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Karl Kraus : In Praise of a Topsy-Turvy Life-Style

Karl Kraus (1874-1936)

Karl Kraus

In These Great Times

In Praise of a Topsy-Turvy Life-style

For a time I tried a normal life-style, but all too soon I came to feel its sad consequences on my body and my soul, and I decided to start leading an unsensible life before it was too late. Now I see the world again through one of those veils which not only help one get over the reality of earthly misery, but to which I also owe many an exaggerated vision of the possible pleasures of life. In my case, the sound principle of a topsy-turvy life-style in the framework of an upside-down world order has stood every test. I too once accomplished the feat of rising with the sun and retiring with it. But the insufferable objectivity with which the sun shines on all my fellow citizens, without regard to person or general deformity and ugliness, is not to everyone’s taste; and anyone who can betimes escape the danger of taking a clear-eyed view of this earth docs the wise thing and experiences the pleasure of being avoided on that account by those; he avoids.

For when my day was still divided into morning and evening, it was a joy to awaken with the cock’s crow and go to bed with the nightwatchman’s call. But then the other division came into vogue: there was morning paper and there was evening paper — and the world lay in wait of events. Anyone who has observed for a time how disgracefully these events debase themselves before curiosity, how cravenly the course of the world adapts itself to the increased need for information, and how in the end time and space become forms of perception of the journalistic subject, turns over in bed and goes on sleeping.

“Take vantage, heavy eyes, not to behold this shameful lodging.”

Hence I sleep in broad daylight. And when I wake up, I spread the whole paper shame of mankind before me so I might know what I have missed, and this makes me happy. Stupidity gets up early; that is why events are accustomed to happening in the morning. True, many things can happen by evening time; but generally speaking, the afternoon does not have the noisy bustle through which human progress attempts to prove itself worthy of its good name until feeding time.

A true miller gets up only when his mill has stopped turning, and anyone who wishes to have nothing in common with people whose being here is being there gets up late. But then I go out on the Bingstrasse and watch the preparations for a parade. For four weeks there is noise; it’s like a symphony on the theme of money circulating. Mankind gets ready for a holiday; carpenters raise grandstands and their prices; and when I consider that I won’t get to see that magnificence, my heart begins to beat faster, too. If mine were still the normal life-style, that festive procession would have forced me to leave town; but now I can stay and still see nothing. An old king in Shakespeare cautions:

“Make no noise, make no noise, draw the curtains .... we’ll go to supper i’ the morning.”

A fool who confirms that this world order is upside down adds: “And I’ll go to bed at noon.” But in the evening, when I have breakfast, everything will be over, and from the newspapers I shall learn in comfort how many cases of sunstroke there have been.

All the more important accidents happen in the morning. I know about them only from hearsay, and by dint of being late I preserve my faith in the excellence of human institutions. The evening papers report not only what happened but also who was present; thus one feels at a safe distance from the scene of a fire and still has a chance to count the heads of those loved ones who (among others) were spotted in time — so that not a single head is missing. Utilize as best you can the transformation of the universe into a local section; use the process by which time is canned and called a newspaper. The world has become uglier since it began to look into a mirror every day; so let us settle for the mirror image and do without an inspection of the original. It is uplifting to lose one’s faith in a reality which looks the way it is described in a newspaper. He who sleeps away half a day has won half a life.

All major stupidities happen before noon; a person should wake up only when office hours are over. Let him step out into life after lunch, when it is free of politics. To be sure, he will not learn from the evening papers that assassinations, too, happen in the morning, for usually even the reporters are asleep then. There is a newspaper which sent one correspondent after another to Paris in order to learn in time about attempts on the life of the president; and lo and behold, one president after another lost his life, and each time a president's death was the twin brother of a correspondent’s sleep.

When recently the German princes were in our city and everyone was up and doing, I knew nothing about it. Nor did this incident have any adverse consequences for me in other respects except that for the first time I could not get my accustomed beef for breakfast, which meant that I could not satisfy a taste by which I had hitherto demonstrated my affiliation with the city in which I live. The waiter made his excuses, and by way of consoling me he referred to the consolidation of the Triple Alliance. This I had slept away. If a theologian brings himself to believe no longer in the immaculate conception, this happens in the morning; if a nuncio makes a fool of himself, it happens in the morning; and truly, it is better for a farmers’ march on a university or the cry “Stop universal suffrage !” to disrupt our morning sleep than to disturb our afternoon rest. Only once did I happen to be around when a minister tendered bis resignation after lunch. But how messy tilings were then! At three o’clock the police Hailed away at a crowd that had yelled “Out with him !” and by a quarter to lour they said:

“Go on home, folks ; Badeni's gone, too!”

What about, justice ? It is blind only in the morning, and if, by way of exception, a judicial murder takes place at a late hour, it is surely a particularly important case. Or it. could happen in German-speaking countries that in a sex case truth is on the march (for twenty-five years), and then it probably has to use afternoons as well. To escape such an event it does no good to withdraw to one’s bedroom, for, as everyone knows, a bedroom has proved to be the least safe place vis-a-vis the quest for truth. But even though it is one of life’s comforts that one can sleep away life’s discomforts, I must unfortunately admit that there is one area in which I have had no luck at all with my practice: the arts. For it is an old experience that most theatrical flops occur in the evening.

Still, in all areas of public activity it is quiet at night. Nothing stirs. There is no news. Only the street-sweeping machine moves through the streets like the symbol of an upside-down world order — so the dust left by the day may be spread; and when it rains, the streetsweeper is followed by the sprinkling truck. Otherwise there is peace. Stupidity is asleep, and I go to work. From the distance comes a noise like the sound of printing presses: stupidity is snoring. I sneak up on it and even derive enjoyment from my murderous intentions. When the first morning paper appears on the eastern horizon of civilization, I go to bed. . . . These are some of the advantages of a topsy-turvy life-style.

“Lob der verkehrten Lebensweise” (1908)

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