Jonathan Franzen’s ‘Kraus Project’

13SUBFAWCETT-articleInlineEdmund Fawcett at the NY Times:

Placing Kraus was never easy, least of all for Kraus. Like many educated West European Jews, he favored assimilation, not Zionism. In 1899 he abandoned Judaism and in 1911 joined the Catholic Church, only to abandon that in 1923. His great love was the aristocrat Sidonie Nadherny; when she ended their long liaison, some guessed it was because he was “still a Jew” — a phrase Kraus himself had used satirically to mock veiled hostility to assimilated Jews. More probably she saw too little room for a second person in Kraus’s one-man show.

In making a present-day case for Kraus, Franzen has avoided the easy choice. Rather than a tasty serving of epigrams, he and two scholarly Germanists have chosen a pair of essays from the early 1900s that, Franzen believes, speak powerfully to us now. The first is on Heinrich Heine (1797-1856), who along with Goethe was one of Germany’s most famous 19th-century poets. Kraus aimed to knock Heine off the perch where “progressive” middle-class taste had placed the poet as a domesticated house radical. The second essay championed the sparkling musical farces and unpreachy social comedies of an Austrian actor-playwright, Johann Nestroy (1801-62). In both pieces Kraus attacks cultural pretension, false sentiment, cheap irony and reckless faith in progress, especially the economic and technological kinds.

more here.