Essays by Karl Kraus

“Engrossing, highly original . . . As a declared enemy of the easy response in an instant-access culture, Franzen finds in the unduly neglected Kraus a model of how to provoke readers while at the same time getting them to do some work.”

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 prophetic writers in Europe: a relentless critic of the popular media’s manipulation of reality, the dehumanizing machinery of technology and consumerism, and the jingoistic rhetoric of a fading empire. But even though his followers included Franz Kafka and Walter Benjamin, he remained something of a lonely prophet, and few people today are familiar with his work. Thankfully, Jonathan Franzen is one of them.

In The Kraus Project, Franzen not only presents his definitive new translations of Kraus but also annotates them spectacularly, with supplementary notes from the Kraus scholar Paul Reitter and the Austrian writer Daniel Kehlmann. Kraus was a notoriously cantankerous and difficult author, 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. Interwoven with Franzen’s survey of today’s cultural and technological landscape is an intensely personal recollection of the author’s first year out of college, when he fell in love with Kraus.

Painstakingly wrought, strikingly original in form, The Kraus Project is a feast of thought, passion, and literature.

The Kraus Project, which reprints the German essays alongside Franzen’s translations, is a fluid version of Kraus that captures as best it might the author’s irascible precision without tinkering his prose to make it sound like any other writer’s . . . In the end, it is the achievement of The Kraus Project to provide a solid picture of what make Kraus incomparable and, paradoxically enough, relevant. Franzen builds a very effective case that Kraus’s criticism of media technology–particularly of the ways 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 . . . Franzen’s footnotes form a running dialogue with Kraus, and he is full of provocative observations about the encroachments of Twitter streams and AOL news feeds, iPhones and Facebook, and the fawning embrace of technology among the very people whose livelihood is most jeapordized by it, journalists.”
“[The Kraus Project‘s] eccentric, Weblike structure–there are footnotes to footnotes of footnotes–provides a model for intellectually serious blogging . . . What is great about the Kraus essays in The Kraus Project [is] the anger that builds to such heights that it becomes funny and laughs at itself, even as it speaks truth to power; the disparagement of something rarely disparaged, individuality . . . Franzen made Kraus’s contrarian outlook his own–and reading The Kraus Project one finds Franzen’s fictional project newly illuminated. In his novels, Franzen often invites the reader to laugh at the darkness hidden in supposedly happy events, and to glimpse the hope hidden in supposedly sad ones . . . But it is not just the satirical impulses and the skewering of the media that make The Kraus Project feel like an unusually well-written and substantive blog. It’s the structure as well. This book is a conversation among four writers: Kraus, Franzen, the Kraus scholar Paul Reitter, and the Austrian novelist Daniel Kehlmann. Rants by Kraus inspire rants by Franzen. Your attention flits among the four voices–part of the fun is watching how they build off one another, big-up and deflate one another. It’s a dream of what the blogosphere can be, when we blog in a less attention-seeking manner, with due respect for prose style and the complexity of truth . . . Like Kraus, Franzen both loves and hates the journalism of his time, which is why, like Kraus, he writes about it.”