Page 8 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 40

Basic HTML Version

dramatized in narrative form the problem o f power and its e ffec t
on the masses and fo reboded the ruin that was to en gu l f Eu rope .
In his Crowds and Power (1960 ; English trans., 1978) Canetti
provided the intellectual basis fo r his thesis concern ing the in­
teraction o f hum an masses and the p arano ia o f de spots and drew
upon various disciplines to account fo r the rise o f H itlerism and
While C anetd ’s concerns are universal and transnational, he
has written vividly abou t his Jew ish background and exper iences.
In his au tob iography , The Tongue Set Free (1976 ; English trans.,
1980), he has described his rich multilingual upb r ing ing in the
town o f Ruschuk, on the Lower Danube. He writes o f the Sephar-
dic way o f life which he witnessed and recalls the p rep ara tion s fo r
the Sabbath and the colorful holiday celebrations. A fter spend in g
some o f his ch ildhood years in Manchester, Eng land , he moved
with his mother to V ienna where he received religious instruction
and learned to read Hebrew and the prayers. Later, in Zurich, he
had a brush with anti-Semitism in the school where he was one o f
the few Jew ish students. Canetti was to return to the subject o f
Sephard ic Jew ry in his The Voices of Marrakesh (1967 ; English
trans., 1978), a trave logue o f his visit to North A frica in which he
limned the old Jew s o f the souks and the mellah and evoked the
image o f the Jew ish community.
Canetti has also written plays and essays, including a lum inous
study o f K afka based on the au th or ’s letters to Felice. Bu t there is
another genre to which he has had recourse and which is reveal­
ing o f the workings o f his mind: that o f jo tt ing s and aphorism s. In
his The Human Province (1933; English trans., 1978), which con­
sists o f his observations from 1942-1972, he has recorded his
intimate thoughts also about Jew s and Ju d a ism . A lthough he was
forced to leave Austria when it was annexed by the T h ird Reich,
he continued to write in German because he felt en joined to
contribute to the restoration o f the langu age a fter “ years o f u t­
most m adne ss.”
Canetti is aware o f the various strands in his make-up. In an
interview he once spoke o f h im self as “a Span ish poet in the
German langu age .” Among his observations in The Human Pro­
vince are comments on Jew ish su ffer in g and the Bible. In 1943 he
wrote: “Only the B ible is strong enough fo r what is h appen ing
today, and its d read fu lne ss is what com forts me .” T o rn between
his Jew ish loyalty and his comm itment to universal values, he is