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.