Talk: Karl Kraus’s The Last Days of Mankind as a German-Jewish Tragi-Comedy

The Wiener Library, 29 Russell Square, London, WC1B 5DP

Thu 12 Jun 2014, 6.30pm-8.30pm

This lecture by Professor Edward Timms on Karl Kraus’s masterpiece ‘The Last Days of Mankind’ will be accompanied by readings of short scenes from the play by the actor Chris Staines. These scenes are taken from a new translation of Die letzten Tage der Menschheit by Fred Bridgham and Edward Timms, to be published in 2015. The satire in Kraus’s documentary drama of the First World War is directed at bungled Austrian diplomacy and aggressive German militarism, with a particular emphasis on the sloganizing of the press. This talk by Edward Timms will focus more specifically on Jewish ideological support for the German and Austrian war effort, as reflected in the play. Jews who were attempting to assimilate to gentile society sometimes became super-patriots, composing poems or newspaper articles that were even more pro-German (or pro-Austrian) than those by gentiles. They were Outsiders struggling to become Insiders – fully accepted citizens of their chosen nation. Kraus senses that they are trying too hard, not least because of the resistance they encounter, and never quite make it. This frustrated impulse is captured in his play by means of a documentary technique that reproduces – as dramatic monologue or dialogue – the purple prose which over-enthusiastic Jewish authors or journalists have published in their efforts to become super-patriots. There is a particular focus on ‘newspaper language’ – writing that is ‘journalistic’ in the worst sense: distorting the truth in order to gain short-term political or military advantage, and churning out propaganda that sends others to die on the battlefield.

This event is part of the conference ‘The German Jewish Experience of the First World War’ organised by the University of Sussex Centre for German Jewish Studies in partnership with The Wiener Library and the Jewish Museum.

For more details contact Matthew Nicholson [MNicholson@wienerlibrary.co.uk]

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