Nasty little book. Definitely funny--how could it not be? Books about vegetarian nudist coconut eaters are truly few and far between. But once the novNasty little book. Definitely funny--how could it not be? Books about vegetarian nudist coconut eaters are truly few and far between. But once the novelty wears off, what are you left with? An interesting perspective on German colonialism, a commentary on German vegetarian fanatics (ring a bell?), but what else? Kind of limited in scope, although the scope is surely unique. Yet another inscrutable Swiss novelist! Pace Dürrenmatt. ...more
What a completely wretched book. The design and execution of this book is perfectly awful: the millions of notes elucidating Franzen's translations ofWhat a completely wretched book. The design and execution of this book is perfectly awful: the millions of notes elucidating Franzen's translations of Kraus' cranky texts are buried at the back of the book. And since Kraus is completely unintelligible without the notes, one has to constantly flip back and forth between the text and the notes. And not that the notes are that much help: Franzen had to bring on not one but two specialists to try and decode Kraus' gibberish, and even they frequently tossed up their hands and said they had no idea what Kraus was trying to say. This, about a writer who considered himself a paragon and champion of "pure" German style.
Karl Kraus is always lingering at the outskirts of any discussion of early twentieth century Viennese culture, but he is not a well-known figure, at least in the English-speaking world. What little I knew of Kraus was that he was the publisher, primary contributor (and later only contributor) to the satiric Vienese paper Die Fackel. I knew also that he was known for his aphorisms. What I did not know was that Kraus, a Jew himself, was an anti-Semite.
Presumably, though, that was not the source of Franzen's attraction to Kraus. Franzen's interest appears to revolve around the extent to which Kraus was a ranter about modernity, and this is what Franzen glosses ad nauseam in his stupid notes. For example, this beauty:
“Vienna in 1910 was, thus, a special case. And yet you could argue that America in 2013 is a similarly special case: another weakened empire telling itself stories of its exceptionalism while it drifts toward apocalypse of some sort, fiscal or epidemiological, climatic-environmental or thermonuclear. Our Far Left may hate religion and think we coddle Israel, our Far Right may hate illegal immigrants and think we coddle black people, and nobody may know how the economy is supposed to work now that our manufacturing jobs have gone overseas, but the actual substance of our daily lives is total electronic distraction. We can’t face the real problems; we spent a trillion dollars not really solving a problem in Iraq that wasn’t really a problem; we can’t even agree on how to keep health-care costs from devouring the GNP. What we can all agree to do instead is to deliver ourselves to the cool new media and technologies, to Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg and Jeff Bezos, and to let them profit at our expense. Our situation looks quite a bit like Vienna’s in 1910, except that newspaper technology (telephone, telegraph, the high-speed printing press) has been replaced by digital technology and Viennese charm by American coolness."
Blah, blah, blah. That passage captures the essence of Franzen's contribution to the notes: he had to bring in two other specialists to elucidate all the obscurities buried in Kraus' nutty texts. To describe this book as tiresome gives it entirely too much credit. ...more