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Friday, May 23, 2014

The Last Days of Mankind (1922)by Karl Kraus


Book Review
The Last Days of Mankind (1922)
by Karl Kraus 
Abridged and Edited version, published 1974
Translated by Frederick Ungar

  This is an 800 page PLAY written by an Austrian Jewish writer who was an early "anti-war" thinker and generally part of the Viennian literary ferment that produced Freud, Schnitzler, Kafka and Zweig. Including it on a list of 1001 Books To Read Before You Die seems somewhat questionable, because I'm not sure an unabridged edition of this book exists in English.  If it is, no library in the greater San Diego area has it.

  What I was able to find was an abridged and edited version at the San Diego library, which appears to have spent 1991-2013 in storage before being brought back onto the shelves when the new downtown library opened AND according to the still present library check out card at the front of the book, it was checked out exactly once wit a due date of January 24th, 1975.   That means I am the only person to read this book in the 40 plus years since it was purchased by the San Diego County Library system.

  So I think calling The Last Days of Mankind "obscure" is an understatement.  That said, the 250 page version has much to recommend it.  The so-called "play" (which was written to be staged "on Mars" because it was epic in scope and number of characters) has the feel of sketch comedy, mixed with Hunter Thompson and William Burroughs.  In fact, I'm now curious to know if Burroughs may have actually read The Last Days of Mankind prior to writing Naked Lunch.

  Much of the prose was lifted, documentary style, from the Vienniese press, in the some way a modern Author might lift from Fox News.  The tone is satirical, and even through the translation many of the jokes about the senselessness and violence of War culture land their blows nearly a century and a continent away from their initial publication.

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