In praise of an inverted way of life

Karl Kraus
Translated by Peter Winslow


I tried leading a normal life, but it soon had such miserable effects on mind and body that I abandoned my decision and recommenced with a life unreasonable before it was too late. I again see the world with that veiled apprehension, which not only helps you escape the reality of earthly evils, but which I also have to thank for an exaggerated idea of the possible joys that life has to offer. The principle of an inverted way of life within an inverted world order is a healthy one and has kept well with me in every way. I was, it is true, at one point able to pull off that reasonable feat of rising with the sun and going to sleep with her. But the unbearable objectivity, with which she illuminates my fellow citizens without any consideration of the personage—every deformity and all the ugliness—is not to everyone’s liking. And taking action in due time so as to save yourself from the dangers entailed by the diurnal sights that this planet offers betrays astuteness and shall lead to your experiencing the joys of being avoided by everyone you wish to get away from. Because the day was separated into morning and evening, there was a desire to wake up with the rooster’s doodle and to go to bed with the watchman’s call. But then there was the other separation, as if it too were a consequence of divine declaration: there was the morning edition and there was the evening edition. And the world was on the look-out for events. When you have seen for a while how, in the face of curiosity, the world humiliates itself in embarrassing fashion; how cowardly the course of the world gives in to the heightened needs of information; and how, in the end, time and space become epistemological forms of the journalistic subject, you roll over and go back to sleep. “Take vantage, heavy eyes, not to behold this shameful lodging.”[1]


That shameful lodging is why I sleep late into the day. And when I wake up, I spread before me all the disgraces of humanity set to paper so as to experience what I have missed, and I revel in my good fortune. Because stupidity gets up at a decent hour, it has become custom that events take place in the morning. While it is true that this or that may happen before evening, the afternoon generally lacks the noisy hustle and bustle with which human progress wishes—until feeding time—to show that it is worthy of its good name. The true miller wakes up only when the mill comes to a halt; and wanting to have nothing in common with people whose entire way of being is always a way of being around means getting up late. But then I cross the Ringstrasse and see them preparing for a parade. For four weeks, the noise resounds like a symphony on the theme of people coming into money. Humanity is preparing for some celebration, carpenters are setting up the stands and raising their prices, and my pulse begins to race just a bit more joyously when I think of all the grandeur and magnificence that I shall not be seeing. If I were still leading a normal life, I would have to leave the city in order to avoid the procession. Having forgone such a life, however, I can stay right where I am and not see a thing. Waving Kent aside, Shakespeare’s old monarch says: “Make no noise, make no noise; draw the curtains; [...] we’ll go to supper i’he morning [...].”[2] The Fool, confirming the invertedness of this world order, adds: “And I’ll go to bed at noon.”[3] And eating breakfast at supper time, when everything is already over and done with, ensures that I—as comfortable as ever—get to experience the effects of sunstroke from the newspapers.


All the most important calamities take place in the morning; I know of them only from hear-say and preserve my faith in the preeminence of human institutions by showing up after the fact. The evening editions tell us what happened and who was there; they make us feel as if we had found safety from the flames of a burning building and as if we could still—despite having found safety in distance—count the heads of our loved ones, all of which, it turns out, have been accounted for.[4] We have to do what we can to benefit from the cosmos being transformed into the local section and to leverage a method that has been designed to conserve the times for consumption and posterity under the name of ‘newspaper.’ The world has gotten uglier ever since it sees itself in the mirror every day, and it is for this reason that we shall have to content ourselves with the mirror image and to dispense with ever contemplating the original. It would be exasperating to lose the belief in a reality that looks the way it does when it is described in the newspaper. Sleeping half the day means gaining half a life.


All the better stupidities take place in the morning: people should just get up after the civil servants go home. After breakfast, people would be able to venture out into a life free of politics. Yet, the evening editions would still not be of any help in finding out that assassinations sometimes happen in the morning, as these are usually slept through by the correspondents. There is this one paper that sent one representative to Paris after the other in order to learn of the president’s assassination in good time; and, lo and behold, one president after the other lost his life, and each time death was the twin brother of sleep: a dead president, a sleeping correspondent. And when the German princes were recently here in Vienna? I knew nothing of it. But this was an incident that had no ramifications for me anyway, save for maybe one: it was the first time that I was unable to get my usual supper for breakfast—that is, it was the first time that I had been forced to deny myself a tendency with which I have hitherto demonstrated my affinity for the city I live in. The waiter apologized and, offering consolation, told me that the Triple Alliance was being consolidated, which had implications beyond local interests and proved to be the day’s big win, profiting everyone. If a theologian were ever to bring himself to stop believing in the immaculate conception or if a nuncio were ever to embarrass himself in public, then they would do so in the morning. And if farmers are to storm a university or people to call for universal suffrage, then it is always best that they do so in a manner meant to disturb our morning sleep and not our afternoon quiet. Only once did I happen upon a minister tendering his resignation when I was coming from breakfast. But what a mess! At three o’clock, the police got rough with the crowds, who were screaming “Out!” And, at quarter to four, the police were saying: “Go home, people, Badeni’s already gone.” But what about justice? How is it with her? She is blind only in the morning. It would have to be a particularly important case indeed that would again bring our judiciary to that aberration of causing a wrongful execution in the afternoon. And there is that conceivable eventuality in German-speaking nations that some sex scandal has created a truth, which has been on the march for the past twenty-five years and is in need of availing itself of the afternoon. There would, however, be no use in trying to deny such an event any attention by retreating to the bedroom because—as we all know—this has long proved to be the least likely place for finding any refuge from the will to truth. Yet, if sleeping through the deeds of state is supposed to be one of life’s pleasures, then I must confess my misfortune of having no luck at all in one area of my chosen profession: in the realm of theater. For it has long been established that most of the flops and diarrhea we call theater take place in the evening. But there is solace to be found in that nocturnal tranquility permeating all areas of civil service. Nothing moves. There is nothing new. And save for certain symbols of an inverted world order—the street-sweeper taking to the streets to spread the dust about that the day has left behind and the sprinkler trucks being rolled out after it rains—there is peace and quite. Stupidity goes to sleep, and I get to work. A noise reminiscent of a printing press resounds from a distance: stupidity is snoring. And I creep up on it and revel in my treacherous intent. When the first morning edition appears on the eastern horizon of civilization, I go to bed ... Such are the benefits of an inverted way of life.





[1] King Lear 2.2, line numbers 172-173.
[2] King Lear 3.6, line numbers 81-82.
[3] King Lear 3.6, line number 83.
[4] In a footnote to his translation, Zohn points out that this is an unattributed citation from Schiller’s poem “Das Lied von der Glocke” (Kraus, Zohn 37) Compare Kraus’s “die Häupter seiner Lieben zu zählen, von denen kein einziges fehlt” with Friedrich Schiller’s “Er zählt die Häupter seiner Lieben/Und sieh! ihm fehlt kein teures Haupt” (34).



Works cited


Kraus, K. “In Praise of a Topsy-Turvy Life-Style.” In These Great Times. A Karl Kraus Reader. Trans. Zohn, H. Ed. Zohn, H. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1990: 35-38. Print.

———“Lob der verkehrten Lebensweise.” Die Fackel, No. 257-258. (1908): 10-14. Print. (source text)

Schiller F. “Das Lied von der Glocke.” Gedichte. Ed. Oellers, N. Stuttgart: Philipp Reclam jun. Stuttgart, 2001: 28-40. Print.

Shakespeare,W. King Lear. Ed. Foakes, R.A. The Arden Shakespeare Complete Works. Revised Edition. Ed. Proudfoot, R., Thompson, A., and Kastan, D.S.,  London: The Arden Shakespeare, 2011: 633-669. Print.