Elias Canetti 1905–
Bulgarian-born English novelist, essayist, and dramatist.
Canetti has been recognized as an important and original thinker by European critics for several decades. Only in the last ten years has he received a significant amount of attention in the United States. American critics are now analyzing Canetti's work and find him to be an intriguing literary figure whose work commands respect and careful scrutiny.
Canetti, who fled Austria with his parents and moved to London in 1938, was deeply disturbed by the social climate in Europe before the Second World War. He eventually became obsessed with "the conflict between culture and the mass mind." His acclaimed sole novel, Die Blendung (Auto-da-Fé, also published as Tower of Babel), is a social and political satire on the greed, cruelty, and intolerance of the mass mind for the individual who is both alienated from and victimized by it. The book was originally intended to be the first of eight dealing with madness and the distortion of reality in the contemporary world. Canetti later decided that Die Blendung sufficiently stated his views and the remaining volumes were never written. Masse und Macht (Crowds and Power) is, however, often described as a companion volume to Die Blendung. This treatise on the psychology of the masses is one of Canetti's most important works. It attempts to explain the origins, behavior, and significance of crowds as a force in society with an imaginativeness and forcefulness that led critics to read his other works with intense interest. Among these works is Der andere Prozess: Kafkas Briefe an Felice (The Other Trial: Kafka's Letters to Felice), an examination of Kafka through his letters to his fiancee, and a book of sketches entitled Der Ohrenzeuge: Fünfzig Charaktere (Earwitness: Fifty Characters) which collects personality traits into monstrous exaggerations as a protest against inflexible social attitudes.
Canetti's recently published autobiographical volumes, The Tongue Set Free and The Torch in My Ear deal with family influences upon Canetti during his childhood and adolescence and with the literary influences of his early adulthood, notably Karl Kraus and Franz Kafka.
Although some critics find Canetti's work over-detailed and unscientific, most believe that he writes in an original and compelling manner, incorporating metaphor, irony, and symbolism into his aphoristic style. Canetti won the prestigious Georg Büchner Prize in 1972 and the Nobel Prize in literature in 1981.
(See also CLC, Vols. 3 and 14 and Contemporary Authors, Vols. 21-24, rev. ed.)