A misunderstanding


spread far and wide is the belief in my animosity. “I will not try to convince you of anything, but I am going to say that you have done an injustice to me, my motives, and my intentions.” Or “I admit that I take offence at your standing in opposition to me with such ill will, even animosity.” What prejudice! I don’t stand in opposition to anyone and am good will in the flesh. I react to sounds without consideration of the personage and have no interest for the direction from whence they came. Were my glosses polemic, then the faith in my ability to decimate the masses of the small-minded would have put me in the loony bin by now. “You have recently taken me as the object of your satire,” someone wrote in—crossed out “taken” and penned “chosen” in its stead. Yet, I can say with a clear conscience that I have never taken or chosen any one as the object of any satire of mine. And if I had a say in the matter, I would not be a satirist and would have made a better choice. For satire does not know, take, or choose any objects. Satire is engendered through its fleeing them and their inflicting themselves upon it.[1] An object’s worthiness may determine the value of a polemic, but names of or allusions to people—however small they may be or whatever of them may be found in a satire—are artistic elements. As it is with the honk of a nose, the bugle of a side car conductor, or what ever else it is that I don’t chose, so it is with all the things that make their way into my material: I replicate and don’t chose from among them.[2] Am I to blame that hallucinations and visions have lives, names, and responsibilities?[3] Am I to blame that Münz really exists? Did I not invent him anyway? If he were some object, then I would have made a different choice. If he claims to have been insulted by some satire, then he is insulting the satire. He may exist outside of that satire, but he has no right to do so. He may even have a good reputation, be of good character—that all may be in order—but reputations and characters are of no importance to satire whatsoever. I do not verify motives and intentions. They are good or bad on their face. Satire cares about nothing less. Some object’s attempt to convince the polemicist of this or that may be taken as an intrusion upon the polemicist’s office or the polemicist may permit people to engage him or her as a representative of that office. Remonstrating with satire means citing the merits of the wood against the ruthlessness of the fire. The fuel of course need have no understanding for the heat, and the occasion may overestimate himself to such an extent that he feels insulted by the art. But satire’s relationship to justice is this: whoever can be said to have sacrificed an insight for a whim was of a disposition as bad as the witticism. Any publicist funny over and above the matter at hand is a hump. Publicists stand opposite an object, and if that object was unworthy of being polemicized, then they are unworthier of the object still. Satirists can never sacrifice anything higher for some witticism; for their wit is always higher than whatever it is that they sacrifice. Reduced to opinion, their wit is capable of doing injustice; thoughts are always in the right. They arrange things and human beings in such a way that no injustice is done to anyone. They put the world aright just as a bitter schnapps does an upset stomach: it has nothing against the organ. As such, satire is far from all animosity and is tantamount to good will for an ideal totality to which it penetrates not against, or in opposition to, but through real individuals. Lamenting is useless, is an injustice. Any one who feels insulted underestimates me; they believe themselves to be my objects, and I feel insulted.


Karl Kraus

Translated by Peter Winslow





[1] Kraus combined this and the preceding sentence into a single aphorism and published it in his book of aphorisms Pro domo et mundo; it reads: “Die Satire wählt und kennt keine Objekte. Sie entsteht so, daß sie vor ihnen flieht und sie sich ihr aufdrängen” (287). And Zohn has included a translation of this aphorism in his Half-Truths & One-and-a-Half Truths: Selected Aphorisms. It reads: “Satire chooses and knows no objects. It arises by fleeing from them and their forcing themselves upon it” (61). The differences between the relevant parts of Zohn’s translation and mine above are the result of the different contexts in which these sentences appear. As a stand-alone aphorism, Zohn could avail himself of a stand-alone tone, and his translation is—to be clear—strong and good. As part of this gloss, however, I could not avail myself of such a tone; I needed the tone to fit the overall tone of this gloss.

[2] See Kraus’s poem/aphorism entitled “Vergleichende Erotik,” first published in a 1908 edition of Die Fackel (28) and later in his first volume of aphorisms entitled Sprüche und Widersprüche (38). Jonathan McVity has quite artfully rendered this poem/aphorism in his English translation of Sprüche und Widersprüche entitled Dicta and Contradicta. McVity’s translation is found at 20 and reads as follows:

Comparative eroticism

Completion of the wondrous Venus icon:

I take an eye from here, a mouth from there,

From here a nose, from there round brows and hair.

The present reincarnates what was bygone.


Here wafts a scent, long since dispersed afar,

Here sounds a tone long silenced in the vaults,

And while I live death cannot hope to scar

The Venus born from what my mind exalts.

[3] Kraus also published this sentence as an aphorism in his Pro domo et mundo; it reads: “Kann ich dafür, daß die Halluzinationen und Visionen leben und Namen haben und zuständig sind?” (287). Zohn also included a translation of this aphorism in his Half-Truths & One-and-a-Half Truths: Selected Aphorisms as well. It reads: “Am I to blame if hallucinations and visions are alive and have names and permanent residences?” (29). See endnote 1 above regarding the differences between Zohn’s translation and mine.



Works cited


Kraus, K. Dicta and Contradicta. Trans. McVity, J. Urbana & Chicago: The University of Illinois Press, 2001. Print

———“Ein weitverbreitetes Mißverständnis.” Die Fackel. No. 338 (1911): 1-2. Print. (source text)

———Half-Truths & One-and-a-Half Truths: Selected Aphorisms. Trans. Zohn, H. Ed. Zohn, H. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1990. Print.

———Pro domo et mundo. Aphorismen. Ed. Wagenknecht, C. Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp Verlag, 1986. 179-301. Print.

———Sprüche und Widersprüche. Aphorismen. Ed. Wagenknecht, C. Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp Verlag, 1986. 7-178. Print.

———“Vergleichende Erotik.” Die Fackel No. 241 (1908): 28. Print.