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Oct 2004 Journal

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Total strangers with identical DNA

I have a weakness for the rather ridiculous notion of the transmigration of souls (readers may remember me fancifully describing Malcolm Muggeridge as a latter-day Jonathan Swift, and Michael Foot as William Hazlitt re-incarnate).

Now, a glimpse at Bernard Levin's obituary has reaffirmed my belief in the possibility of transmigration, since his character, career outlook and even foibles overlapped in every important respect with those of Karl Kraus.

Levin considered the English language mankind's greatest work of art. Kraus was prepared to kill - or, at least, to character-assassinate - anyone sullying the purity of German.

Both wielded their vitriol-dipped pens like rapiers. Their ire was often justified - as when Kraus castigated punitive Austrian treatment of petty criminals, or Levin excoriated Soviet Communism. Sometimes, though, they puffed themselves up with fake indignation over some trifle simply as a hook on which to hang a stream of overwrought verbiage. Levin called a Tory PM and a Labour leader 'cretins'. And Kraus habitually made mince meat of fellow-writers.

Jewish-born, both disavowed Zionism as well as Judaism. Kraus accused Herzl of wanting to set up a Jewish state so he could be its king. Levin said, at the time of the Six-Day War, that British Jews had a primary duty to this country, and should not go and fight for Israel. As regards religion, Kraus joined, and then left, the Catholic Church; Levin espoused preposterous esoteric cults. Levin's spiritual odyssey coincided with his engagement to the 'most upwardly mobile Greek since Icarus', Arianna Stassinopoulos (who eventually left him). Kraus's amorata, Sidonie von Nadherny von Borutin, left him too - on the advice of none other than Rainer Maria Rilke, the eminent German poet.

But Levin went one better. The rival Arianna left him for the American tycoon Mike Huffington - a man so rich that he spent $30 million of his own money to get into the US Senate as a stepping stone to the White House.
Richard Grunberger

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