Tuesday, November 2, 2004

Current reading

Elias Canetti's Counter-Image of Society: Crowds, Power, Transformation
by Johann P. Arnason & David Roberts

"Elias Canetti's significance as a seminal cultural critic has not been adequately recognized. His distinctive anti-systematic form of theorizing, which cuts across the customary boundaries between genres and between imagination and theory, confronts the interpreter with particular difficulties. If the award of the Nobel Prize for literature in 1981 has assured his place in literary history, his place in the history of social and political thought is still undetermined.

The present study has a double aim. On the one hand, it seeks to draw out the counter-image of human existence, history, and society that informs Canetti's critique of the modern world and its sciences. On the other, it seeks to open up his hermetic oeuvre by tracing his cryptic and often concealed dialogue with major figures within the Western tradition such as Hobbes, Durkheim, and Freud, and through comparison with contemporaries sich as Adorno, Arendt, and Elias. Here in particular the authors ask how his alternative vision of man and society relates to important themes of twentieth-century social and civilizational thought at the same time as it calls into question the evolutionary and functionalist assumptions of the social and human sciences.

In a series of interrelated analyses of Auto da Fe, Crowds and Power, and the aphorisms, the authors elucidate key aspects of Canetti's interrogation of human existence and human history across five thematic complexes: individual and social psychology, totalitarian politics, religion and politics, theories of society, and power and culture. Canetti's Counter-Image of Society traces the movement of Canetti's thought from an apocalyptic sense of crisis to his search for cultural resources to set against the holocaust of European civilization."

I am curious to see how this reading of the crowd relates to Virno's reading of the multitude...


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