In these great times


which I have known since they were this small;[1] which shall become so again, if they are given time enough for it; and which we, because such a regressive transformation is not possible in the realm of things organic, prefer to accost as the portly[2] and truly hard times that they are, weighing heavily on us all; in these times wherein the unimaginable occurs and wherein what has to occur is no longer capable of being imagined (if it could, then it would not happen); in these earnest times which have laughed themselves to death at the possibility that they could ever become earnest; which, surprised by their tragedy, are now longing for diversion and, having been caught in the act, are trying to find words for it all; in these loud times which are booming with the nightmarish symphony of deeds causing reports and with the nightmarish symphony of reports responsible for deeds: in these times here, you should not expect any words of my own. None, but these, which are intended to prevent my silence from being misinterpreted. Too deep is my reverence for the immutability of, to deep my subordination to language in the face of this misfortune. In the opulent empires of impoverished imagination where human beings die of spiritual hunger without ever having felt that hunger—where quills are dipped in blood, swords in ink—what is not being thought has to be done, but what is being thought is unspeakable. Do not expect any words of my own. Nor am I capable of giving voice to any new ones because there is just so much noise in the rooms we write in, and we should withhold judgment as to whether that noise is coming from animals, from children, or simply from mortars. There are those who are advocating deeds in an act of defilement of word and deed and who are twice as worthy of contempt. Extinction has not yet befallen that profession. And having nothing to say, because it is time for deeds to do the talking, they shall continue to talk. Having something to say means stepping forward and being silent! Thus shall calling upon old words also be and remain an impossibility for me as long as deeds are occurring that are new to us and whose on-lookers are saying that those deeds were not to be expected of them. When it was my time to talk, my word could drown out rotary presses, and if it did not bring them to a standstill, then that proves nothing against my word. Not even the bigger machine had been capable of doing that, and the ear harking the trumpets of the Last Judgment has long remained open to the bugles of the day. The dirt of life was not petrified at the terror, printing ink did not turn white when faced with so much blood. On the contrary: the mouth swallowed a myriad of swords, and we looked upon the mouth and took measure of the greatness simply by taking measure of the mouth. And “gold for iron” fell from the alter into the operetta, tossing bombs became a couplet, and fifteen thousand prisoners of war found their way into an extra edition that had been read aloud by a soubrette as a stage-call for a librettist. I, with my insatiable desire for sacrifices, do not believe that the line demanded by fate has yet been drawn. I believe that war should exist only when those good for nothing have been sent to fight it. Otherwise, I know no peace, my peace no rest; in surreptitious manner am I preparing for these great times and pondering something that I can say only to our dear God and not to our dear state, which is presently forbidding me from telling it that it is too tolerant. For if the state does not now hit upon the idea of gaging the so-called freedom of the press—which shall not feel the effects of a few white patches[3]—then it shall never hit upon the idea, and if I were to impress that idea upon the state, then it would do a violent disservice to that idea and my text would be the only victim. I shall therefore have to wait, even though I am the only Austrian who is incapable of doing so; I would prefer to see the destruction of the world superseded by a simple auto-da-fé. The idea that I wish to impress upon the factual holders of nominal power is but an idée fix of mine. Yet, possessions[4] on the brink are saved by such ideas: as it is with the possessions of a state, so it is with those of a world of culture. The naysayers of a general continued to doubt the importance of swamps until they one day saw Europe as the environs of the swamps.[5] Of the terrain, I see only the swamps, of their depths only the surface, of a state of being only the phenomenon, of that only an apparition, and of that apparition only the contours. And at times I make do with a tone of voice or a delusion.[6] Do me a favor and, just for the fun of it all, follow me onto the surface of this world steeped in problems, which had been created only after it had been formed and cultivated; which rotates on its own axis and wants to believe that the sun revolves around it.


Above that sublime manifesto—that poem which initiated these deed-filled times, the only poem which the times have brought forth to-date—above the most human of placards inflicted upon us today that the streets could have caused our eyes to bear witness to, hangs the head of a cabaret artist, larger than life. And next to that, a rubber heel manufacturer is disgracing the mystery of creation by claiming of a kicking baby that human beings ought to be brought into this world with its product, with its brand, with no less than its mark.[7] If I were now of the opinion that, given the way things are, human beings should no longer be brought into this world, then I would be the odd man out. But if I were to claim that, under such circumstances, human beings shall cease to be brought into this world altogether and that boot heels may perhaps be brought into this world later on, but without any human beings to wear them because they could not keep step with their own development and have been left behind as the last impediment to their progress—if I were to make such a claim, then I would be a fool, making an overall diagnosis of a condition based upon a symptom alone: the plague based on a bump. Were I not a fool, but an educated human being, then I would draw such bold conclusions from bacteria and not from some bump and people would believe me. But how foolish it is to say that the bump has to be confiscated in order to free people of the plague. Yet, I am truly of the opinion that in these times—whatever we should like to call them and however we should like to appraise them, whether they are coming apart at the joints or being set anew, whether they are heaping fratricide and corruption[8] before the eyes of a Hamlet or ripening for the arm of a Fortinbras—that, given their current condition, the roots are on the surface. Such can become clear with the help of a great confusion, and what was once paradoxical shall now be confirmed through and throughout these great times. Because I am neither a politician nor his half-brother, the esthete, I would never deny the necessity of anything that does occur nor lament that mankind does not understand how to die in beauty. I know well enough that cathedrals’ being bombed by people is warranted when cathedrals are being used by people as warranted military posts. “No offence in’th’ world,” says Hamlet.[9] Only that the jaws of hell gape at the question: when shall these great times of war turn into the war of cathedrals on people! I, of course, know that it is sometimes necessary to transform marketplaces into battlefields in order for marketplaces to remerge from battlefields. Yet, the grey and dreary day shall come when you see more clearly and ask whether it is right that, in pursuing an objective so consciously, no step taken fails to land upon the path leading away from God. And whether the eternal mystery of which man is born and partakes is really not a mystery at all, but some trade secret giving man dominion over man and man’s maker alike. Those seeking to expand possessions and those seeking to defend them are both living in a state of possession—always subject to and never above it. The former declare it a tax matter, the latter a matter of state. Do things above possessions not fill us with trepidation when hitherto unheard of human sacrifices have been seen and suffered and when, one grey morning, we hear—breaking out from behind the language meant to uplift the spirit, at the ebb of intoxicating music, between earthly and heavenly hosts—the confession: “What has to happen now is that travelling salesmen have their feelers out at all times and that they incessantly feel out their customer base.”[10] Mankind is a customer base. Behind flags and flames, behind heroes and helpers, behind each and every fatherland, there stands an alter at which devotional science wrings its hands: God created consumers! But God did not create consumers so that it may go well with them, God created them for a higher purpose: so that it may go well with the merchants. For consumers were created naked and become merchants only after they sell clothing. That eating is a necessity for living cannot be denied philosophically, even if the public nature of that process attests to an ineradicable absence of any sense of shame. Culture is the tacit covenant permitting sustenance to recede behind the meaning of life. Civilization is the subjugation of the latter to the former.[11] Progress serves this ideal and supplies this ideal with its weapons. Progress lives to eat and evinces from time to time that it is capable of dying to eat. It bears hardships, so that it may go well with progress. It turns pathos to premises. The most extreme affirmation of progress has long required that demand be governed by supply; that we eat in order for others to get their fill; and that door-to-door salesmen interrupt our thoughts whenever they are selling something we have no need of. Progress—under whose feet the grass mourns and under whose feet forests become paper so that newspapers may grow—it has subordinated the meaning of life to sustenance and has turned us into the auxiliary screws of our own instruments. The teeth of the times are hollow; for the hand that lives from fillings had its time when teeth were healthy. Places that have spared no efforts to remove the frictions from life have remnants of nothing in need of such preservation. Individuality is capable of living in such places, but not of coming into existence there. With all its desires and nerves, it may be a guest in an environment of comfort and advancement where automata push by and on without faces or salutations. As an arbiter of natural values, however, it shall render a different decision. And certainly not for the present half-measure which has saved its intellectual life for the propaganda of its goods, which has surrendered itself to a romantics of sustenance, and which has placed “art in the service of business.” The decision shall fall between spiritual power and horsepower. No one of any race comes home from work without being enervated—at most, they come to engage in some form of enjoyment. The tyranny of necessity grants its slaves three freedoms: opinion free of any intellect, entertainment free of any art, and debauchery free of any love. There are, thank God, still goods that remain in place when goods are meant to be in constant motion. For, in the end, civilization lives on culture. If that horrific voice presently permitted to shout over commands decrees in its language of importunate conceit that traveling salesmen put out their feelers and feel out their customer base amidst the gun smoke; if—in the face of the unheard of—it wrenches from its bowels the heroic decision to reclaim the battlefields for the hyenas, then it shall have something of that disconsolate decency with which the Zeitgeist grins at its martyrs. To be sure, we shall sacrifice ourselves for manufactured goods and consume and live in such a way that the means shall consume the ends. Indeed, let it sooner be allowed to blasphemy God than a torpedo, if a torpedo is of some use to us! And the necessities set by a world gone wrong in the labyrinth of economics shall demand their martyrs; and the monstrous editorial writer of the passions, that registering Jewish plutocrat,[12] that man sitting at the cash register of world history, collects on victories and memorializes the quotidian sales in blood. In copulations and titles barking with greed, he speaks in a tone which reaps the number of dead, wounded, and prisoners as asset items for his balance sheets—at times confusing mein and dein and Stein and Bein, but taking such liberty as to make (in a move meant to quietly underscore his modesty, maybe even based upon the impressions of people close to the matter, but without failing to indulge his imagination) a strategic distinction between “layman’s questions and answers.” And if he then dares to give his blessing to the upsurge of heroic feelings so gratifying and beneficial to him and to dispatch salutations and best wishes to the army and to encourage his “brave soldiers” using the jargon of economy and in a manner reminiscent of an evening closing out a good day at the stock exchange, then there is allegedly “only one voice” that takes offence, truly only one that articulates it … But for what? As long as there is only that one voice whose echo would have to be nothing less than a storm of elements raising up in defiance of the spectacle proffered by an age that has the courage to call itself great, but that gives no ultimatum to such a champion at the vanguard.



Karl Kraus

Translated by Peter Winslow





[1] The German reads: “[...] wie sie so klein war [...].” Cf., (1) the gloss entitled “Nicht diese Stimme” (F 399: 9) and (2) the aphorism at F 326-328: 39 (mid-page).
[2] Kraus may be alluding to I Henry IV 1.3, line numbers 10-13, where Worcester says to the King:

Our house, my sovereign liege, little deserves

The scourge of greatness to be us’d on it,

And that same greatness too which our own hands

Have holp to make so portly.

Here and in I Henry IV, we find a connection of two images. On the one hand, there is the straightforward image of “punishment by those in power” (I Henry IV, note 11 at 164). On the other, there is a metaphorical image of a political unit as a portly entity. This is, of course, speculative and all rather lofty, but working out (i) how the connection works in I Henry IV, (ii) how the connection works in this speech, (iii) whether and to what extent Kraus is or is not alluding to I Henry IV here, and (vi) what precisely that allusion may entail is beyond the scope of any endnote. Yet, because Kraus alludes to—indeed appropriates—Shakespeare without citation in other places (cf., for instance, “Politics” and “Morality and criminal justice”), I am presuming here that Kraus is, in fact, alluding to I Henry IV, and I have allowed my translation to be informed by this presumption (i.e., “portly”).

[3] The reading public was alerted to censored text, in that the space of the censored text was reproduced as blank space or as blank space with the word “Konfiziert” printed across it. See, for instance, the censored essay by Kraus entitled “Das übervolle Haus jubelte den Helden begeistert zu, die stramm salutierend dankten” (F 426-430: 1-7), which comprises nothing but blank pages.

[4] The word here is “Besitzstand.” Presumably, Kraus is directly alluding to the first paragraph of Franz Josef’s “An meine Völker” (“To my peoples”) where Franz Josef speaks of the “Sicherung ihres [his monarchy’s] Besitzstandes.” It, therefore, seems prudent to allow the translation of this term here to be guided by “An meine Völker.”

[5] In his translation of this speech, Zohn informs us that the general in question is Paul von Hindenburg and that the swamps in question are the Masuria swamps located in what was then eastern Prussia and what is today Poland (“In These Great Times,” Zohn: footnote 2 at 72).

[6] With ‘Tonfall’ (“tone of voice”), Kraus may be alluding to his short essay bearing that same name, which he published in F 399: 14-17, an edition of Die Fackel preceeding the edition that contains this speech; there, Kraus writes in—what may be—pertinent part: “I too have a political conviction: namely, that all misery comes from political convictions” (14) [my translation].

[7] The advertisement in question has been reproduced as Illustration 30 of Prof. Timms’s Karl Kraus Apocalyptic Satirist: Culture and Catastrophe in Habsburg Vienna (311).

[8] Kraus appears to have Hamlet 3.4 in mind here. Cf., Hamlet 3.4, line numbers 91-93/Hamlet III/4 Zeilen 96-99.

[9] Hamlet 3.2, line numbers 236-237.

[10] This quote originates from a front page editorial in the 4 October 1914 morning edition of the Neue Freie Presse (No. 18,000). You can read about this quote here.

[11] The translation of this sentence is Zohn’s. His translation solves some translation issues that would otherwise cause headaches and/or lead to awkward English formulations incommensurate with the tone of this speech in general. Cf., Mr. Patrick Healy’s translation of this sentence: “Civilsation is the subordination of the ends of life to the means permitting one to live” (Pos. 1565).

[12] Two things. First, “registering Jewish plutocrat” is Zohn’s (clever) solution to “registrierender Großjud.” Second, Zohn suspects, and the present translator with him, that Kraus is referring to Moriz Benedikt, editor-in-chief, of the Neue Freie Presse (see “In These Great Times,” Zohn: footnote 10 at 75).



Works cited


Kraus, K. “In dieser großen Zeit.” Die Fackel, No. 404 (1914). Print. (source text)

———“In These Great Times.” In These Great Times. A Karl Kraus Reader. Trans. Zohn, H. Ed. Zohn, H. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1990: 70-83. Print.

———“In These Great Times.” In These Great Times. Selected Writings. Trans. Healy, P. Ed. Healy, P. November Editions. 2014. Pos. 1505-1737 of 4878. Kindle Edition.

Shakespeare, W. Anthony and Cleopatra. Ed. Wilders, J. The Arden Shakespeare Complete Works. Revised Edition. Ed. Proudfoot, R., Thompson, A., and Kastan, D.S., London: The Arden Shakespeare, 2011. 121-159. Print.

———Hamlet. Ed. Jenkins, H. The Arden Shakespeare Complete Works. Revised Edition. Ed. Proudfoot, R., Thompson, A., and Kastan, D.S., London: The Arden Shakespeare, 2011: 291-332. Print.

———Hamlet, Prinz von Dänemark. Tragödien. Ed. Klotz, G. Trans. Schlegel, A.W., Tieck, D., and Baudissin, W. Berlin: aufbau taschenbuch, 2009: 263-387. Print.

———King Henry IV, Part I. Ed. Kastan D.S. London: The Arden Shakespeare, 2002. Print.

Timms, E. Karl Kraus Apocalyptic Satirist: Culture and Catastrophe in Habsburg Vienna. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1986. Print.