Crowds and Power is a revolutionary work in which Elias Canetti finds a new way of looking at human history and psychology. Breathtaking in its range and. CROWDS AND POWER by. ELIAS CANETTI. Translated from the German by. Carol Stewart. NEW YORK. THE VIKING PRESS. I Essays and criticism on Elias Canetti’s Crowds and Power – Critical Essays.

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April 25, by amarilla. This essay was meant to diagnose the key problems of contemporary post-World War II society. Canetti speaks about death and survival: This points to an objective reality that has sprung from our contemporary crisis—the crisis of canettu, of an instinct for survival gone wild.

People never entirely lose this fear of being touched, and yet somehow people are able to lose themselves in a crowd; this presents a paradox.

A person loses his fear of being touched only when packed in a crowd, and at this moment his fear of being touched reverses itself into its opposite. Canetti believes that one of the reasons eelias like to become part croeds a crowd is the relief they feel at this process of reversal. Throughout the conversation, it is clear that both Adorno and Canetti are trying to both piece together myths and ideologies from the past only to re-evaluate them and deconstruct them with critical objective and subjective reason.

cabetti There are many instances of people genuinely believing that the air is full of spirits that manifest themselves in massive quantities. For example, Christianity, during the Medieval period, had many followers who thought they saw the Devil. This could also refer poower threats upon huge masses of people—an example of this could be the constant possibility of natural disasters.

These mass symbols were important for the formation of national consciousness: Adorno says that Canetti focuses on the concept of the symbol and categories too much and that they are already internalized and directed towards the imagination.

Adorno then poses the question of whether Canetti believes that these symbols really are the key problems of contemporary society and whether or not the real masses, with anv implications of real political pressures, has an even greater importance for society rather than these factors of the imagination.

Canetti says that without the conscious artificial stimulation of larger and larger masses, the power of dictatorships would be inconceivable: The essay then turns to crosds closer analysis of how the categories of crowds and power are deeply intertwined. Adorno says that the individual finds it extremely difficult to resist or assert himself as individual.


This increases the symbolic significance of these categories. In their individuals inwardness, in their emotional life people seem to revert to an archaic stage in which these internalized categories have such a corporal significance that they become fully identified with them. The only way for individuals to be able to agree or consent to their own disempowerment is for them to reinterpret these complementary categories so as to make them seem meaningful, even irrational, and therefore sacred.

Adorno says that this is the link between the growing symbolic significance of these things and their reality. Furthermore, Canetti believes that these packs are equivalent to our modern masses, except for the difference that masses strive to grow while packs do not generally strive for numeric growth.

The four types of packs are as follows: The first three packs are all elements of archaic survival and no longer apply to the modern world we no longer have to hunt, we no longer have to ritualize each death.

Therefore growth and reproduction is a secondary factor and not primary factor. Property is the imperative for humans to reproduce, as it supplies more bodies for the culture industry to appeal to.

Adorno goes on to talk about the widening fear that with the rise of consumerism of all forms, the growing population will shorten the time-span of humankind on earth.

Canetti, Elias + Theodor Adorno: Crowds and Power | Introducing the Frankfurt School

Adorno points to the economic relations that are imposed on the value of a human life: In this ambivalence there is a very profound consciousness that on the one hand all possible forms of life actually have the right to exist but that on the other hand, because of the self-preservation instinct present in all humans coupled with the institutional apparatuses in which we live, every new human being that arrives represents something of a threat, no matter how miniscule, to the existence of all other human beings.

Canetti derives the notion of command—biologically—from the order to flee. He relates that a lion on the prowl that reveals its presence to other animals by its roar has the effect of making them flee. The command to flee or vacate is in our origin.


It drives a threatened animal from the source of danger, and this fact has been built into our society.

Crowds and Power by Elias Canetti

Orders are handed out without people suspecting that they are simultaneously receiving a death threat. Here Canetti explains that in every command there is the threat of death You are warned that if you do not comply with orders from above, something bad will happen to you, like death for instance.

People want to free themselves from these stings, and that is why they often seek out situations that are the exact reverse of the original situation in which they received commands, in order to eliae rid of the sting.

For Canetti, the army is not a crowd at all; in fact, the army is a group of people held together by a specific chain of command in such a way that it can become divisible at any time, in correspondence to a specific command. Instead, the army and the church must be regarded as reaction-formations, namely regressions to social stages that are no longer reconcilable with present realities. Canetti eias by saying that the threat of direct force from some higher authority or maybe even your neighbor survives in all mediations, and that every attempt to escape from it remains under the spell of the mythical circular process of doing to others what has been done to oneself.

Crowds and Power

How do we see this paradox of the self-preserving individual reverting to his herd-like mass mentality in relation to Nazism? Conversation with Elias Canetti.

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