the rage of franzen and kraus

Kraus-ViennaJacob Mikanowski at The Point Magazine:

The Kraus Project’s annotators are admirably upfront about Kraus’s failings, taking up the vexed question of his putative self-hatred head-on. Paul Reitter, who devoted a whole book to the subject, argues that Kraus was being deliberate with his stereotypes, strategically deploying an anti-Semitic discourse in order to critique it. This seems to me to be too clever an explanation by half. I think it more likely that he simply didn’t care. Kraus was a bully and a snob, a lover of Offenbach and a pursuer of aristocratic ladies. He affected the tastes of an older, landed generation, even as he scandalized their manners, and he elevated their haute-bourgeois prejudices into a dissident religion with the force of his personality. He was too caught up in his genius and gigantic self-worth to care about everyday politics, much less “discourse.”

So why has Franzen expended so much effort to bring him back? In a word: rage. Kraus taught Franzen how to be angry, and how to channel that anger at the world. He writes about this as if it was a revelation: “Anger descended on me so near in time to when I fell in love with Kraus’s writing that the two occurrences are practically indistinguishable.” Revisiting Kraus thirty years later gives Franzen an opportunity to vent about all his favorite subjects. He complains that Macs are too sleek, Twitter too shallow, France too pleasurable and book critics too nice. Some of his criticisms have a vaguely anti-capitalist tenor. For some reason, Jeff Bezos, intent on enserfing writers and critics alike with the power of Amazon’s (wholly mythical) “one-day free shipping,” emerges as one of his main villains. The “Internet” comes in for repeated beatings, for its “ninth-grade” social dynamics, its snarkiness and its tendency toward solipsism. That he is leveling these charges from the platform of a particularly bitter and minutiae-filled memoir goes blissfully unmentioned.

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