Austrian journal, 1899–1936
Die Fackel (The torch) was an extremely influential literary and cultural journal edited and published by Karl Kraus primarily in Vienna. Even more than contemporaneous literary and cultural journals such as Herwarth Walden’s Der Sturm (The storm) and Franz Pfemfert’s Die Aktion (The action), DF is indistinguishable from its extraordinary editor. While these other journals published numerous authors, DF always featured Kraus’ writings and, from 1911, published only his works. Book-length collections such as Kraus’ Sittlichkeit und Kriminalität (1923; Morality and criminality), and his apocalyptic play, Die letzten Tage der Menschheit (1918; The Last Days of Mankind), were first serialized in DF. Kraus expressed his often caustic satire in essays, aphorisms, and even poems, generating a large following as well as a great number of detractors who often became the subjects of Kraus’ remarks.
DF appeared three times a month through 1904; after that time the journal was published quarterly, though it often appeared irregularly as the result of frequent double and multiple issues. It had a circulation of approximately 9000 copies from 1910 to 1936 (Harry Zohn, 1971). The polemical tone of DF was clear in the inaugural issue (April 1899) in which Kraus, playing on a Viennese daily newspaper’s practice of telling readers “Was wir bringen” (What we will publish), announced in an essay “Was wir umbringen” (What we will destroy). Frequent targets of DF were the daily press and the Viennese justice system, both of which Kraus faulted for double standards and superficiality. Throughout the tenure of DF, Kraus’ indignation was directed especially at the popular Viennese paper, Die Neue Freie Presse (The new free press). Attempting to distance himself from the dailies, Kraus refused advertising after the June 1901 issue and even purported not to take the desires of readers into account, stating that the content of each issue was determined solely by his own priorities. Kraus’ satires reflected his belief that language, culture, and politics were connected; thus he linked what he perceived as a misuse of language with the immorality and injustice of Austrian cultural and political institutions.
Kraus’ harsh assessments extended beyond the press and the justice system, however, and included psychoanalysis, Zionism, and educational institutions. In essays as well as sections entitled “Glossen” (glosses) and “Universitätsbummel” (A stroll around the university), Kraus criticized the educational structures of the day, implicating them in Austria’s (and Europe’s) decline. He attacked nepotism, rote learning, and the inculcation of bourgeois notions of morality and decorum. In a June 1899 entry Kraus suggested the extent to which nepotism affected the hiring practices of Viennese universities and provided a table listing such instances. Essays such as Adolf Loos’ “Der moderne Schulmeister” (April 1904; The modern schoolmaster) identified the schoolmaster as someone who cripples students through “rules, formulas, and numbers.” Other writers advancing similar critiques in DF before 1911 included Peter Altenberg, Else Lasker- Schüler, Franz Werfel, and Albert Ehrenstein.
Kraus was a pacifist and an incessant critic of the militarism that was leading Germany and Austria to war. He focused with great zeal on the hypocritical statements and manipulation of language that he believed characterized the actions of many of Vienna and Berlin’s most educated and powerful citizens. Few people were spared Kraus’ satire, and many writers and artists who were once his friends found themselves accused of commercialism and pandering to popular taste. During the war Kraus often noted the actions of politicians and professors without comment, allowing what he saw as their brutality and irrationality to speak for themselves. In “Glossen” (1916), for instance, he quoted a group of professors who said Germany should not “sheath its sword.” In the same issue Kraus reprinted a popular postcard of the time that featured a model-scale church altar made out of shrapnel from grenades, a juxtaposition of war and religion that Kraus found self-evidently ludicrous.
Like Nietzsche, Kraus was a master stylist and often used epigrams and aphorisms to criticize cultural institutions. Kraus’ aphorisms addressed nearly every aspect of Austrian culture, and were so prolific that several collections were created from DF. In one aphorism, he aptly described himself: “Many share my intentions, but I do not share theirs.” Kraus often played upon the ambiguity of words and exploited their multiple meanings as if to counterbalance the pedestrian uses to which language had been subjected.
DF led to a number of imitative journals and pamphlets within Austria, some of which, like Der Fackel-Reiter (The torch rider), even used the term “Fackel” in their titles. Kraus also influenced German editors and publishers including Herwarth Walden, editor of Der Sturm, and Kurt Wolff, who founded the Kurt Wolff publishing company. Walden helped Kraus establish a short-lived Berlin edition of DF, and his journal, Der Sturm, adopted Kraus’ aesthetic and cultural criticism. Wolff was so impressed with Kraus that he established a publishing company—Verlag der Schriften von Karl Kraus—devoted solely to works by Kraus.
The end of World War I did not make Kraus any more sanguine about Austrian cultural institutions or the ethics of his fellow citizens. Poems were frequent in postwar editions of DF and Kraus’ interest in the intricacies of language and culture was more pronounced. His prose poems were another means of exploiting the richness of language, but it was his familiar criticisms rather than his lyricism which distinguished them. In “Optimismus” (1925; Optimism) he detailed the ills of Austrian culture, wishing for a day in which the printed word is no longer analogous to lying. Because of Kraus’ earlier vociferous criticism of the conditions leading to war, his silence concerning Hitler’s rise to power was conspicuous; he published only one issue of DF in 1933. In explaining this hiatus to critics who accused him of cowardice, Kraus wrote that with regard to Hitler he had “nothing to say,” a statement typical in its ambiguity and in the controversy it evoked. DF was published fitfully from 1934 to Kraus’ death on 12 June 1936.
Bilke, Martina, Zeitgenossen der “Fackel”, Vienna: Locker, 1981
Halliday, John D., Karl Kraus, Franz Pfemfert and the First World War: A Comparative Study of “Die Fackel” and “Die Aktion” Between 1911 and 1928, Passau: Haller, 1986
Jenaczek, Friedrich, Zeittafeln zur “Fackel”: Themen, Ziele, Probleme, Gräfelfing bei München: Kosel, 1965
Timms, Edward, Karl Kraus: Apocalyptic Satirist: Culture and Catastrophe in Habsburg
Vienna, New Haven, Connecticut: Yale University Press, 1986
Zohn, Harry, Karl Kraus, New York: Twayne, 1971
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