Posted by: L | May 4, 2007

Crowds and Powers

Elias Canetti’s Crowds and Powers is a book that you must read if you’re interested in crowd psychology. Here is a sample of what you get:

“There is nothing that man fears more than the touch of the unknown.

Man always tends to avoid physical contact with anything strange. In the dark, the fear of an unknown touch can amount to panic.

All the distances which men create around themselves are dictated by this fear. They shut themselves in houses which no one may enter, and only there feel some measure of security.

It is only in a crowd that man can become free of this fear of being touched. That is the only situation into which the fear changes into the opposite.”

In my opinion the book is somewhat uneven, passages of great power and insight alternating with observations that are a little artificial…. even, at times, contrived.

But that’s an idiosyncratic response, since this is the book which won him the Nobel Prize in 1981. And the book’s style of argument is so suggestive that it makes up for that occasional weakness.

For the sustained complexity and richness that comes with a great work of literature, read his magnum opus, Auto da Fe — one of my favorite books. But really, the comparison of the two isn’t fair, or even viable, because this is a work of sociology, while Auto da Fe – with all its philosophical depth — is a novel.

And, despite all my quibbles, Crowds and Powers is filled with immensely fertile observations.

Worth a slow, meditative read.

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