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5 - The Subversive Sources of Power

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  05 February 2013

Johann P. Arnason
Affiliation:
La Trobe University, Melbourne
David Roberts
Affiliation:
Monash University, Melbourne
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Summary

CANETTI'S APHORISMS (to use the widely accepted but not fully adequate English translation of Aufzeichnungen) are very directly related to his work on Crowds and Power. His own account of the connection sounds rather dismissive: he describes the aphorisms as a “safety valve” that enabled him to concentrate on the main project without risking exhaustion and paralysis. The sheer volume and continuity of the aphorisms — they chronicle Canetti's thought over half a century — would seem to suggest more significant aims. Even a cursory reading will show that Canetti was experimenting with several interconnected lines of reflection. But the following discussion will focus on one of them: the question to be pursued is whether the aphorisms contain elements or adumbrations of a theory of culture that would match his main concern, the theory of power. For this purpose, The Human Province is a key text. The question must, however, be posed with major qualifications in mind. It goes without saying that the term “theory” is being used in a very flexible sense, not to be confused with closed systems or nomological constructions; this is in line with a more general trend, exemplified by the shift from sociological to social theory. Canetti's reflections, however unconventional in style and content, are no less relevant to the agenda of social theory than the more widely debated heterodoxies of the last two or three decades: it will, for example, become apparent that his thought has some latent points of contact with the work of Cornelius Castoriadis.

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Elias Canetti's Counter-Image of Society
Crowds, Power, Transformation
, pp. 111 - 138
Publisher: Boydell & Brewer
Print publication year: 2004

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