Karl Kraus

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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 read—William Shakespeare, Johann Nestroy, Frank Wedekind, Jacques Offenbach—some 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.


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

   * 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.