The Kraus Project (英語) ペーパーバック – 2014/8/28
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A great American writer's confrontation with a great European critic - a personal and intellectual awakening. Karl Kraus: satirist. Controversialist. Forgotten voice of the early twentieth century. Jonathan Franzen: bestseller. Contrarian. One of the greatest novelists working today. Recalling his student days, the celebrated author of 'The Corrections' and 'Freedom' recounts his discovery of Kraus and presents his own translations and annotations of the philosopher's most famous essays. A pioneer of self-publishing, Kraus brilliantly attacked the mass media and the dehumanizing machinery of technology and capitalism. A notoriously difficult writer, Kraus has met his match in Franzen: a popular novelist unafraid to voice unpopular opinions. In the extensive footnotes Franzen explains why Kraus is relevant today - while also revealing his own intellectual and personal preoccupations. Painstakingly wrought, strikingly original, 'The Kraus Project' is a feast of thought and literature.
From the reviews of The Kraus Project: 'Franzen is still saying something important. Also Kraus can be a joy ... you can understand why Franzen likes him, and he sees a dearth of such elegance today' Sunday Times 'The Kraus Project is tremendously readable and is refreshingly sceptical of the cult of digital cool. Franzen's prose has an appealing briskness and polemical force, quite different in style from the high burnish of his long, deliberative, multi-layered literary novels ... as an exercise in controlled rage and as a celebration of and introduction to Karl Kraus it works just so' Financial Times商品の説明をすべて表示する
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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. Even with the footnotes, it was a VERY hard slog to see what Kraus was getting at, and sometimes it was just plain impossible. It wasn't the fault of the translation. One of Franzen's assistants is Austrian, a native speaker of German; the other is an academic and a Kraus specialist, obviously with extreme fluency in German. If these two people threw up their hands and said they didn't know what the hell Kraus was getting at (which happened on several occasions in the book), how is a non-specialist reader supposed to figure it out? Perhaps more important, if it's that prolix in the original, why should anyone care to read it in English?
There were things I liked about 'The Kraus Project'. I don't disagree with Kraus's gimlet-eyed look at the downside of mass media and technology. The poem at the end was lovely, well translated and explained. For the most part, the footnotes were interesting and I read every single one of them (which anyone will have to do to have any hope of understanding the essays). Because this a bilingual edition, people who can read German have the original right there to compare with the translation--I often looked at the German as well as the English. The cover is great. Clearly a lot of editorial care was taken with the book.
Just as clearly, this was a labor of love on Jonathan Franzen's part, and I feel quite sad that I finished this book without feeling at least some of that love myself. I really wanted to love this, and didn't, despite the best efforts of Franzen, Reitter and Kehlmann. There were a few things I liked about it, and I think it is amazing that any publisher would have agreed to put out such a fine edition of a book that will appeal to such a tiny readership. Overall though, I can't remember the last time I have been so disappointed in a book.
Franzen first encountered the work of Kraus as an exchange student in Germany and his fascination finally culminated in this book. Four texts by Kraus are reproduced in this volume, both in the German and English translation. The ostensible subjects of the essays are the German author, Heinrich Heine (1797-1856), and Austrian playwright, Johann Nestroy (1801-1862). However, the heart of the matter, both in the originals by Kraus and in the annotations by Franzen, is social criticism then and now. As Kraus lampooned the shallowness of journalism and popular culture at the turn of the 20th century in Vienna, Franzen scrutinizes the foibles of social media, TV news, and what passes today for journalism.
Franzen observes about cable news "the phony coziness that tolerates the grotesque 'expansion' of trivial news, traffics touristically in stories that ought to have no place in public discourse, and makes no tonal distinctions in its blending of serious and meaningless news items" (247). Franzen comments: "Amazon wants a world in which books are either self-published or published by Amazon itself...The work of yakkers and tweeters and braggers, and of people with the money to pay somebody to churn out hundreds of five-star reviews for them, will flourish in that world" (273). Franzen laments "the inherent antagonisms between the ascendant mass media and the (privileged) kind of spirituality/imaginativeness that, as Kraus saw it, makes us human" (277). Such reflections are increasingly astute, given we are the fish lacking perspective to notice the waters in which we are swimming (cf. David Foster Wallace, "This Is Water," Commencement Speech at Kenyon College).
While the writings of Kraus are exceedingly dense, Franzen's annotations--reflecting also about "progress," war, propaganda, and the need for resistance--provide prophetic challenges too seldom raised about what is becoming also of this generation. I give it five-stars.
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. (English tends to be slightly more compressed than German, but that didn't make a relevant difference here.) Because the footnotes only begin on right-hand pages, there is inevitable blank space on many left-hand pages. This blank space, incredibly, amounts to 36 pages worth. The footnotes amount to about 133 pages!
Now for the footnotes: Franzen is not an expert in German literature or in German culture, so he makes regular use of commentary by Paul Reitter for insight into Kraus, and comments from Daniel Kehlmann for insights into German-Austrian culture. 48 pages worth of footnotes are from Reitter; 6 pages worth are from Kehlmann. That leaves 79 pages worth of footnotes for Franzen. He discusses some problems of translation and interpretation, but mostly he offers us an autobiographical commentary about what Kraus has meant to him and a cultural commentary on what Kraus's thoughts might mean for our modern world. For example, Krause, in the essay on Heine, is inveighing against a popular style of short essay called the "feuilleton." Franzen sees the blog as a contemporary version of the feuilleton, and so uses this as a launching pad for his own critique.
I'm impressed that FSG published this and that we have these translations with helpful commentary. The cultural commentary and personal autobiography by Franzen was rather indulgent, but quite readable. In sum, I liked it, but it wasn't anything great.