06 January 2011

Like Falling in Love All Over Again

I've begun re-reading Elias Canetti's Auto-da-Fé, which novel I remember having a profound effect on me when I first read it ca. 1982-83. There may be no more important novel of the Twentieth Century. A classic one-hit wonder: if I could only write one novel, and it was such a one as this, I could die happy.

For Giftmas, I received a copy of Canetti's collection of essays entitled The Conscience of Words. The following passage, from the Preface, could just as easily have been the motto in the Header of this humble blog. Canetti's essays embody what I take to be the spirit of blogging: a wide-ranging, engaged critical intelligence with a non-dogmatic approach to thought and an avowed humanistic bias "cast[-ing] a cold eye on life, on death."
"This volume presents my essays from the years 1962 or 1974 in the order in which they were written. At first glance, it may seem odd to mingle figures like Kafka and Confucius, Büchner, Tolstoy, Karl Kraus, and Hitler, the most dreadful of catastrophes like Hiroshima, and literary reflections on keeping journals or on the genesis of a novel. But this adjacency was precisely what I was after, for these things are only seemingly disparate. The public and the private can no longer be separated, they overlap in ways that would never before have seemed possible. The enemies of mankind have rapidly gained power, coming very close to an ultimate goal of destroying the earth. It is impossible to ignore them and withdraw to the contemplation of only spiritual models that still have some meaning for us. These models have become rarer; many that may have sufficed for earlier times do not contain enough in themselves, comprise too little to still serve us today. Hence, it is all the more important to speak about those that have withstood our monstrous century.

But it would not be enough merely to grasp models and countermodels, even if one does succeed in grasping them. It is not, I think, superfluous to speak also about oneself—among countless other witnesses of this era—and to describe the efforts at keeping all those models at bay. Perhaps it is not purely private to show how a man of today has managed to produce a novel, so long as his aim was to truly confront the age; or how he arranges a diary to keep from being spiritually ground up in that age." Elias Canetti, The Conscience of Words, "Prefatory Remark," vii.

No comments: