Elias Canetti
December 13, 2011 8:14 PM   Subscribe

Elias Canetti is regarded by many as one of the century’s most distinguished writers. At least since he was awarded the Nobel Prize, in 1981, he has been regularly compared, if not to Proust or Joyce or Mann, then certainly to his Viennese brethren Robert Musil and Hermann Broch. Yet one suspects that, in America at leasts Canetti’s works have been rather more respected than read. This is particularly true in the case of the two long and difficult books upon which his reputation mainly rests: Auto-da-Fé (1935), his first and only novel, and Crowds and Power (1960), the meticulously idiosyncratic contribution to social theory that he considers his major work. - Roger Kimball

The last of Canetti's several volumes of memoirs, Party in the Blitz, contained a harsh portrait of Iris Murdoch - provoking some equally harsh reviews.
posted by Trurl (13 comments total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
I have read Auto-da-Fé, truly one of the greatest of novels. I'm afraid I couldn't digest Crowds and Power. I greatly enjoyed The Torch in My Ear, the first volume of his memoirs.
posted by No Robots at 8:34 PM on December 13, 2011

I've read Auto-da-Fé, and it's totally choice. I read it 20 years ago and certain passages are still right there before my mind's eye.
posted by facetious at 8:37 PM on December 13, 2011

Holy shit @ that Iris Murdoch stuff
posted by unSane at 8:52 PM on December 13, 2011 [1 favorite]

"She never *completely* adopts anything, just as she never *completely* rejects it, it is all left in a harmless, tolerable, unworked-out suspension."

posted by facetious at 8:57 PM on December 13, 2011

Auto-da-fe is one of two books I wasn't able to finish. The second was Mason & Dixon. Nothing has Humbled me much as not finishing that book. Remeberance of Things past was a cakewalk in comparison. Tomes like Magister Ludi and Infinite Jest are Cheever stories In comparison.
posted by Ad hominem at 9:06 PM on December 13, 2011 [1 favorite]

I've only read parts of Auto-da-Fé, but Crowds and Power influenced the 18-year old me quite a lot. I'll make a note to re-read it sometime in the near future.
posted by daniel_charms at 10:49 PM on December 13, 2011 [1 favorite]

Scratch that. I've never finished Vollman's Rising up and Rising Down. I suspect he never intended it to be read though, I only own the abridged 1000 page version. Not the seven volume versions. I grabbed Auto-Da-Fe off the shelf, I'll dig back in soon.

This is the kind of post that makes MeFi special. More like this please.
posted by Ad hominem at 11:18 PM on December 13, 2011 [1 favorite]

As someone who reads a fair amount of books, but isn't a particularly literary reader, Auto-da-Fé was amazing. There were two things that particularly stuck me:
  1. The tone of the book. It may or may not have been in the prose style (it's been a while), I just remember this ceaselessly grinding sense of hopeless inevitability all the way through it.
  2. Despite the 'inevitability' that I just mentioned, and the title of the book*, I was still taken aback by what happened at the end.
I own Crowds and Power, I guess I really should read it. Thanks for the post!

* Now that I think about it, I only knew what the title meant because I'd read, of all things, Robert Rankin's Brentford Trilogy when I was a teenager.
posted by smcg at 2:58 AM on December 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

If you like Canetti, borrow (at the library) or buy Canetti's "The Human Province" - a kind of notebook that Canetti kept with thoughts and occasinal aphorisms that will amaze you on every page. This stuff is not as difficult going as his other stuff - very straightforward, and a very personal and exhilarating look into the mind of a rare genius. Here's a Google Books reference. This is a very surprising work; it's not at all on a single theme, but what a mind!
posted by Vibrissae at 4:57 AM on December 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

Reading that Clive James link about Canetti reminded me why I stopped reading biographies of writers and columns by them; pettiness and infighting is not very different from what is shown in a standard reality tv program or reported by a gossip mag.
posted by joost de vries at 6:45 AM on December 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

I read Auto-da-Fé quite a while ago, but my main memory is along the lines of smcg's - grinding and unforgiving. I also remember when I was trying to improve my German reading skills and found out that it was originally written in German: 'Die Blendung'. I thought I might give it a go in the original. I remember finding the book in German in the library, figuring out the first page — simple conversation with a child — looking at the mass of pages in my right hand, and putting it back on the shelf.

I also treat it as a bit of a touchstone. You have Auto-da-Fé on your bookshelf? We should talk.

There was also the weirdness of a guy with an Italian name writing in German. Who was born in Bulgaria. His family's story is interesting. As a kid I was fascinated by this multi-lingual Middle European world. In fact my MeFi account name is a tribute to one inhabitant of that world. Benito Strauss was the child of Italian Jews, who grew up in Trieste, the last crooked finger of Italy left in the Balkans. Born in 1888, he bounced between the worlds of philosophy, art, and science, and as the 19th century became the 20th he was involved with both the Dadaists and the Hyperbolic Quaternion Controversy.

Strauss's fate in the tumultuous 1930's has not yet been decided, as he is fictional, a character created by me, undoubtedly influenced by the example of Elias Canetti.
posted by benito.strauss at 7:45 AM on December 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

Oh man. Das Glasperlenspiel (Hesse). Die Blendung (Canetti). Der Tod des Virgil (Broch). Mann ohne Eigenschaften (Musil). So nice to find other people who read that.
When I read Das Glasperlenspiel and Die Blendung I was in my late teens and had some peculiar idea about wanting to read Masterworks Of World Literature. Partly to prove my mettle as a young intellectual. Partly because sometimes when I was reading such a Great Work Of Art I felt moved; the essentially incommunicable idiosyncratic and irrelevant experience of living was made meaningful through the framing of art.
The first drive whithered as I grew older and became less willing to spend time and energy on something because an intellectual authority deemed it the benchmark of intellectual merit. And also because my work demanded enough of my intellectual capacities so I was less looking for something to chew on.
The second drive is to me still what art is about. And I can find that in, let's say, some episodes of Breaking Bad or Mad Men (season 3 episode 12 touched me and I noticed it was filmed by the French director Barbet Schroeder).
posted by joost de vries at 6:18 AM on December 15, 2011

Interesting comment, joost. I had a similar 'taking on the canon' attitude when younger, and recently started putting some of my (favorite) DVDs on the same shelves as my (favorite) books. Because, wtf I need the space, and also they are just as much art as the books.
posted by benito.strauss at 6:48 AM on December 15, 2011

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