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The Anti-Journalist

Karl Kraus and Jewish Self-Fashioning in Fin-de-Siècle Europe

In turn-of-the-century Vienna, Karl Kraus created a bold new style of media criticism, penning incisive satires that elicited both admiration and outrage. Kraus’s spectacularly hostile critiques often focused on his fellow Jewish journalists, which brought him a reputation as the quintessential self-hating Jew. The Anti-Journalist overturns this view with unprecedented force and sophistication, showing how Kraus’s criticisms form the center of a radical model of German-Jewish self-fashioning, and how that model developed in concert with Kraus’s modernist journalistic style.
Paul Reitter’s study of Kraus’s writings situates them in the context of fin-de-siècle German-Jewish intellectual society. He argues that rather than stemming from anti-Semitism, Kraus’s attacks constituted an innovative critique of mainstream German-Jewish strategies for assimilation. Marshalling three of the most daring German-Jewish authors—Kafka, Scholem, and Benjamin—Reitter explains their admiration for Kraus’s project and demonstrates his influence on their own notions of cultural authenticity.
The Anti-Journalist is at once a new interpretation of a fascinating modernist oeuvre and a heady exploration of an important stage in the history of German-Jewish thinking about identity.


“Karl Kraus remains among the most controversial figures in the history of German-Jewish literary culture from the Viennese fin-de-siècle to the Nazi Machtergreifung. A brilliantly prescient satirist of the modern media, he was always deeply ambivalent about his own Jewish origins and identity. Meticulously setting his work in the wider context of Kraus’s Jewish (and anti-Semitic) contemporaries, Paul Reitter reveals Kraus as a far more nuanced and impressive figure than the ‘self-hating Jew’ condemned by some other scholars. This is a fine work of literary rehabilitation, based on reading that is both impressively broad and Krausian in its rigor.”

Niall Ferguson, Harvard University

“Paul Reitter’s study of Karl Kraus is an illuminating account of a highly contradictory and elusive writer. Kraus has often been stigmatized as a self-hating Jew, but Reitter’s investigation of Kraus as a counter-journalist exposes the simplifications of that view, and his use of the lens of Scholem and Benjamin to examine Kraus is deeply instructive in this and other regards. This is a welcome fresh assessment of one of the central figures in European modernism.”

Robert Alter, University of California, Berkeley

“An exciting and yet highly lucid account of the formation and significance of Karl Kraus’s modernist journalism, an activity that Walter Benjamin and Gershom Scholem regarded as the most Jewish writing in the German language. The Anti-Journalist is the best book I have seen on this engaging topic.”—István Deák, Seth Low Professor Emeritus of History, Columbia University

István Deák, Seth Low Professor Emeritus of History, Columbia University

"A perceptive study of the Viennese satirist Karl Kraus. . . . [Reitter shows] an assured command of complex sources and a gift for teasing out the implications of abstract terminology."

Edward Timms | Times Literary Supplement

"For understanding Kraus as a Jewish writer, no book is better than this one."


"Intelligent and clarifying. . . . In his most speculative and intriguing chapter, Reitter traces the affinities between Kraus’s style of criticism-by-quotation and Benjamin’s own metaphysics of quotation."

Adam Kirsch | New York Review of Books

One of the Times Literary Supplement’s Best Books of 2008

Times Literary Supplement

"[The Anti-Journalist] displays a remarkably alert understanding of the duplicitous integrity of its subject in his one-man war against media cant."

Frederic Raphael | Times Literary Supplement

"An innovative account of fin-de-siecle Europe, modern Jewish identities, antisemitism, and cultural critique."

Leena Petersen | H-Net

"An important study that significantly advances critical examinations of Kraus, Jews, journalism, and culture in turn-of-the-century Vienna. By placing Kraus’s anti-Semitic discourse at center stage, the book represents an important step forward in plotting Jewishness and anti-Semitism onto the broader map of Central European society and culture."

Lisa Silverman | Austrian History Yearbook

Table of Contents

A Note on Editions
A Note on Translations 
Introduction: All That Is Solid Melts into Ink
1          German Jews and the Writing of Modern Life   
2          Karl Kraus and the Jewish Self-Hatred Question 
3          Mirror-Man 

4          Messianic Journalism? Benjamin and Scholem Read Die Fackel  

Conclusion: The Afterlife of Anti-Journalism     



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