In Praise of a Nocturnal Lifestyle (Lob der Verkehrten Lebensweise)

Karl Kraus

I soon felt the miserable effects on the body and soul of living normally, which I had been trying for a while, so I decided to revert to an irrational lifestyle, before it was too late. Now I see the world again through those misty eyes which help you to bear the burden of earthly troubles, and even give me some exaggerated ideas of the possible joys of life. The healthy principle of living the wrong way round in a world gone wrong has worked out really well all round for me. Even I used to be able to get up and go to bed with the Sun, but the unbearable objectivity with which it shines on all of my fellow citizens, whoever they are, with all their deformities and ugliness, is not everyone’s cup of tea, and whoever can save themselves in time from seeing the days of this earth with clear eyes, does well to do so, and he will also enjoy the bonus of being avoided by all the people he wants to avoid. When the day was divided into morning and evening, it was a joy to get up when the cock crowed and go to bed when the night-watchman made his rounds. But then the day was re-divided into morning edition and evening edition, and the world began to wait for things to happen. When you have been a spectator to the shameful way it debases itself in the face of the need to know, how the way the world runs is cowardly adjusted to cater for the growing demand for information, and how in the end even time and space are nothing more than journalistic constructs, you just turn over and go back to sleep. »Tired eyes, take advantage of the opportunity to not witness this disgrace!«

So I sleep all day. And when I get up, I spread out the whole shame of mankind in front of me on paper, to see what I have missed, and it cheers me up no end. Stupidity gets up early, so things usually happen in the morning. Things can still happen before the evening, but afternoons don’t generally have the noisy bustle with which human progress tries to justify its good name before feeding time. A good miller only wakes up when the mill stops grinding; and someone who wants nothing to do with people who only exist when they’re where the action is, gets up late. But then I cross the Ringstrasse, and see a carnival parade being prepared. The noise goes on for a month, like a symphony about the money which it brings into circulation. The population prepares for a holiday, the carpenters raise stands for the spectators, but also the prices, and when I realize that I am going to miss all the fun, my heart beats faster. If I lived the right way round, I would have had to go away to avoid the parade; as it is, I can stay here and still miss it. An old Shakespearean king said, »Hush, hush; draw the curtains! We want to take dinner in the morning«. A fool, who confirmed how wrong this state of affairs was, added, »And I want to go to bed at noon«. But when I have breakfast in the evening, it will all be over, and I can conveniently find out in the newspapers how many cases of sun-stroke there were.

All major accidents occur in the morning; that’s how I continue to believe in the excellence of human institutions. And the evening papers tell you not only what happened, but also who was there. I kept a safe distance from the fire, but I can still count the heads of all those good people whose presence was recorded at the scene, just to make sure that none of them were missing. I take as much advantage as I can of the reduction of outer space to a local supplement, I exploit time preserved in a jar labelled newspaper. The world has become uglier since it has started looking at itself in the mirror every day, so now we just look at the image, and ignore the original. It is uplifting to stop believing in a reality which resembles its description in the newspapers. Sleeping half the day is half way to the good life.

The most stupid things happen in the morning: it’s best to not wake up until all government offices have closed. Go out into the world, after breakfast, when the politics have finished. Unfortunately, the evening papers do not tell you that assassination attempts are also made in the morning, because the correspondents usually miss them as well. There was a newspaper which sent one representative after the other to Paris, to find out about assassination attempts on the president in good time; and what happened? One president after another was assassinated, and every death of a president was accompanied by a sleeping correspondent. When the German princes visited our city recently, and everyone was there, I didn’t know about it. But this had no negative consequences for me, at the worst it was the first time that I didn’t get my beef for breakfast as usual, so I was not able to indulge a preference which had always emphasized how much I belong to the city in which I live. The waiter apologized, and tried to comfort me with the thought of the consolidation of the Triple Alliance. I’d missed that. If a theologian comes to realize that he no longer believes in the immaculate conception, he does so in the morning. If a papal nuncio disgraces himself, he does so in the morning, and I am sure that it’s better that the peasants storm a university, or the demand for one man, one vote, should disturb our sleep in the morning than our afternoon rest. Only once did I happen to be passing by when a minister resigned after lunch. But everything was chaotic in those days. The police charged the demonstrators who had been demanding their withdrawal, at three in the afternoon, and already at quarter past they told them, »You may as well go home now, the minister has already left.« And what about the law? It’s only blind in the morning, and should a judicial murder occur, exceptionally, late on in the day, then it’s particularly scandalous. And it’s understandable that if truth has been on the march for twenty-five years in a sex scandal in Germany, it needs to make use of the afternoons as well. And it’s no good withdrawing into the bedroom to get away from such events, that’s the very place which has always been the most vulnerable to the thirst for truth. While it’s one of life’s pleasures to sleep through its unpleasantness, I do have to admit that my strategy has been completely unsuccessful in one area of life: the arts. There’s no getting round the fact that if a play is going to bomb, it will do so in the evening.

But at night, all public activity comes to a rest. Nothing moves. There’s nothing new. Only the  street cleaning vehicles are on the street, like a symbol of a back to front world, to spread around the dust which the day has left behind. And, only if it’s raining, they are followed by a water-spraying vehicle. Otherwise everything is silent. Stupidity is asleep, and I get to work. I can hear a sound like printing presses in the distance: stupidity is snoring. I am on its trail, and take pleasure in my treacherous intentions. When the first morning edition appears on the eastern cultural horizon, I go to bed. These are the advantages of living the wrong way round.

Author: Karl Kraus

June 1908

Published in:

Die Fackel Die Fackel ChinesischeMauer Kraus Chinese Wall KrausV&WGrimassen Kraus V&W Grimace

LeuchtendeFackel Kraus Shining Torch krauskokoschka Kraus Essays


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s