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  • Die verfolgende Unschuld: Zur Geschichte des autoritären Charakters in der Darstellung von Karl Kraus by Irina Djassemy
  • Ari Linden
Irina Djassemy, Die verfolgende Unschuld: Zur Geschichte des autoritären Charakters in der Darstellung von Karl Kraus. Literaturgeschichte in Studien und Quellen, Vol. 17. Vienna: Böhlau Verlag, 2011. 264 pp.

The late Irina Djassemy’s most recent book picks up where her earlier study, Kulturkritik Bei Karl Kraus und Theodor W. Adorno, left off. Die Verfolgende Unschuld offers, however, a more concentrated analysis of the various ways that the authoritarian character finds its literary analog in the oeuvre of the Viennese satirist Karl Kraus. Djassemy’s essential thesis is that Kraus’s satirical representations during the first third of the twentieth century—of judges, businessmen, journalists, war profiteers, generals, bureaucrats, and so on—anticipate not only the political devolvement of Germany and Austria into fascism but also the theories of authoritarianism elucidated by figures such as Adorno after the Second World War. Djassemy furthermore concludes that insofar as Kraus’s literary method alludes to the positive exclusively via the representation of the negative, “hat die Kraussche Satire teil an jener negativen Dialektik, die von Adorno in der Philosophie entwickelt wurde” (27).

Beginning with “Der unmündige Bürger (1899–1914): Autoritärer Charakter und Habsburgmonarchie,” Djassemy parses the early phase of Die Fackel, when Kraus directed his satirical glance at Austria’s infamous Sittlichkeitsgesetze, revealing the extent to which moral hypocrisy was the guiding force behind the Habsburg legal system with regard to the private lives of its citizens. Djassemy also addresses the contentious question of Kraus’s relationship to anti-Semitism. Without excusing Kraus’s frequent employment of anti-Semitic tropes, the author is careful to show how Kraus’s remarks, on the whole, are to be categorically distinguished from the much cruder anti-Semitism emerging from right-wing circles, which Kraus rightfully exposed [End Page 140] and ridiculed for the irrationally motivated bigotry that it was. Djassemy tendentiously concludes that the critical disposition vis-à-vis one’s Eigengruppe (referring to the fact that Kraus was born a Jew) is to be viewed as one of the distinguishing features of the “Nicht-Autoritären” (102). For a more extensive treatment of Kraus’s relationship to German-speaking Jewry, see Paul Reitter’s The Anti-Journalist: Karl Kraus and Jewish Self-Fashioning in Fin-de-Siècle Europe (Chicago: U of Chicago P, 2008).

In the chapter that gives the volume its title, “Die verfolgende Unschuld (1914–1918): Die letzten Tage der Menschheit und der Erste Weltkrieg,” Djassemy analyzes the way Kraus’s dramatic satire of the First World War mimetically depicts almost each and every character it ventriloquizes as either drunk on the power he or she exercises (as in the journalist, the war profiteer, or the general) or as forcibly but almost unconsciously subjected to forces and wills over which he or she has no control (the soldier, the patriot). Djassemy convincingly argues that virtually every scene of negativity in the drama is to be read as an example of Kraus’s keen sensitivity to the pain and suffering engendered by the war, whose propaganda machine (fueled by the press), he believed, anaesthetized both its participants and its observers. But it is Djassemy’s reading of Kraus’s quasi-fictional, opportunistic industrialist Wahnschaffe that shows how Kraus most effectively combined his Sprachkunst with his penetrating critique of ideology in order to present one of the most devastating images of the entire business of war.

Chapter 3, “Kasmader und die Demokratie (1919–1932): Widersprüchliche Tendenzen in der Ersten Republik,” argues that Kraus’s satires during the First Republic primarily aimed at disclosing the glaring discrepancy between the ostensibly distinct power relations underpinning Austria’s former monarchy and its current attempt at democracy. Invoking the theories of Adorno and Horkheimer, Djassemy shows how Kraus’s 1928 polemic against the notorious chief of police Johann Schober produced a harrowing image of the “potenziell faschistischen Charakter” (201), which would, just a few years later, balloon into the full-fledged, self-declared fascist.

Djassemy’s most original contribution to Kraus scholarship can be found, however, in her last chapter...


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