If there is one thing that I passionately hate it is abridged translation. In my book, a work which is not fully translated is the same as untranslated. Colour me idealist, perfectionist, utopist or whatever you please. If we are not talking about some enormous Eastern epics whose complete translation would require a lifetime of hard work and dedication, there is no reason to offend the reader with a truncated version of the original.
Up to now the English reading audience have been gravely shortchanged with regard to Austrian writer Karl Kraus’ sprawling apocalyptic play The Last Days of Mankind (Die letzten Tage der Menschheit). Clocking in at 800 pages in the original typed manuscript, this work was not actually intended for theatrical production, although some of its parts were adapted for the stage later. The five-act play is a genre-bending irreverent collage in which extracts from real documents, satirical dialogues and elements of science fiction are amalgamated to represent the cosmic drama of the Great War.
The 1974 abridged translation of Kraus’ mega-play, which was more than twice as short as the original, could hardly satisfy any serious reader who wanted to experience the breadth and profundity of The Last Days. The French-speaking public has fared much better in this respect, as the complete translation of the play into French has been available for a decade. But, finally, thanks to the work of Fred Bridgham and Edward Timms, English language readers will be able to fill an important gap in their knowledge about early twentieth century Austrian literature as well as extract some valuable lessons regarding the collective madness capable of putting the whole civilisation at risk.