Karl Kraus, widely regarded as one of the greatest satirists of the twentieth century, was primarily a prose writer, producing thousands of essays and aphorisms. He also wrote much poetry, which was collected in nine volumes entitled Worte in Versen (1916-1930; words in verse). Most of Kraus’s writings first appeared in his own journal, Die Fackel (the torch).
Karl Kraus, a man who forced the powerful and the pitiful alike to stand before his tribunal of satire, was a legend in his lifetime, both adored and vilified by his contemporaries. Following a decade of neglect, his work was rediscovered and reissued in Germany, Austria, and other countries after World War II. Numerous editions, studies, and translations have focused critical and popular attention on this satirist, whose dictum that “I have to wait until my writings are obsolete; then they may acquire timeliness,” seems to be coming true.
The key to Kraus’s life and work is his relationship to language. As Erich Heller put it, “Karl Kraus did not write ‘in a language,’ but through him the beauty, profundity, and accumulated moral experience of the German language assumed personal shape and became the crucial witness in the case this inspired prosecutor brought against his time.” The man who once said “Word and substance—that is the only combination I have striven for in my life,” saw an absolute congruity between word and world, language and life; the unworthiness of his “language-forsaken” age was for him defined by its treatment of language. Kraus continually emphasized the connection between language and morality; for him, language was the moral criterion and accreditation for a writer or speaker. J. P. Stern has termed this equation of linguistic incompetence, obtuseness, or dishonesty with moral torpor or degeneracy Kraus’s...
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Field, Frank. The Last Days of Humankind. New York: Macmillan, 1967. Study of Kraus’s Vienna.
Grimstad, Kari. Masks of the Prophet: The Theatrical World of Karl Kraus. Buffalo, N.Y.: University of Toronto Press, 1982. Presents critical analysis and interpretation of the plays of Kraus. Bibliography and index.
Halliday, John D. Karl Kraus, Franz Pfemfert, and the First World War: A Comparative Study of “Die Fackel” and “Die Aktion” Between 1911 and 1928. Passau, Germany: Andreas-Haller-Verlag, 1986. An examination of the political viewpoints of Kraus and Pfemfert as they were expressed in their periodical writings. Bibliography.
Iggers, Wilma Abeles. Karl Kraus. The Hague, the Netherlands: Martinus Nijhoff, 1967. Detailed analysis of Kraus’s writings.
Szasz, Thomas. Karl Kraus and the Soul Doctors. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1976. Kraus’s criticism of psychiatry and psychoanalysis.
Theobald, John. The Paper Ghetto: Karl Kraus and Anti-Semitism. New York: P. Lang, 1996. A study of Kraus’s relationship with his Jewish heritage. Includes bibliographical references and index.
Timms, Edward. Karl Kraus: Apocalyptic Satirist. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1986. Kraus and his work in context.
Zohn, Harry. Karl Kraus. New York: Twayne, 1971. Intelligent introduction to Kraus’s life and work.
Zohn, Harry. Karl Kraus and the Critics. Columbia, S.C.: Camden House, 1997. A history of the critical response to Kraus’s work. Includes bibliographical references and index.