culture comes from letting concerns about subsistence disappear behind higher purposes, though economics results from subordinating the latter to the former.
The male equivalents of elegant dresses are rarely as successful.
Schools without grades must be the brainchild of someone drunk on rootbeer.
Greater is the miracle when a fly flies than when a human being boards an airplane.
How do moths fly with such big “balls”?
Vienna is the love that connects me to my city’s fatheads, those insulting my moral sense, and, worse, the profaners of my language.
A bibliophile has the same relationship to literature as a philatelist to geography.
Morality is a venereal disease whose primary stage is called virtue; its secondary stage, boredom; its tertiary stage, syphilis.
The true deception of education becomes most apparent when supposedly educated people begin to pontificate about problems lying beyond their competence.
Contemporary literature resembles prescriptions written by patients.
Marital jealousy demands not fidelity but proof of fidelity, which is impossible.
Anyone with opinions must not let himself be caught in a contradiction because anyone thinking gets through contradictions.
The epitome of sentimental irony is a day baying at the moon while pissing on gravestones.
Statuatory rape laws presume that the State knows better than anyone else the proper age for deflowering.
Technological development can’t cure the infirmity of human nature.
It is easier not to express what one means than to express what one does not mean.
In one ear and out the other would make the head into a transit station, for whatever of worth I hear must go out the same ear.
Thought many share my views with me, I don’t share them with them or their views with me.
As someone sharing my opinion kept the larger share for himself, I, now forewarned, offer people only ideas.
Justice is a whore that won’t let herself be stiffed, shamelessly collecting wages even from the poor.
Urban public transportation is more reliable than cars which are more reliable than horses.
Count smug diagnoses identifying ghosts within the human machine among the more widespread diseases; smug autopies as cancerous.
Since the law prohibits the keeping of wild animals and pets are no pleasure, I prefer to remain unmarried.
Originality is legitimate only if one feels the desire to plagiarize oneself.
Education most people receive, many pass on, and few have.
In a hollow head is much room for details and other useless knowledge.
I hear noises that others don’t notice and which disturb my hearing the music of the spheres, which others don’t notice either.
Surprised is everyone to discover the obstacles encountered from translating an action into an idea.
Whenever I want to fall asleep, I must subdue a whole menagerie of voices. You would not believe the noises invading my bedroom.
When I dreamed that I died for my country, I saw at my unveiling a gravedigger with his hand open for a tip.
If only the planet Earth had any idea of how afraid the comet is of contact with it!
The superman is a premature ideal if it presupposes a human being.
If science is spectral analysis, art results from light synthesis.
Can mental diseases be contagious?
When the end of the world comes, I want to be living in retirement.
If people were given muzzles and dogs laws, if people were led around on leashes and dogs on religion, rabies might then decrease along with politics.
Technological development can’t overcome the infirmity of human nature.
The real end of the world comes after the destruction of spirit; the other kind represents the insignificant attempt to see whether the world can go on in the wake of wanton devastation.
The world will be surprised when no one has any money left, having lent it out.
I’d apply for a permit for a hand-operated guillotine were not the license likely to be too dear.
Significant things that I experience I remember forever; trivial things I forget.
Only when people I wish to avoid are forced upon me do I desire solitude.
Before human rights became available to everyone, only an exceptional individual had them. As that was deemed inhumane in a democracy, the ideal of equality required taking away these human rights from exceptional individuals.
Democracy subsumes permission to be everyone’s slave.
By dividing people into workers and loafers, democracy makes no provision for those who have no time to work.
Parliamentarianism means putting political prostitution in sweaty gymnasiums.
The demagogue’s secret is appearing as dumb as his audience who can then in turn regard themselves as smart as he.
If perversion may be regarded either as a condition or as a capability, society is more eager to accept it as the former than to respect it as a capability. On its path to progress, society gets just so far only diminishing birth to merit and social status to personal achievement.
Social reform epitomizes the desperate desire to remove corns from a person suffering from cancer.
The development of technology cannot eliminate the infirmity of human nature.
From the moment man imagined the conquering of space, the earth has kept him grounded.
Progress, under whose feet the grass mourns and the forest turns into paper from which newspaper plants grow, has subordinated the purpose of life to the means of subsistence and turned us into nuts and bolts for our tools.
Technology is a servant making such a racket cleaning up in the next room that its master cannot make music.
Progress celebrates temporary victories over nature.
Ever since the invention of a mirror the world has become uglier every day, making us accept mirror images over any examination of the original.
As long as there is a women’s rights movement, men should at least regard themselves as obliged to discontinue chivalry. Don’t even risk offering a woman a seat on a streetcar, for she might think you’re insulting her and abridging her right to an equal share of the inconveniences of life. On the other hand, toward such feminists, get into the habit of being chivalrous and accommodating in every way.
RELIGION, MORALITY, PATRIOTISM
Sentiments such as religion, morality, and patriotism arise only when they are outraged.
Morality is a burglar’s tool whose advantage comes from never being left behind at the scene of the crime.
If the pimp is the executive organ of immorality, the blackmailer is the executive organ of morality.
In an example of morality’s triumph a thief who has broken into a bedroom claims his sense of shame has been outraged and then, by threatening the occupants with exposure of their immoral act, he blackmails them into forgetting charges for burglary.
Scandal arises only when lawmen are asked to put a stop to something.
Nationalism is the love tying me to the blockheads of my country, to those insulting my way of life, and, worst of all, to the desecrators of my language.
Squeeze human nature into the straitjacket of “criminal justice” and, to no surprise, crime will appear!
Some people can never forgive a beggar for acknowledging their passing glance.
Though a white lie can be pardonable, whoever’s not compelled to tell the truth merits no leniency.
Life requires effort deserving a better cause.
If a weak man has doubts before a decision, a stronger man has doubts afterwards.
Pangs of conscience represent sadistic stirrings of Christianity.
The devil shows self-confidence if he imagines making people meaner.
Keep your passions in check, but beware of giving your reason free rein.
To be human is erroneous.
Dogs are loyal, to be sure, to their masters but not to other dogs.
Morality depends upon pouring out a baby with the bathwater.
Slaves are granted three kinds of freedom: opinions free of intellect, entertainment free of art, and orgies free from love.
Prostitution is a profession with low entrance barriers.
Penalties serve to deter those already disinclined to commit any crimes.
If Prussia permits freedom of movement with a muzzle, Austria offers an isolation cell in which only screaming is allowed.
In Berlin, people are serious but not hopeless; in Vienna, they are hopeless but not serious.
Corruption is worse than prostitution, which might endanger the morals of an individual while the former invariably endangers the morals of the entire country.
No bellyacher am I, as my criticism of Vienna reflects not love gone astray. It’s just that I’ve discovered completely new ways for judging it unbearable.
If the streets of Vienna are paved with culture, streets in other cities have asphalt.
If I could wager on the demise of mankind, how and where could I collect my winning bet?
Benevolent slavery epitomizes socialism in which a person’s basic needs were subsidized.
I can prove that Germany is still the land of poets and thinkers, as I have toilet paper with maps laid in Berlin and on each sheet is an allusion to an appropriate situation in a classic.
No one walking in a city need fear confronting an animal larger than he is.
Neither choosing nor knowing its objects, satire arises by the writer’s fleeing from them until they force themselves upon him.
Through my satire I make little people so big that afterwards they become worthy objects above anyone’s reproach of either them or me.
If someone calls me vain and mean to my face, I know that he trusts me with whatever he has to confess to me.
A pun, though intrinsically despicable, can be the noblest vehicle of an artistic intention precisely as a witty abbreviation that raises to the level of epigrammatic social criticism.
A satire that the censor cannot understand must be superior satire.
Sound opinions are valueless unless other people hold them.
I shave my opponents to fit my arrows.
Erotic pleasure is an obstacle course.
Intelligence about erotic life belongs to art, not to education, which accounts for why pornography teaches more than educators.
Mainly to impress illiterates must the penal code be written.
Children always discover sexual possibilities unknown to their parents, sometimes teaching parents what adults should know (or should have known).
Sexuality weakly repressed unsettles some families; fiercely repressed, it unsettles the whole world.
Few under the sun are as unfortunate as the foot fetishist who yearns for a woman’s shoe and, disappointed, has to negotiate through a whole woman.
A Don Juan who falls in love resembles a doctor who gets an infection at his patient’s bed or a con man who get conned.
Sexual education is that hard-hearted process that purportedly on hygienic grounds forbids young people from discovering themselves.
It is normal to consecrate virginity in general while lusting for its destruction in particular.
Nothing makes sexual education more legitimate than teaching girls soon enough how children don’t come into the world.
Ballerinas are imagined to have sexuality in their legs, tenors in their larynxes. That is why women are mistaken about tenors and men about ballerinas.
Male eroticism is female sexuality.
The costs of chastity include pimples in individuals and, in society, self-defeating sex laws.
Erotics is to sexuality as gain is to loss.
The surprising insight of psychoanalysis is exposing the erotic desires of father confessors.
The Judas kiss which Christian civilization gave to the human spirit was the last sexual act it permitted.
Just as Greek thinkers did not disdain whores, so Teutonic salesmen cannot live without ladies.
Loving lowers standards.
When after-love is less compelling that seduction, never will we love again.
Though one is advised against marrying a woman who has previously had an affair, it is acceptable to have an affair with a woman who had previously been married, all because
virginity is the only ideal of those who value deflowering.
Blushing, palpitations, a bad conscience—these you will get if you haven’t sinned.
As a healthy person displays both masochism and sadism, the only ugly thing in each case is the word.
If the old science denied the sexuality of adults, the new one claims that the infant feels lust during defecation, the claim overcoming the possible objection of the parties concerned to deny it.
What are all Bacchian orgies compared to the intoxication of someone who completely surrenders to continence.
Family life encroaches on private life, to no surprise of all who acquire families.
A man who boasts about initiating a woman into the mysteries of love resembles a stranger who, arriving at the railroad station, offers to show the tourist guide the sights of the city.
In the conjugal bedroom coexist brutality and martyrdom.
A father’s pride, inevitably thick, makes me wish that the fellow had at least experienced some pregnancy pains.
Virginity is destined to end.
Eroticism overcome obstacles, the most popular and thus tempting being morality.
Lousy loving is lousy.
Many things tasteless at table are spicy in bed—and vice versa. The reason liaisons can be so unhappy is a failure to make this distinction between bed and table.
Society needs women of bad character when those without character are a dubious element.
As women at least have elegant dresses, why do men need more than a suit and tie to cover their emptiness?
Art, more than education, offers insights into erotic experience. But sometimes these insights have to be spelled out for the illiterates, who must be educated, because they, not artists, write the penal code.
Wars start only when diplomats tell lies to journalists and then, worse, believe what they read.
In declaring war, a belligerent hopes to win and then expects his enemy to lose until the belligerent discovers that he too is suffering and that in the end, to his surprise, everyone has lost.
Among some nations, the aptitude for publicizing war communiqués substitutes for any fitness to fight.
A sorcerer’s apprentice apparently exploited the absence of any master. But now blood replaces water.
Acknowledge for mankind the significance of the nearly simultaneous invention of gunpowder and printer’s ink.
The principal truth demonstrated by a “world war” that Christianity has been too puny to prevent it.
If children play soldiers, to no objection, why ask soldiers to play like children?
Never forgive Abraham Lincoln for initiating a hughly costly war against renegade states that should have, instead, been peacefully dumped.
Why the confusions resulting from christening Mars the god of commerce and Mercury the god of war?
In war the only sure winners make munitions.
Diplomacy is a game of chess in which nations can be checkmated into resignation.
“To capture the world market” was once a merchants’ slogan; but since warriors have captured such much, there’s no longer a world market.
When the word “peace” was heard for the first time, munitions’ stockholders panicked, screaming in pain, “We’ve been earning! Continue this war! We’ve earned this war!”
Just as Paternoster has become the accepted name for a continuously moving elevator, so in America a town named Bethlehem houses the biggest munitions factory.
If someone had told the devil (who always regarded war as epitomizing pure pleasure) that one day some people with an unashamed commercial interest would favor the continuation of war—the profits from which even helped them to attain social standing—the devil would have advised that person to go tell it to the marines. But later, after wars began, hell would have glowed with shame as the devil would have been forced to realize that all his life he had been only a poor devil!
May I be the last writer ever to think so much about ground warfare.
Solitude would be an ideal state if one were able to select the people to avoid.
A gourmet once told me that he preferred the scum of the earth to the cream of society.
I must move among people again. For this past summer, among bees and dandelions, my misanthropy got really out of hand when I discovered that, just as many wish to kill me, so many wanted to spend an hour chatting with me, the rule of law thankfully protecting me from the former.
What torture is social life! Often when someone is obliging enough to light a match for me, I, in order to oblige him, have to fish a cigarette out of my pocket.
A beautiful woman’s superficiality is unfathomable.
The world is a prison that makes solitary confinement preferable.
Nothing is more narrow-minded than chauvinism or race hatred. To me all men are equal, jack-asses everywhere are equally worthy of my contempt. No petty prejudices for me!
Family life encroaches upon private life.
Education arms young people with information they can use for attaining wisdom gained from experience.
What makes chauvinism unattractive is not so much the aversion to other nations, but the love of one’s own.
Pets aren’t people while pet-loving people barely are.
The need for loneliness is not satisfied by sitting at a table alone. There must be empty chairs as well. If a solicitous waiter takes away from my dining table a chair on which no one is sitting, I feel a void, arousing my irritation. I can’t dine without empty chairs.
Some make a general nuisance by ostentatiously pushing themselves into the background.
No one greets people he doesn’t know or doesn’t want to know.
If a healthy man is content with a woman, an erotic man appreciates a stocking before getting to a woman and a sick man is content sniffing the stocking.
Much as I‘d like to conduct a monologue with a woman, a dialogue with myself is more stimulating.
Any writer surviving without praise from the crowd cannot miss the opportunity of becoming his own best fan.
Upon himself an independent writer takes the liberty of conferring on himself all the support of a coterie.
If threatened with sharing immortality with certain people, may I prefer a separate oblivion?
If you wish to form a clear judgment of any friend, consult your memory or your dreams.
I don’t like to meddle in my private affairs.
To those who have doubts about my health I will admit that I suffer from gout, but I won’t let anyone deny that I can also see a thunderstorm coming.
Mr. Karl Kraus would not be desirous to linking himself with a group of persons who, with the expression “We, European intellectuals,” confer upon themselves an honorary title which, as long as it is not carried in the register of an association, could be bestowed only by history, and which would first have to be demonstrably justified in each instance.
I first read about Karl Kraus (1874-1936) in the concluding chapter of Erich Heller’s The Disinherited Mind (1957), a paperback introduction to modern German literature that was popular in colleges in the early 1960s. As the editor of his own magazine, Die Fackel, or The Torch, Kraus was the equivalent of H. L. Mencken, roughly his contemporary, and yet more versatile, producing satire, plays, and translations, in addition to a steady stream of iconoclastic essays.
Heller made great claims for this writer, indulging such superlatives as “an elemental spiritual force in the beauty-parlor of the soul” and “an untranslatable rare fusion of spontaneity and subtlety, of ethical integrity and intellectual complexity” equal to Kierkegaard and Kafka. In the years since I read that Heller essay, Kraus became one of those names that flashed in my mind as I entered a bookstore, prepared to buy and especially read. (Novalis is another.)
Though nearly every German-speaking intellectual has in his or her library a handsomely boxed reprint of perhaps a dozen volumes of Die Fackel, his works have been slow to appear here. The first book of Kraus in English, No Compromise (1977), came from the publisher Frederick Unger, likewise a Viennese. Though its translations, by several hands, were often inept (the opening essay should be titled “Acronyms,” rather than, as it is, “Initials”), certain sentences strike me as classic even with dashes of clumsiness: “People would rather catch venereal diseases than forego their cause, for it is still easier to be cured of them than of the inclination unintentionally to catch them.”
Harry Zohn’s In These Times anthology (1990) is the first American edition of a collection that, though edited by a Brandeis professor, was published initially in Montreal in 1976 and then reprinted in Great Britain in 1984 before its appearance here. For anyone who has not read Kraus before, a good place to start is “In Praise of a Topsy-Turvy Life-Style,” in which he portrays his personal habit of sleeping during the day while writing through the night. His principal rationale is that “stupidity gets up early; that is why events are accustomed to happening in the morning.” As a result, by the time he arises and visits his favorite café for the evening newspapers (remember that he is writing before the advent of continuous radio news), he is able to get a longer, less hysterical perspective on the day’s activities.
Given such procedures of epistemology, it is scarcely surprising that Kraus is particularly piqued with the sins of journalists, beginning with reporters who described WWI battles without actually seeing them. As Unger explained, “He pinpointed and attacked abuses in politics, in the administration of justice, as well as in art and literature, as they were presented in the press. He held the press accountable for these abuses because it was the press that aided and abetted the all but universal corruption.”
It is also important to note that he customarily attacked individuals who exemplified sins, rather than pursuing the safer, always more fashionable but less effective path of dueling with abstractions. Such courageous skepticism we’ve come to think is profoundly Jewish. No wonder I find in Kraus an intellectual father I’d known about but had not recognized before.
While pleased to have this classic Kraus essay in English, I wonder about the quality of translations, also by several hands, in the Zohn book. Whereas the most famous Kraus aphorism is known to me (and Thomas Szasz) as “Psychoanalysis is the disease of which it claims [or purports] to be the cure,” here the rendering is, “Psychoanalysis is that mental illness for which it regards itself as therapy.” That is so inferior there is reason to question everything else in Zohn. Indeed, given Kraus’s commitment to clear expression as a moral imperative, inept translations are doubly sinful.
Szasz’s book, which originally appeared in 1976, provides a fuller introduction to Kraus’s activity, inevitably focusing upon the continuing quarrel with Freud and his followers. An appendix to Szasz’s Anti-Freud contains fresh translations, by Szasz and his brother residing in Germany, of only a few aphorisms. The English here is superior enough to suggest that, more than a half-century after Kraus’s death, we are still waiting for a definitive English translation of his rich and terribly sympathetic intelligence.
Individual entries on Richard Kostelanetz’s work in several fields appear in various editions of Readers Guide to Twentieth-Century Writers, Merriam-Webster Encyclopedia of Literature, Contemporary Poets, Contemporary Novelists, Postmodern Fiction, Webster’s Dictionary of American Writers, The HarperCollins Reader’s Encyclopedia of American Literature, Baker’s Biographical Dictionary of Musicians, Directory of American Scholars, Who’s Who in America, Who’s Who in the World, Who’s Who in American Art, NNDB.com, Wikipedia.com, and Britannica.com, among other distinguished directories. Otherwise, he survives in New York, where he was born, unemployed and thus overworked.
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