Kraus, Karl (1874-1936)

views updated May 11 2018

KRAUS, KARL (1874-1936)

Karl Kraus, an Austrian writer, was born April 28, 1874, in Bohemia and died in Vienna on July 12, 1936.

He was the ninth child of the businessman and manufacturer Jakob Krauss and his wife Ernestine. The family moved to Vienna in 1877. Kraus became interested in the theater while still quite young. He studied law, philosophy, and German, and worked as a critic for several magazines; he published an essay in 1897 in which he denounced the excesses of fin-de-siècle decadence (Gustav Klimt) and attacked his friend Hugo von Hofmannsthal. In 1910 the first reading of Kraus's work was held in Berlin. This was followed by approximately seven hundred other readings in different European cities, where the work of other authors was readWilliam Shakespeare, Johann Nestroy, Frank Wedekind, Jacques Offenbachsome of which had been translated and adapted by Kraus.

Kraus converted to Catholicism in 1911 but abandoned the religion in 1923. In 1913 he had an affair with Sidonie Nadherny von Borutin, which was cut short by her marriage in 1920. She left the marriage six months later to join Kraus. In 1933 he wrote a text critical of Hitler that was published only after his death, but a poem of his clearly indicated his position. In 1936 he was struck by a cyclist and died on July 12.

His writing first appeared in Die Fackel (The Torch), which he founded and managed by himself from 1899 to 1936. Kraus examined the "small things" of everyday life, which he elevated into a general criticism of corruption and social conformity, especially that of the press, whose influence was growing. Kraus, in his criticism, was ambiguous about the question of Judaism, and in it he expressed what Otto Weininger referred to as hatred of the Jewish self. His pacifism, before and during the First World War, resulted in various forms of censorship. His "faith in language," a language he tried to master, was a constant factor: "Language is the mother of thought, not its servant."

Freud was one of the readers of Die Fackel around 1903, and mentioned it for the first time in 1905 in relation to his Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality. In 1906 Kraus took part in the accusation of plagiarism launched by Wilhelm Fliess. Freud, who thought he saw an ally in Kraus, tried to meet him. The tone changed in 1910, however, after Fritz Wittels, who had been a prolific collaborator at Die Fackel but had left the magazine, gave a presentation before the Vienna Psychoanalytic Society entitled the "Neurosis of Die Fackel." In his paper he caricatured Kraus's aversion to the Neue Freie Presse as the expression of a death wish against the father. When Kraus learned of Wittel's talk, he let loose the slings of his barbed wit against psychoanalysis itself.

Erik Porge

See also: Fackel, Die ; Wittels, Fritz (Siegfried).


Kraus, Karl (1975). Cahier Karl Kraus. Paris: L'Herne, Cahiers de l'Herne.

. (1985). Pro domo et mundo. Paris: Gérard Lebovici.

. (1986). La nuit venue. Paris: Gérard Lebovici.

Nunberg, Hermann, and Federn, Ernst. (1962-1975). Minutes of the Vienna Psychoanalytic Society. New York: International Universities Press.

Porge, Erik. (1994). Vol d'idées?. Paris: Denoël.

Waldvogel, A. (1990). Karl Kraus und die Psychoanalyse. Eine historisch-dokumentarische Untersuchung. PsycheZeitschrift für Psychoanalyse und ihre Anwendungen 1990, 44 (5), 412-444.

Timms, Edward. (1986). Karl Kraus, Apocalyptic satirist: Culture and catastrophe in Habsburg Vienna. New Haven and London: Yale University Press.

Kraus, Karl

views updated Jun 27 2018


KRAUS, KARL (1874–1936), Austrian satirist and poet. Born in Bohemia as the last of nine children to Jacob Kraus, a paper manufacturer, and his wife Ernestine née Kantor, Kraus was one of the greatest stylists in the German language and a vitriolic critic of the liberal culture of pre-Nazi Austria. In 1877 the family moved to Vienna; in 1892 Kraus enrolled in the university there to study law, philosophy, and German literature but never completed a degree. Though at first associated with the well-known Jung-Wien circle of writers, which included Arthur Schnitzler, Hugo von Hofmannsthal, and Stefan Zweig, he distanced himself from them in 1897 with the publication of Die demolierte Literatur, a political satire of the groups' activities. In 1899 he founded Die Fackel, an aggressively satirical magazine, which he wrote single-handedly beginning in 1911 and edited until his death. At times Kraus was a conservative moralist who tirelessly attacked hypocrisy and the permissive intellectual atmosphere fostered by Austrian liberalism; however, he also advocated more liberal attitudes toward sex in Viennese society. He yearned for a return to the aristocratic government of an earlier, more disciplined era. His greatest venom and most pungent wit were, however, reserved for corrupters of the language. Kraus, who left the Jewish religious community in 1899, was baptized in 1911, and then left the Catholic Church in 1922, had few kind things to say about Judaism. He blamed Jews themselves and the "Jewish press" (particularly the Neue Freie Press) for the existence of antisemitism. His pamphlet Eine Krone fuer Zion (1898) mocks Zionism, while Heine und die Folgen (1910) gives a disparaging estimate of the German-Jewish poet. Kraus' many essays were collected in six volumes (1908–37) and four volumes of epigrams and aphorisms appeared between 1909 and 1927. His most important drama is the lengthy Die letzten Tage der Menschheit (1919). This play, which if performed in its entirety would take ten evenings, is a massive diatribe on the collapse of civilization in World War i, consisting largely of verbatim extracts from the newspapers of the period. Kraus' Untergang der Welt durch schwarze Magie was published in 1922. His lyric poetry, in which he displays a scrupulous form, appeared between 1916 and 1930 in nine volumes titled Worte in Versen. It was not until Hitler turned his attention to Austria that Kraus brought his satire to bear on the evils of Nazism, but to the last day his battles were fought mainly against the Viennese liberal and socialist press. Auswahl aus dem Werk, containing selections from 11 of Kraus's works, was published in 1961.


O. Kerry, Karl Kraus Bibliographie (1954); L. Liegler, Karl Kraus und sein Werk (1920); E. Bin-Gorion, Der Fackel-Reiter (1932); R. Schaukal, Karl Kraus (1933); E. Heller, The Disinherited Mind (1952); W. Kraft, Karl Kraus (1956); Grunberger, in: jc (Dec. 24, 1965), Literary Supplement; C. Kohn, Karl Kraus le polémiste et l'écrivain… (1962); F. Field, The Last Days of Mankind: Karl Kraus and his Vienna (1967); H. Zohn, Wiener Library Bulletin, 24 (1970), no. 2, n.s. no. 19, 22–260. add. bibliography: W. Benjamin, Karl Kraus (1931); G. Carr and E. Timms (eds.), Reading Karl Kraus: Essays on the Reception of Die Fackel (2001); K. Krolop, Refexionen der Fackel: neue Studien ueber Karl Kraus (1994); L. Lensing, "Karl Kraus Writes 'He's a Jew After All'," in: Yale Companion to Jewish Writing and Thought in German Culture, 10961996 (1997), 313–21; P. Reitter, "The Soul of Form: Karl Kraus, Essayism and Jewish Identity in Finde-Siecle Vienna" (diss. 1999); "Karl Kraus and the Jewish Self-Hatred Question," in: Jewish Social Studies, 10:1 (2003), 78–116; F. Rothe, Karl Kraus, die Biographie (2003); E. Timms, Karl Kraus: Apocalyptic Satirist (1986); idem, Karl Kraus: Apocalyptic Satirist, Volume 2: The Postwar Crisis and the Rise of the Swastika (2005); N. Wagner, Geist und Geschlecht: Karl Kraus und die Erotik der Wiener Moderne (1987); H. Zohn, Karl Kraus and the Critics (1997); idem, "Karl Kraus: 'Juedischer Selbsthasser' oder 'Erzjude'," in: Modern Austrian Literature, 8 (1975), 1–19; idem, Karl Kraus (1971).

[Harry Zohn /

Lisa Silverman (2nd ed.)]