KING LEHAR.

I’ve written about Karl Kraus here and here; Adam Kirsch’s NYRB review of The Anti-Journalist: Karl Kraus and Jewish Self-Fashioning in Fin-de-Siècle Europe, by Paul Reitter, discusses Kraus’s more wild-eyed ideas (he apparently seriously thought journalists were more responsible for war than anyone else, and he said things about Jews and Jewish influence that have kept the label “self-hating Jew” attached to him for a century now), but leads into the more distressing stuff by talking about his more likable (if still wild-eyed) fixation on language. He attributed to misprints the same sort of significance that his nemesis Freud gave to slips of the tongue:

In 1912, for instance, he published an item titled “I Believe in the Printer’s Gremlin,” which reproduced a provincial newspaper’s announcement of a performance of “King Lehar, a tragedy in five acts by W. Shakespeare.”
To Kraus, who revered Shakespeare, the conflation of Lear with Franz Lehar, the operetta composer he regarded as the acme of kitsch, was “no laughing matter. It’s horrible,” he wrote in his gloss on the item. As with a Freudian slip, precisely the fact that the mistake was accidental is what makes it significant: “The printer was not trying to make a joke. The word that he was not supposed to set, the association that got into his work, is the measure of our time. By their misprints shall ye know them.” No wonder Kraus proofread each page of Die Fackel [the magazine he wrote and published from 1899 until his death ini 1936] up to a dozen times, not just insisting on correct spelling but making sure that every comma appeared exactly halfway between the adjoining letters.

I laugh, but I’m also glad I don’t have to set type for this blog, because I’d probably be almost as obsessive about the commas.

Comments

  1. Sometimes typos are quite Freudian. The final story in the Oxford Book of Literary Anecdotes is about a geology book that said, when it left the author, “The entire plain is littered with erratic blocks” (that is, stones which were dragged there by glaciers or other forces), but appeared in print as “The entire plain is littered with erotic blacks.”

  2. John Emerson says:

    Just now my sister said “There’s a lot of black ice on the road between here and St. Cloud” and my sister said “Black guys?”
    (For our tropical Hattians: black ice is ice which freezes without bubbles. It is transparent and effectively invisible, and slicker than other ice, and on roads causes lots of auto accidents).

  3. John Emerson says:

    Just now my sister said “There’s a lot of black ice on the road between here and St. Cloud” and my sister said “Black guys?”
    (For our tropical Hattians: black ice is ice which freezes without bubbles. It is transparent and effectively invisible, and slicker than other ice, and on roads causes lots of auto accidents).

  4. I’d hope you’d at least have a better sense of comma positioning, LH. Did he also think periods should go halfway between the adjacent letters? I guess this explains those weirdos who don’t type spaces after their commas.

  5. Oh, I didn’t mean I’d put them the same place he did — just that I’d be obsessive about commas. Viennese commas a century ago were a thing unto themselves.

  6. A. J. Crow says:

    I’m shocked, if he really did put them exactly half way. I actually don’t believe it. That lot knew a few things about graphic design. Karl Kraus was a friend of Adolf Loos and Wittgenstein; those two great designers who would have put him right if he had been blind enough to do it (which I very much doubt).
    I put two spaces after a period, even though it’s not usual any longer to do so, certainly not on the internet; but it’s easier to read, in my opinion (untested, except by me), if everything isn’t jammed together.

  7. Just now my sister said … and my sister said
    A roomful of Emersons. Hmm. Is it your whole family who want to confuse us, or is it just you?
    Oh well, merry Chrissmass.

  8. At least it wasn’t King Lekvar. That could have been sticky.

  9. You can read Ich glaube an den Druckfehlerteufel at corpus1.aac.ac.at/fackel. I don’t see how to deep-link, so select Volume 14, then Issue 347-348, then Page 7. At the same time, it’ll confirm the conventional positioning of commas.

  10. David Marjanović says:

    You can read

    Yeah, hah, if you register.

    Sometimes typos are quite Freudian. The final story in the Oxford Book of Literary Anecdotes is about a geology book that said, when it left the author, “The entire plain is littered with erratic blocks” (that is, stones which were dragged there by glaciers or other forces), but appeared in print as “The entire plain is littered with erotic blacks.”

    Though, of course, this didn’t change the pronunciation (for lots of Americans); the h in Lehár is not silent.

  11. Huh? I don’t know of any American dialect where “blocks” and “blacks” are pronounced the same.

  12. A.J.P. Crown says:

    Nor erratic and erotic.

  13. That too.

  14. Now if you’d said Seth Efriceh, David, (or Nerthern Erland), or Morningside, where, famously , sex is what coal comes in …

  15. David Marjanović says:

    Oops. Looks like I did some dialect mixture in my head. *shame*

  16. David Marjanović says:

    …coupled with the fact that very few Americans seem to be able to remember whether a word is written with o or a when they represent an unstressed vowel. (I’ve even seen dinasaurs out there.)

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