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The Kraus Project: Essays by Karl Kraus (English and German Edition) Hardcover – October 1, 2013

3.5 out of 5 stars 16 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

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.)

From Bookforum

It is the achievement of The Kraus Project to provide a solid picture of what makes Kraus incomparable and, paradoxically enough, relevant. Franzen builds a very effective case that Kraus’s criticisms of media technology—particularly of the way that it deformed language and thought—pull him out of the Vienna of a hundred years ago and reveal him to be a timely visionary. Yet as valid as Franzen’s case for revisiting Kraus may be, The Kraus Project shows him as a more fascinating figure than that—a writer whose words are intransigent and dated and oddly fresh, all at once. —Eric Banks
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 318 pages
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux; Bilingual edition (October 2013)
  • Language: English, German
  • ISBN-10: 0374182213
  • ISBN-13: 978-0374182212
  • Product Dimensions: 5.9 x 1.1 x 8.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (16 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #800,955 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By E. A. Moon on October 8, 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I was looking forward so much to 'The Kraus Project' that I pre-ordered it. It would seem that someone like me would be the perfect audience for this book. While I can read some German, Kraus in the original is quite beyond me. I've read some Kraus in translation (and enjoyed it overall) and am very interested in the culture of German-speaking countries, especially from the late 19th century to before WWII. I, like Franzen, spent a life-changing time abroad in school in Germany in the 1980s when I was in my 20s (Munich for me, Berlin for him).

Franzen translated two long essays by Karl Kraus ('Heine and the consequences' and 'Nestroy and posterity'), two shorter essays ('Afterword to "Heine and the consequences"' and 'Between two strands of life: final word') and a poem ('Let no one ask ...'). He was assisted by two people--Kraus scholar Paul Reitter (professor at Ohio State University), and the Austrian novelist Daniel Kehlmann. It is a bilingual edition, and there are incredibly copious footnotes by Franzen, Reitter and Kehlmann. Some of the footnotes explain what Kraus was getting at (cultural allusions, etc.). A lot of the footnotes are really autobiographical essays by Franzen describing his time in Germany in the early 80s where he first studied Kraus and became enamored of him.

The book came about a week ago, and as I read I got this awful, sinking 'the emperor has no clothes' feeling that just got stronger the more I read. I'm not talking about Jonathan Franzen and his collaborators. I'm talking about Kraus himself.

I've heard forever that Kraus is untranslatable, but what that really seems to mean is, he's almost unreadable no matter what the language.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is an odd book. I may be the only person who read it b/c it is about Kraus, rather than b/c it was produced by Franzen. It surely would not have been published if it hadn't had Franzen's name on the cover. As a college student Franzen got interested in the Viennese essayist Karl Kraus (1874-1936). This book consists of 2 lengthy essays by Kraus, 2 shorter pieces associated with one of the essays, and a short poem. The essays are about 2 19th Century German writers, Heine and Nestroy. Kraus detested Heine and loved Nestroy, and made his case in these essays.
The most striking thing about the book is its spatial typography. The essays are presented in the original German (on left-hand pages) with Franzen's translation (on the facing right-hand pages). Because Kraus's German is so hard to translate, the reader is meant to (be able to) consult the original German as needed. But the largest part of the book (literally) is the footnotes that explain/elaborate/take off from the text. Since the footnotes are (of course) at the foot of the pages and not at the end, the book must have been a typographical nightmare for the editor. Since the footnotes are to the English text and so always begin on the right pages, this often results in blank space on the left-hand pages. And since several of the footnotes are extremely long, it also results in many pages (actually, 50) that are only "footnotes."
The typesetting and footnoting of the book is so unusual that I did a scan of the book, rounding to tenths of pages and then adding up. Here is the typesetting topology of the book: Of the roughly 300 content-ful pages of the book, 64 pages are German text. Consequently, 64 pages are English translation.
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Format: Hardcover
When I first saw this book, I balked. It looked like a tedious vanity project, something that would never get published if it wasn't attached to Jonathan Franzen LTD. Translating a notoriously unreadable and unlikeable early 20th-century Austrian misanthrope's time-specific essays? Well...

It's nice to be proven wrong, though, and if anything, this shows how strong a writer Franzen is. The book translates two long essays by Kraus (along with two afterwords and a poem), retaining the original German on the left page with the English translation on the right. Franzen, helped substantially by Paul Reitter and Daniel Kehlmann, then annotates the text, with footnotes that far outstretch the original text.

This is a blessing, really. Kraus divides his essays lambasting and lauding two writers of his era, and while he has some sharp turns of phrase and certainly a wry wit, he also writes a lot of sentences that are dense as meteorite (some of which neither Franzen, Reitter, nor Kehlmann can parse out). Kraus is also given to a bad blend of topicality and vagueness, being either too specific or not enough, with sentences like "...the milder jarring of his times denied his response the consciousness of its finality--that blessed incentive to seal revenge on the material in his enjoyment of form." You have to know exactly who he's talking about, what the person he's talking about has done, and then you have to infer what Kraus means from his cryptic hinting. 100 years later, Franzen invites us to skip this line.

The reason for the book now is that Franzen sees a great similarity between Kraus' writings about feuilletons (writers of travel fluff, today's Travel + Leisure contributors) and today's blog culture.
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