Silence, Words and Deeds (Schweigen, Wort und Tat)

Die Fackel

The business with silence, and breaking silence, is like this. It is, like so much that the conscience can do, not a contradiction, because the silence was not out of respect in the face of such a deed, to which the word, if that is all it is, never concedes precedence. I was just worried that I would not now be able, or be allowed, to assert my repugnance against the other word, that accompanies the deed, causes it, and flows from it, against the great verbal dung heap of the world. And the silence was so loud that it was almost speech. Now the shackles are off, because the shackles themselves realized that the word is stronger. It happened involuntarily, without a conscious decision, there was no plan here or anywhere; there are moments in which even the machine has respect, and just there where one expects only requests and applications, there is suddenly also space for inspiration and imagination. I had kept my thoughts to myself for too long; as I experienced a summer month in the middle of the silence of the most untouched landscape, I suffered greatly that there was otherwise only noise. It was high time that after fifteen months, in which only the terrible heralds of victory spoke up, from the possessed cashier of world history, down to the unavoidable criers for help of the extra editions, that it was high time that the herald of the greatest cultural bankruptcy that this planet has ever experienced was also heard, if only to prove that the language itself has not yet been choked. I was well aware that whoever doesn’t risk their head for certain things, has no head to risk. And what was the use of having had a head if it was traded for fame? What if the words which it had to give are confiscated along with the head! If the very machinery which it is trying to storm, can retrospectively silence it! It wants to show it that there is space for more than a mite; that its perseverance is a different one: that it cannot reconcile nursery games, in which guns go off by themselves, with the plan of a God who lets intellect and grass grow, and abandons a humanity which tramples on both. I’d certainly rather risk my head otherwise than by witnessing such things in silence, to be suspected by posterity of not having had one, and having been just a German writer of the year 1915. But silent sacrifice is of even less value and has even less effect than words, in this greatest of times; it is not even as exemplary as murder, as that which everyone now can, should, and must do, and it is that which has set words free. The word, too, could, in the moment in which it had to; and I am corruptible enough to admit the possibility that this state has proven, by acknowledging an exception to the state of emergency, that it, like every state with absolutist tendencies, still possesses a trace of feeling for its cultural ruins. That it still weeps a tear for the painful realization that when we awake from the dream of this adventure, it will be on an even bloodier battlefield, the unlimited market of the newspaper hyenas, out of whose endless desolation the new power emerges, having been kept down in the ghetto of hell for centuries, now rotting the earth, conquering the skies, and stinking to heaven. May those who, by profession or birth are conservative, aristocratic, religious or even warriors, have lost hope against the most relentless enemy, so that they ally with it out of alleged necessity; may those who daily do wrong, as if from a puzzling duty of general defencelessness, some day realize the value of words, which can’t give them courage, but perhaps shame, and the feeling that is most pleasing in the most significant place: remorse. Have mercy on the weak powerful. May the Lord enlighten them in their sleep! If they would like, if the nightmare of this future as sure as death startles them, in a moment of instinctive reflection, in a moment not guarded by political awareness, when all the cling-clang-glory is silent, when the guns have stopped ringing and the church bells have stopped shooting, if they would then like to let me take over the government, which was represented for long enough by a lazy sorcerer’s apprentice, just once, on loan, I promise, as an old dragon-slayer, to resolve the greatest apparent existing contradiction, that between the bloody mechanics of deeds and the brisk mechanics of the souls. Then, so that the great event does not pass by unnoticed; so that it is more than a matinée of the world, which is shown before the newsreel war pictures; so that the horror is more plastic than that of an extra edition, and the bombardment of Venice is more than just the hoarse shouts of young boys; so that the personified illusion that the military suppliers are the real warriors, dissipates; so that murder again demands justification, and blood is again thicker than ink: I would, for a single day, take over command and bring the front to the home front; to the breeding grounds of the world plague, the melting pot of human hate, the den of thieves of bloody extortion, that which one calls, in a single despicable phrase ‘editorial office’, which I would bomb twice a day; and detail borrowed Cossacks, who would be instructed to desist from any rape, to make the cruelty complete, to end the meat and fat surfeit by vigorous confiscation in the Ringstrasse Corso[1], or all those public squares where the war profiteers sacrifice their bodily welfare. I wouldn’t take any of it, of course, to avoid accusations of self-interest. Out of pure brotherly love, and so that the daily hundred hecatombs, which were really not sacrifices pleasing to God, are finally atoned for, I am ready to make a contribution compared to which a canon is a children’s toy, and get personally involved, so that my words have consequences, so that no one can still claim that I am only negative. And so that it is bloodiest where there has been the most fat in this comfortably starving world!


[1]  The fashionable area of Vienna, the Ringstrasse and adjoining streets.

Author: Karl Kraus

Published in:

Die Fackel Die Fackel KrausWeltgericht1 Kraus Judgement Day I KrausV&WGrosseZeit Kraus VW Great Times

krauskokoschka Kraus Essays

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