Cover for KRAUS: Dicta and Contradicta

Dicta and Contradicta

A collection of scandalous and humorous wit from Vienna's answer to Oscar Wilde, Karl Kraus used aphorisms as part of his running commentary on the ferment of his own culture

"A woman is more than just her exterior. The lingerie is also important."
"The mission of the press is to spread culture while destroying the attention span."
"Art serves to rinse out our eyes."

Uniquely combining humor with profundity and venom with compassion, Dicta and Contradicta is a bonanza of scandalous wit from Vienna's answer to Oscar Wilde.

From the decadent turn of the century to the Third Reich, the acerbic satirist Karl Kraus was one of the most famous–and feared–intellectuals in Europe. Through the polemical and satirical magazine Die Fackel (The torch), which he founded in 1899, Kraus launched wicked but unrelentingly witty attacks on literary and media corruption, sexual repression and militarism, and the social hypocrisy of fin-de-siècle Vienna.

Kraus's barbed aphorisms were an essential part of his running commentary on Viennese culture. These miniature gems, as sharp as diamonds, demonstrate Kraus's highly cultivated wit and his unerring eye for human weakness, flaccidity, and hypocrisy. Kraus shies away from nothing; the salient issues of the day are lined up side by side, as before a firing squad, with such perennial concerns as sexuality, religion, politics, art, war, and literature. By turns antagonistic, pacifistic, realistic, and maddeningly misogynistic, Kraus's aphorisms provide the sting that precedes healing.

For Dicta and Contradicta, originally published in 1909 (with the title Spruche und Widerspruche) and revised in 1923, Kraus selected nearly 1,000 of the scathing aphorisms that had appeared in Die Fackel. In this new translation, Jonathan McVity masterfully renders Kraus's multilayered meanings, preserving the clever wordplay of the German in readable colloquial English. He also provides an introductory essay on Kraus's life and milieu and annotations that clarify many of Kraus's literary and sociohistorical allusions.

"These 9l8 aphorisms, courageously translated by John McVity, reveal Kraus in all his truculent, rebarbative, crap-cutting glory. Like postcards lost in the dead-letter office for the better part of a century, they call up a world no longer our own and yet manage to speak with surprising frequency to many of our most abiding concerns."--Martin Jay, author of Cultural Semantics: Keywords of Our Time

"McVity has done the seemingly impossible: translate the complex and quirky wisdoms of one of the greatest twentieth-century masters of the German language into an English that is not only coherent but lets the brilliance of the original shine through."--Fred Viebahn, University of Virginia


Karl Kraus (1874-1936) was the editor of and chief contributor to the journal Die Fackel and the author of several works for the stage, including The Last Days of Mankind. Jonathan McVity, a partner with Twentieth Century Art and Antiques in Charlottesville, Virginia, holds a bachelors degree in English from Oxford University.

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