Volume 11, Number 1 (January, 2014)
Author: Dr. Paul O Mahoney
The texts followed are those listed in Gerry Coulter’s ‘Baudrillard Index’ assembled for IJBS, with one exception: ‘Please Follow Me’, the text of Baudrillard’s collaboration with Sophie Calle, I have only been able to access through Redhead’s Reader, as indicated below (which includes the work’s single reference to Canetti). The order in which the books are treated is that which I felt best accommodated the subject. It must be stated that certain of Baudrillard’s references I found untraceable in their quoted form to Canetti’s work; in the event that I have overlooked any passage which would form the basis of a quotation below, I invite readers recognising such to submit corrections to Gerry Coulter at IJBS.
II. Fatal Strategies:
(a) 14–16 (quotation with subsequent commentary): ‘A painful thought: past a certain point in time, history has not been real. Without realizing it, the whole human race seems to have suddenly left reality behind. Everything that is supposed to have happened since then would no longer be true, but we wouldn’t be able to realize it. Our task and our duty would not be to uncover this point, and until we did we would have to persist in our present destruction’.
This will be familiar to every reader of Baudrillard; it is by far the most frequently quoted passage from Canetti in his work, and perhaps the most quoted or alluded to of all. So fond is he of it that it recurs in slightly different contexts, and with different wording—sometimes in shorthand as the ‘drop-out point’ or a ‘dead point’—across his books: he even applies Canetti’s diagnosis of the situation of the west or of humankind to his own life, remarking ‘I stopped living, in Canetti’s sense’ (Gane 1993: 105).
It is from The Human Province; Neugroschel’s translation of the passage (which is sometimes adopted by Baudrillard’s translators) runs: ‘A tormenting thought: as of a certain point, history was no longer real. Without noticing it, all mankind suddenly left reality; everything happening since then was supposedly not true; but we supposedly didn’t notice. Our task would now be to find that point, and as long as we didn’t have it, we would be forced to abide in our present destruction’ (Canetti 1986: 69).
What is remarkable in this respect is that Baudrillard never once expands on or even adumbrates the context in which the passage occurs. The Human Province is divided by year, with one exception: the month of August 1945 is deemed to merit its own section, and contains Canetti’s appalled reflections on the meaning for humanity of the atomic age heralded by Hiroshima. The reflection occurs within these pages, and the idea of humanity’s ‘dropping out of history’ is therefore directly connected to the advent of the nuclear age. What I have called the remarkableness of Baudrillard’s failure to mention this even once derives from the fact that it tunes so precisely with a sentiment of his own – so precisely that that sentiment might well have been derived from reflection on Canetti’s passage. Baudrillard wrote on a number of occasions of how we ‘died’ in 1945. An exemplary case: ‘It is really only because we have disappeared politically and historically today (and therein lies our problem) that we seek to prove that we died between 1940 and 1945, at Auschwitz or in Hiroshima – which at least makes for a strong history’ (Baudrillard 1993: 90; 2002: 18; cf. Gane 1993: 160).
This quoted passage from Canetti will frequently crop up; for brevity’s sake, we refer the reader back in every case to this discussion, indicating its occurrence simply by the phrase ‘Drop-out point’.
(b) ‘“Only tautological sentences are perfectly true,” says Canetti’
Every other reference to Canetti in Fatal Strategies comes from The Human Province, but neither this statement nor an approximation of it is in that book, and I have not found it in any other by Canetti. I have searched high and low, and sounded out Canetti scholars, and must conclude that it is, as far as I can tell, Baudrillard’s invention—though I invite readers of IJBS who might recognise it to contact the editor for correction.
(c) 123: ‘One can say of any object, in its immobility and aphasia, what Canetti says about animals: “If you look attentively at an animal, you get the feeling that a man is hidden inside and is making fun of you”.
From The Human Province, Neugroschel’s translation of the original runs: ‘Whenever you observe an animal closely, you feel as if a human being sitting inside were making fun of you’ (Canetti 1986: 7). Another frequently used, its occurrences will henceforth be designated by ‘Animal laughing’.
(d) 137: ‘We never forget these phrases. They probably take from us an innocence that could be very pleasant to keep. But through these cruel breaks a man is initiated into his own nature. Without them he could never really see himself. They must intervene by surprise, must come from the outside. Any phrase that comes to us from elsewhere is efficacious because it is unexpected: we have nothing to counterbalance it with. We help it with an energy identical to that with which we would have opposed it in other circumstances’.
Taken from The Human Province, a lengthy entry from 1954, perhaps worth quoting in full, not only to grasp the passage in its greater context—and note what it elides—but also for the meditation on what attracts a reader to aphorisms and other fragmentary writing.
Which of the sentences in an aphorism collection does one write down? For one thing, the sentences that confirm one: things that one feels are right, that one has often thought, that go against conventional opinion, that justify one. There is much dogmatism in this urge to be confirmed by great or wise men. But it can also be more: a pure joy in meeting a truly congenial mind. For if many sentences by a single man accord with one, then mere dogmatism turns into astonishment: in a totally different time, among totally different people, a man sought to grasp himself in exactly the same way as oneself; the same form, the same definiteness and definition came to him. One would be happy if one’s best were equal to his best. Only timidity keeps one from falling into the arms of the older brother: the feeling that many things in one could frighten him.
Then there are two kinds of sentences that do not refer to oneself; one kind is funny, they amuse one with an unexpected turn of phrase or with terseness; as sentences they are new and have the freshness of new words. The others arouse an image that lay ready in one for a long time, in the clarity that permits it to rise. The strangest effect is perhaps that of the sentences that put one to shame. One has many foibles one never worries about. They belong to one, one takes them for granted like eyes or hands. One may even bear a secret tenderness for them; they may have gained one the confidence or admiration of other people. Now, suddenly, one is harshly confronted with them, they are torn away from any context of one’s own life, as though they could occur anywhere. One doesn’t recognize them instantly, but one is taken aback. One reads a second time and one is frightened. “Why, that’s you!” one suddenly snaps at oneself, pushing the sentence on like a knife. One reddens at one’s entire personal image of oneself. One even promises to turn over a new leaf, and though one hardly gets any better, one never forgets these sentences. They may drive out an innocence that might have been attractive. But man’s initiations into his own nature take place in such cruel cuts. Without them, he never can see himself fully. They have to come unexpectedly and from outside. By himself, man adjusts everything to his own comfort. By himself, he is an irresistible liar. For he never says anything truly unpleasant to himself without instantly counterbalancing it with something flattering. The sentence from the outside has an impact because it comes unexpectedly: one does not have any counterweight ready for it. One helps it with the same strength one would have met it with in other circumstances. There are also the untouchable or sacred sentences, like those by Blake. One is embarrassed to find them among other sentences: for these can be wise, but in the light of the untouchable sentences they appear false and stale. One does not dare write down the untouchable sentence. It requires a page or a book for itself, where nothing else is written and nothing else will ever be written (Canetti 1986: 145–6).
(e) 143: A lengthy extract from an entry in The Human Province concerning dreams. We may quote only the source, from which the passage is extracted (once again, this is a favourite of Baudrillard’s, and references to it will be designated by ‘Dreams’.):
I can endure dreams only when they are intact and whole, as a mystery. They are so alien that one is only very slow to grasp them. As for other people’s dreams, I can comprehend them only one at a time. One takes them up, carefully and reluctantly. Woe to the fool who interprets them immediately, he loses them and never holds them again, they wither before they could turn green for him.
Likewise, one should not pile dreams up together if they never belonged to one another. they get their blood by emanating into reality, the materialization of a dream is everything, but it comes in a different way than the normal interpreters imagine. A dream has to animate reality by penetrating it, in all possible ways, from every direction whatsoever, and especially from where one least suspected. As a flock of birds, a dream perches here and there, it rises and returns, it flees and no sooner has it fled than it darkens the light of the sun. The ungraspable in the dream is its most graspable aspect; and yet it does have its shape, but it has to gain its shape itself, by slipping into the shapes of reality, and one must not give it that shape from the outside.
How vast is the damage caused by interpreted dreams. Their disruption remains concealed, but how sensitive is a dream! There is no blood on the axes of the slaughterers when they strike the cobwebs; but what destruction they have wrought! And never again will the same thing be spun. The uniqueness of every dream is sensed by very few people; how else could they then expose it to any commonplace?
Perhaps, of all people, only Klee treated dreams with the proper awe, as the most inviolable thing to occur in a human being (Canetti 1986: 193–4).
Cf. ibid., 167 on dreams in Plutarch, and p. 126: ‘A dream is like an animal, but an unknown animal, and you cannot see all its members. The interpretation is a cage, but the dream is never inside’.
(f) 190 = ‘Drop-out point’
III. Cool Memories I:
(a) 26: ‘Revenge? Revenge? Everything comes back by itself, very precisely; and revenge confuses it.’ Turner has obviously consulted Neugroschel’s translation of The Human Province (the wording is the translator’s), but without giving page reference (Canetti 1986: 279).
This is once more a recurrent reference—and again, for that reason, one the wording of which may change—and will henceforth be indicated by ‘Vengeance’.
(b) 194 = ‘Animal laughing’
IV. Cool Memories II: 62
(a) 62 = ‘Animal laughing’
V. Cool Memories III: 10
(a) 10: ‘Gombrowicz, Nabokov, Svevo, Schnitzler, Canetti. How is it that the greatest are, in their varying degrees, violently hostile to psychoanalysis? And, ultimately, towards the end of his life, Freud himself?’
For an example of Canetti’s hostility to psychoanalysis, one may take the following, from early in The Tongue Set Free: considering the fact that he retains Bulgarian folktales from his earliest childhood in German, despite never having encountered them in that language and having forgotten his Bulgarian almost completely, he writes: ‘The events of those years are present to my mind in all their strength and freshness (I’ve fed on them for over sixty years), but the vast majority are tied to words that I did not know at that time. It seems natural to me to write them down now; I don’t have the feeling that I am changing or warping anything. It is not like the literary translation of a book from one language to another, it is a translation that happened of its own accord in my unconscious, and since I ordinarily avoid this word like the plague, a word that has become meaningless from overuse, I apologize for employing it in this one and only case’ (1999: 10).
This is quite humorous, particularly for the fact that the memoir charts the vagaries of Canetti’s pigheaded, almost brutishly oedipal attachment to his mother, and resentment of rivals for her attention or affection. Incidentally, Schnitzler figures in the book as the first author Canetti ever feared (and he says he never feared another so much as he did Schnitzler in that period), as the first novelist from which his mother read often and with evident pleasure—she even forewent the evening conversations she usually had with her son—without introducing him to the books, and in fact forbidding him access to them. That fear was redoubled by the fact that it was ‘Herr Professor’, a doctor and Canetti’s mother’s admiring suitor, who had introduced her to the books (ibid., 122–24).
(b) 52: ‘A scar on a woman’s face lends her all the charm, all the attractiveness, of the animal which might have inflicted that wound. (Canetti)’
The lack of quotation marks here suggests that this is Baudrillard’s aphorism, built on rather than directly borrowed from Canetti’s work; I have at any rate found nothing resembling the sentence in the volumes of Canetti’s Aufzeichnungen. As a variation on a theme of Canetti’s with a Baudrillardian twist, it most likely refers back to the discussion of scars as trophies of battles or encounters with animals, and the historical-anthropological importance of teeth, in Crowds and Power. One could indeed imagine Baudrillard’s observation as an outgrowth of reflection on the matter. Canetti writes:
‘From a very early stage man used all kinds of stones as weapons and tools, but it was a long time before he learnt to polish them to the smoothness of teeth. It is probable that his teeth served him as a model for the improvement of his tools. The teeth of all kinds of large animals had always been useful to him; he might have captured them at the risk of his life and some of the power of the animal which had threatened him still seemed to him to be contained in them. He wore them as trophies and talismans to pass on to others the terror they had once aroused in him. He proudly displayed on his body the scars they had caused; these ranked as badges of honour and were so much desired that they were often artificially produced’ (Canetti 1981: 207–8).
(c) 109: ‘The Human shows through in a moving and mysterious way only in those who are bereft of it. Perhaps it has real presence only in animals, as we see in Canetti’s work…If, as Canetti writes, the very idea of metamorphosis disappears from the universe when animals do, then there is neither man nor thought any longer.’
This appears to be another case of Baudrillard’s customary shorthand references. It likely refers to Canetti’s imaginative (not to use the word ‘speculative’) account of the relationship between metamorphosis and increase, or the varying balance of self-consumption and self-increase, in the discussion of metamorphosis and totemism in Crowds and Power.
Canetti relates the origin myth promulgated among the Aranda of central Australia, whereby the primordial father, Karora, gives birth first to bandicoots and then to men, through his navel and his armpits, both of which species are considered his sons. The human sons kill and eat the bandicoots—essentially, as Canetti points out, a form of self-consumption or totemic cannibalism—until eventually no bandicoots, their only source of food, can be found within three days’ journey. This consumption, Canetti observes, disappears as totemism develops, and in fact a reversal takes place, where a prohibition is instituted on killing or eating the totemic animal, which is to be regarded as an older brother. Only those who have a different totem can eat the animal, as those other groups in their turn permit the eating of their totemic animal by outsiders. The purpose of this, says Canetti, is in part to ensure the totemic animal’s increase, which is equated with the self-increase or flourishing of the group. The implication is, as one might or might not gather from Baudrillard’s summary reference, that the eradication of the totemic animal—into which ancestors morphed at will, and in which the spirits of ancestors survive—destroys, along with the link to animal and ancestor, the centrality of metamorphosis. As Canetti writes:
‘Animals which have been hunted too much tend to wander away or to die out…Self-consumption had been carried too far; all the older brothers, Karora’s first sons, had been eaten up. Self-consumption should now have reverted to the self-increase with which the whole process started…Man’s kinship with his totem animal is so close that its increase cannot really be separated from his own. The representation of the ancestors who were both, sometimes a human being and sometimes an animal, is an essential and recurring part of the rites. The ancestors transform themselves as they wish from the one into the other and they can only be dramatically represented if the transformation has been mastered. They appear as double figures and the process of transformation is an essential part of their representation. As long as this is properly enacted, the kinship remains real and the animal which is oneself can be made to increase’ (Canetti 1981: 358).
In a well known address titled ‘Der Beruf des Dichters’ (‘The Vocation of the Poet’), Canetti had identified the poet’s role, in a phrase often quoted in subsequent critical studies of his work, as that of the ‘guardian of metamorphosis’ (Hüter der Verwandlung). Cf. also the related passage on Aristophanes and ‘packs’ (the discussion of different types of ‘packs’ plays a major part in the first two sections of Crowds and Power): ‘Aristophanes is full of packs, and the seductive thing about them is that they tend to come as animals. They are animals and men at once, wasps, birds, they appear as these and speak like human beings. Thus they present the oldest metamorphoses, metamorphosis per se. Comedy is not yet reduced to its pure human dimensions, the age of its boredom and uninventiveness has not yet begun’ (Canetti 1986: 239). For some general surveys of Canetti’s recurrent (one might almost say obsessive) interest in animals, see e.g. Kronauer (2002) and Lorenz (2004).
VI. Cool Memories IV:
(a) 11: ‘Canetti: “Whenever a truth threatens, man hides behind a thought.” Yes, but also: whenever a thought threatens, man hides behind the truth. He says: I don’t mind being responsible for being, but not for appearances.’
Baudrillard quotes an aphorism from The Secret Heart of the Clock. In Agee’s translation, it runs: ‘Mental hypocrisy: Whenever a truth threatens, he hides behind a thought’ (Canetti 2005: 22). The translation is adequate, but loses something of the flavour of the original; in the original, the ‘title’ of the aphorism speaks not of ‘mental hypocrisy’ but, more colourfully, of ‘thought-hypocrites’ or ‘idea-hypocrites’. It goes: ‘Der Gedankenheuchler: Immer, wenn eine Wahrheit droht, versteckt er sich hinter einem Gedanken’ (Canetti 1987: 33).
VII. Cool Memories V:
(a) 42: ‘“The slavery of death is the root of all slavery”, says Canetti, “and if it were not irremediable who would desire it?” An enigmatic proposition. Either: if it were possible to avoid it, no one would wish for death. Or: it is because that slavery is irremediable that so many people desire it.’
Again, extracted from The Human Province. The full passage runs:
It is said that death comes to many as a deliverance, and there can scarcely be anyone who has not wished for it at times. It is the ultimate symbol of failure: the man who fails on a grand scale comforts himself with the thought that there can be further failure, and he reaches for that huge dark cloak that covers everything evenly. Yet if death didn’t exist, no man could ever fail at anything; every new effort would make up for weaknesses, inadequacies, and sins. Unlimited time would inspire unlimited courage. From the very start, we are all taught that everything comes to an end, at least here, in this known world. Boundaries and closeness everywhere, and soon a final, obnoxiously ugly narrowness, which we cannot expand ourselves. Everyone gazes into this narrowness; whatever may come beyond it, the narrowness is regarded as inevitable; everyone has to bow to it, whatever their plans or merits. A soul may be as vast as it likes; it will be squeezed together until it suffocates, at some point that it does not itself choose. Who fixes it depends on whatever opinion happens to be prevailing and not on the individual soul itself. The slavery of death is the core of all slavery, and if this slavery were not recognized, no one would wish for it (Canetti 1986: 82).
In The Tongue Set Free, Canetti reflects that his mother’s pride in her family, which even as a child he finds distasteful and provincial, and a contradiction of her enthusiasm for the universal values of great writers, in fact rubbed off on him, but in grander terms – perhaps comically grander, for his loyal but longsuffering reader – and he makes the striking claim in regard to this original ‘slavery’: ‘Much later I came to realize that I, translated to the greater dimensions of mankind, am exactly as she was. I have spent the best part of my life figuring out the wiles of man as he appears in the historical civilizations. I have examined and analyzed power as ruthlessly as my mother her family’s litigations. There is almost nothing bad that I couldn’t say about humans and humankind. And yet my pride in them is so great that there is only one thing I really hate: their enemy, death’ (1999: 6).
This is vintage Canetti, of course, typical of the strain in his writing which led Clive James to sum him up, reviewing Party in the Blitz, Canetti’s final volume of memoirs, in less than flattering terms as ‘a particularly bright egomaniac…Canetti could recognize self-obsession in others. But there is no account of his ever recognizing the same failing in himself. His memoirs not only take him to be the centre of events — a standard strategy in autobiographical writing, and often an entertaining one — they proceed on the assumption that no events matter except those centred on him. Hitler scarcely gets a mention. The story is all about Canetti, a man with good reason, we are led to assume, for holding himself in high esteem…Here is the proof that he was too pleased about himself to be truly perceptive about others’ (James 2005).
(b) 90: ‘Those politicians who try to slip a bit of power to the ‘intellectuals’ (missions, commissions, etc) – on the one hand, to prove to themselves that they have some, but, above all, so as to leave no one outside the field of power. “If I knew that there still are on this earth some men without any power I would say that nothing is lost” (Canetti)’.
From The Human Province; Neugroschel’s translation runs: ‘As long as there are any people in the world who have no power whatsoever, I cannot lose all hope’ (Canetti 1986: 159).
(c) 102: ‘“The age in which modernity was being invented and had not yet degenerated into a caricature of itself” (Canetti). A fine example of that degeneracy: the clone, which may be considered a caricature of the human at its highest evolutionary stage. At the apex and end of its possibilities, evolution retraces its own steps’.
From Das Geheimherz der Uhr, an entry from 1978 concerning John Aubrey, containing Canetti’s reflections on the writer of Brief Lives; this particular observation, in Agee’s English translation, runs: ‘He had the curiosity of modern man, but at a time when the modern age was inventing itself and had not yet settled into a caricature of itself. This curiosity is applied to everything, it makes no distinctions, but people fascinate him most of all.’ (Canetti 2005: 44)
(d) 107: ‘As a degree of stultification by medication set in, an idea came to me of a description of the present world that would have as a title that mysterious formula that was Canetti’s mothers: the Phylogeny of Spinach, which she employed to stigmatize her son’s useless metaphysical enquiry in an entirely corrupt, money-grubbing milieu’.
Once again, Baudrillard plays a little bit fast and loose with his words—inasmuch as it was not what most would call metaphysical but anthropological or natural historical enquiry which prompted Mathilde Arditti’s formula. Canetti records that at age fourteen, while visiting his mother from Zurich—she was sojourning in a sanatorium in Arosa, while his brothers were boarding in Lausanne—he would relate to her details of his studies, including any lectures or reading which he had found particularly stimulating; some, like art history, his mother respected and took some instruction in willingly, but others obviously bored her senseless. He writes: ‘But she scoffed at my reports on primitive peoples, not to mention natural history. Since she herself prudently concealed so much, she assumed I was doing the same. She was firmly convinced that these many pages of reports on things that bored her to tears were meant to camouflage personal things I was dealing with. She kept asking for real news of my life instead of the “Phylogeny of Spinach,” as she scornfully called anything smacking of science’ (Canetti 1999: 193). Near the close of the book, when his mother visits him and derides him for living through books and paintings, without worldly experience of his own, and tries to coax him away, at sixteen, from a sheltered existence in Zurich, she again reproves his notebooks ‘full of the phylogeny of spinach’ (ibid., 259), and accuses: ‘You’ve become a bookworm and everything is equally important to you. The phylogeny of spinach and Michelangelo’ (ibid., 261).
VIII. Baudrillard Live:
(a) 99; (b) 105 (c) 118; (d) 124 = ‘drop-out point’
(d) 159: Baudrillard comments on the attraction of ‘the fragment’, and the dropping of references in his work that make papers such as this useful: ‘The progressive absence of references to authors or to the history of ideas is logical: the “fatal” does not encumber itself with citations. Canetti is not really an exception, for it is not the ensemble of his work but fragments of it that have excited me. The style of the fragment, particularly since Nietzsche, has always stimulated me. It’s writing that is non-dialectic, disruptive, indifferent to its origin and to its end, a literal transcription of objective irony that I believe I can read directly in the state of things itself. The fragment is like the nucleus of an ephemeral destiny of language, a fatal particle that shines an instant and then disappears. At the same time, it allows an instantaneous conversion of points of view, of humours and passions. Of course it’s a challenge to the language, to the reader, to ideas themselves; it’s also a challenge perhaps because at bottom it’s a solution by facility, a “subtle laziness” of writing (but the most difficult to attain)’.
(e) 192 = ‘Vengeance’
(f) 204: ‘Then, more and more, I find myself drawn towards authors like Canetti, etc. They are not necessarily theorists or philosophers’.
IX. The Conspiracy of Art:
(a) 96 = ‘Drop-out point’
(b) 119 = ‘Animal laughing’
(c) 152: ‘There’re trigger moments, uncontrollable linkages, like those described by Elias Canetti in Crowds and Power.’
These ‘trigger moments’ refer to Canetti’s concept of the ‘discharge’, discussed in the fourth section of part I of Crowds and Power. The ‘discharge’ (Entladung) is the formative moment, when a crowd becomes a crowd; and, for the individuals that (from that moment) make up the crowd, it entails their surrender to the larger sway and logic of the mass—it is the moment when the ordinary set of individual inhibitions and the fear of being touched are transformed into a feeling of unity with others, and it is thus perhaps the most important phenomenon in the study of crowds: ‘Before this the crowd does not actually exist; it is the discharge which creates it. This is the moment when all who belong to the crowd get rid of their differences and feel equal’ (Canetti 1981: 17).
Naturally this is not something we ordinarily consider measurable; questioning at what point a crowd as such is formed seems rather like asking which grain of rice or piece of straw added to a growing pile is the one which makes it a pile. Canetti’s notion of discharge is very interesting in one respect, which, as students of philosophy, may permit us a digression: Hegel had spoken of the relation between quantity and quality (e.g. The Phenomenology of Spirit §§ 45-56)—or the moment when quantity of something turned it, qualitatively, into something else. Carl Schmitt was the most emphatic in stressing the fundamentally political nature of Hegel’s entire dialectic, and it is interesting in light of Canetti’s exposition of the ‘discharge’ to consider how Schmitt approached this aspect of Hegel’s thought. Schmitt had written:
Hegel’s proposition concerning the dialectical change of quantity into quality is comprehensible in the context of political thought only…Hegel…remains everywhere political in the decisive sense…The often quoted sentence of quantity transforming into quality has a thoroughly political meaning. It is an expression of the recognition that from every domain the point of the political is reached and with it a qualitative new intensity of human groupings. The actual application of this sentence refers to the economic domain and becomes virulent in the nineteenth century. The process of such a transformation executes itself continuously in the autonomous, so-called politically neutral economic domain. The hitherto nonpolitical or pure matter of fact now turns political. When it reaches a certain quantity, economic property, for example, becomes obviously social (or, more correctly, political) power, propriété turns into pouvoir, and what is first only an economically motivated class antagonism turns into a class struggle of hostile groups (Schmitt 2007: 59, 62–3).
Canetti’s investigations could be said to place Hegel’s metaphysical principle in a political setting.
(d) 209: ‘…the goal of war is not to kill or win, but abolish the enemy, extinguish (according to Canetti, I believe) the light of his sky’.
‘I believe’, says Baudrillard, but it seems mistakenly: this is apparently another case of Baudrillard misquoting from memory. Canetti’s most prominent discussions of the figure of the enemy occur in Crowds and Power; and, while this nice poetic phrase has a Canetti-like ring, the formula is not, it would seem, originally his. Baudrillard seems to refer to the discussions centred around the ‘heap of the dead’.
Mohammed’s interest in tombs, he catches his mortal disease in tombs. Corpses interest him as objects of resurrection. For him, the Last Judgment is the utmost concentration of dominance. All are judged, and the decision is forever. It is the greatest crowd imaginable, the object of a definitive judgment the heap of the dead, a true goal of war, is so great as to include all corpses. (Mohammed certainly prefers wars to healing the sick.) After the Last Judgment, when there is no more dying, all the dead become living, and the only purpose of their awakening is for them to come together under the immediate and direct command of God.
In Islam, God’s command is a great deal like a death sentence. In the Bible, the ‘slaughter this and slaughter that!’ mostly refers to sacrificial animals; God’s command strikes people only occasionally as an immediate bolt of lightning. The step from Judaism to Islam is one of a powerful emphasis on and concentration of command. (Canetti 1986: 117–18; cf. 1981: 141–3 on Islam as a religion of war).
Elsewhere Canetti writes:
War has to do with killing. The enemy ranks are ‘thinned’. It is killing wholesale; as many of the enemy as possible are cut down. The aim is to transform a dangerous crowd of live adversaries into a heap of dead. The victor is the one who kills the largest number. The adversary in war is the growing crowd of one’s neighbours. Their increase is frightening in itself, and the threat it contains is enough to release the aggressive drive of one’s own corresponding crowd…The detailed conduct of war exactly mirrors the nature of war as a whole. Each side wants to constitute the larger crowd of living fighters and it wants the opposing side to constitute the larger heap of dead. In this rivalry between growing crowds lies an essential, and it may even be the prime cause of wars. As well as killing enemies, one can also make slaves of them, especially of the women and children; and these slaves will serve to increase one’s own crowd. But the war is not a true war unless its first aim is a heap of enemy dead…The prophet Mohammed had such a strong sense of the heap of his dead enemies that he addressed them in a kind of triumphal sermon. After the battle of Bedr, his first great victory over his enemies from Mecca, he gave orders that the enemy slain should be thrown into a pit. Only one of them was buried beneath earth and stones, and this was because his body had swelled so much that it was impossible to remove his armour, and thus he was left to lie where he had fallen. “As the others were thrown in the pit, the apostle stood and said ‘O people of the pit! Have you found that what God threatened is true? For I have found that what my Lord promised me is true.’ His companions said: ‘Are you speaking to dead people?’ He replied: ‘They hear what I say to them’”.
Crowded together in the pit, and in safe keeping there, he had assembled those who had formerly refused to listen to his words. I know no more striking instance of the attribution of a residue of life and crowd-like character to the heap of enemy dead. They could no longer threaten, but they could be threatened. Anything could be perpetrated on them with impunity. Whether they felt it or not, the victor assumed that they did, in order to heighten his own triumph. They lay so close in the pit that none of them could move. If one of them awoke he would find nothing but dead men around him; his own people would stifle him; the world to which he returned would be a world of the dead, and the dead would be those who had been closest to him living’ (Canetti 1981: 67–9).
On the subject of Islam, there is a Quranic echo, from Surah 9: ‘They [Jews and Christians who do not accept Allah, or pagans or infidels generally] wish to extinguish the light of Allah with their mouths, but Allah will not have it but that his light be perfected, even though the unbelievers detest it’. There is also a biblical echo, in the imprecation aimed at the Egyptian Pharaoh in Ezekiel: ‘With a great throng of people I will cast my net over you, and they will haul you up in my net. I will throw you on the land and hurl you on the open field. I will let all the birds of the sky settle on you and all the animals of the wild gorge themselves on you. I will spread your flesh on the mountains and fill the valleys with your remains. I will drench the land with your flowing blood all the way to the mountains, and the ravines will be filled with your flesh. When I snuff you out, I will cover the heavens and darken their stars; I will cover the sun with a cloud, and the moon will not give its light. All the shining lights in the heavens I will darken over you; I will bring darkness over your land’ (Ezekiel 32: 3–8; New International Version, my emphasis).
(Note: The essay from which this Canetti reference comes, ‘War Porn’, was also published in IJBS 2.1 (Jan. 2005))
X. Please Follow Me (in Redhead, Ed. 2008):
(a) 75: ‘The unknown man who is followed or the unknown woman who invites you to sleep over is like a sentence that surprises you, like the illogical act that makes you laugh – one of those things that Canetti described as “effective because they are unexpected.”’
See I. (c) above (from Canetti 1986: 145–6).
(a) 29–30 = ‘Dreams’. The subsequent reference to Leopardi, on the passing of mythical thinking, reiterates the sentiment—Baudrillard is most likely referring to the sentiment expressed in the poem ‘Alla Primavera’ (subtitled, ‘delle favole antiche’), from Leopardi’s Canti, where he laments the withering of mythological thinking, a sentiment which is supported in the great pessimist-poet’s surviving correspondence.
XII. The Lucidity Pact:
(a) 153 = ‘Dreams’
(b) 159 = ‘Vengeance’
(c) 166 = Cool Memories V (b) (Canetti 1986: 159)
(d) 189 = ‘Drop-out point’
XIII. The Illusion of the End
(a) 1; (b) 6; (c) 11; (d) 82 = ‘Drop-out point’
(e) 92 = ‘Vengeance’
(f) 104; (g) 116 = ‘Drop-out point’
XIV. Impossible Exchange:
(a) 21; (b) 34 = ‘Drop-out point’
(c) 85 = ‘Vengeance’
XV. The Perfect Crime:
(a) 73 = ‘Animal laughing’
(a) 55 = ‘Drop-out point’
(b) 70 = ‘Vengeance’
XVII. Forget Baudrillard:
(a) 67–8; (b) 113–4 = ‘Drop-out point’
XVIII. Art and Artefact: 12
(a) 12 = ‘Animal laughing’
(b) 67; (c) 74; (d) 80; (e) 87 = ‘Drop-out point’
XIX. The Uncollected Baudrillard:
(a) 113; (b) 115; (c) 122 (d) 125 = ‘Drop-out point’
XX. The Vital Illusion:
(a) 19; (b) 62 = ‘Drop-out point’
About the Author
Dr. Paul O Mahoney is from Dublin, Ireland.
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