An excerpt of Jonathan Franzen’s latest book, The Kraus Project, ran last month in The Guardian under the headline “What’s Wrong With the Modern World.” It prompted a week’s worth of online dissent, much of it more persuasive than the original essay. And if you are secure in your Franzen animosity, then The Guardian debate has already met your needs. If, on the other hand, trying to explain what’s wrong with the modern world by translating a fin-de-siècle Austrian satirist strikes you as a project almost endearing in its total perversity, then you will have reason to be more complexly disappointed.
Karl Kraus edited the magazine Die Fackel (The Torch) and wrote unrelenting, deliberately impenetrable criticism. Mr. Franzen acknowledges that Kraus’s work is tied “to long-forgotten controversies, to rivals now obscure, to newspapers and literary works that only scholars read anymore.” He argues, though, that it also speaks to “our own media-saturated, technology-crazed, apocalypse-haunted historical moment.” The Kraus Project includes translations of four short works, plus extensive footnotes from Mr. Franzen describing how he came to read Kraus while studying in Germany after college and delineating the parallels between Kraus’s Vienna and the modern world. He makes the case, for example, that the “feuilleton” lifestyle journalism Kraus decried as glib and derivative is analogous to today’s online discourse. (Muddying this comparison is his equally plausible reading of Die Fackel itself as “like a blog.”)
The tide of technology has advanced so far that even America’s literary novelists can’t avoid the subject. Take, for example, Gary Shteyngart, who recently roamed the city wearing Google Glass on behalf of the New Yorker.
And so, today, the Guardian has published a rambling essay from Freedom author Jonathan Franzen. But rather than simply bitching about Twitter for 800 words, he apparently decided to go high-concept. Hence an opaque piece examining our age through the eyes of fin-de-siecle Viennese writer Karl Kraus. It’s an excerpt from a full-length book, in case you want to go real deep on the topic.
Uh, congrats about your 5 on the AP Modern European History exam, J-Franz?
In his 2008 essay “The Chinese Puffin,” reprinted in his second essay collection, Farther Away (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 336 pages, $26.00), Jonathan Franzen contemplates the apparently limitless carpet of lights unfurling from the center of Shanghai, and asks, “Does anybody want to get into some really unprecedentedly deep shit?” In a rare moment in these essays, he answers “yes,” but is unwilling to drag us there. In fact, steering clear of the really deep shit—certain kinds of hard truths—is Mr. Franzen’s m.o. throughout this collection.
The first thing the Observer noticed about Jonathan Franzen was that he was wearing a name tag. It said “Jonathan Franzen.”
We asked him if he usually wore name tags to his readings.
“Everyone is wearing one but you,” Mr. Franzen pointed out. This was true. In what appeared to be an act of almost defiant social leveling, the organizers of last Thursday’s Semiperm House’s fifth anniversary celebration/Jonathan Franzen reading had given everyone a name tag.
Maggie Gyllenhaal, whose last big screen role was in Crazy Heart in 2009, is reportedly gravitating towards the planned HBO series adaptation of Jonathan Franzen’s The Corrections. The Daily Mail reports that the series is shaping up towards a planned 40-episode run, with a two-hour pilot directed by Noah Baumbach. As sauerkraut chef Denise, she’d be Read More
Now A Major Motion Picture
HBO already announced that Dianne Wiest and Chris Cooper will be playing the parents in HBO’s forthcoming adaptation of Jonathan Franzen’s novel The Corrections. Now director Noah Baumbach has named Ewan McGregor to play their son Chip, according to the Hollywood Reporter.
Birdwatching with Franzen
Jonathan Franzen, as we have all read in The New Yorker, is a bird watcher. But did you know he was also a bird mimic? Well now you do, because the Wall Street Journal has a whole story about it:
“I have called a Western Screech-Owl out by imitating its call,” he said, Read More
Remember Jonathan Franzen’s New Yorker essay about traveling to a remote Chilean island and coming to terms with David Foster Wallace’s suicide while clinging to a cliff side in a rainstorm?
British GQ gave Keith Richards its “writer of the year” award for his autobiography Life. The award was presented to Mr. Richards by Johnny Depp, whereupon Mr. Richards disclosed that Life was being made into a film. This is funny because there really is only one actor who might be qualified to portray Keith Richards in a film.
On a damp evening in May, the great and the gray trooped up the marble stairs of one of New York City’s most hallowed institutions, the New York Public Library, for its centennial celebration. A smorgasbord of talent had been hired to showcase the library’s varied nature, including an outdoor electric harpist, the Abyssinian Baptist Read More