Karl Kraus’s anti-war drama is a satire in which reality parodies itself, with more than two hundred scenes, most of them short, but no continuous plot. The work was produced in the years 1915 to 1922 as a reaction to the First World War.
Like other short stories Kafka’s In der Strafkolonie arose from a writing block, as the author found himself unable to continue with the end of Der Prozess (The Trial). Kafka wrote the story in October 1914, but it was not published until 1919, when it appeared in a one-off edition of 1,000 copies. The fantasies of guilt and punishment in Der Prozess are also to be found in In der Strafkolonie. In a key passage we read, ‘Guilt is always beyond doubt.’
In the evening the autumnal woods resound
With deadly weapons, the golden plains
And blue lakes, over them the sun
Rolls grimly away; the night envelops
Dying warriors, the savage lament
Of their smashed mouths.
But silently on the pastures
Red clouds gather, therein lives a raging god,
The spilled blood, the moonly cool;
All roads lead to black decay.
Under the golden branches of the night and stars
The shadow of the nurse sways through the silent grove,
To greet the spirits of the heroes, the bleeding heads;
And softly in the reeds sound the dark flutes of autumn.
O prouder grief! You iron altars,
Today the hot flame of the spirit is fed by an immense pain,
The unborn grandchildren.
The topics writers dealt with were many and varied. They ranged from enthusiasm for the war and wartime propaganda to descriptions of battles with individual experiences and feelings. The types of text that were used were just as varied – including diary entries, essays, poems, dramas and novels.
The Imperial and Royal War Press Quarters (Kriegspressequartier/KPQ) was set up on 28 July 1914, the day of Austria-Hungary’s ultimatum to Serbia. Its purpose was to co-ordinate and direct military propaganda with specially written items for all media available at the time.
The beginning of the First World War released a wave of enthusiasm throughout Europe, especially among intellectuals and the middle classes, the like of which it is utterly impossible for us to understand nowadays. It was the writers who led the way in propaganda, their verbal attacks making an essential contribution in preparing the ground for the general mood of unthinking nationalism.