Have decided to once again tackle Auto de Fe written by Elais Canetti. It has been a while, possibly 15 years. My copy is dog-eared, stained from coffee. Boise. The cover of the book is lavender, very straight forward titling, with a photo of the author taking up one third of the cover. I find myself surprised by the text – when I read the novel I thought I had given care to remembering the nuances of the writing, carefully trying to hold the writing in my mind instead of being a reader racing through the text, not enjoying the texture of the words, but only living through the story. And yet that is what I was. This is a new book, a new story. The first chapter of the first book – A Head Without A World – opens with Professor Peter Kein talking to a small boy in front of a book store, Mr. Canetti’s language translated into English is choppy but fitting to the character. After leaving the child with a promise to look at one of his books, he encounters a stranger on the street, well encounters is the incorrect phrase, he ignores a passerby who is asking him a question, who doesn’t realize he is on the street he is asking directions to, Kein is beaten by this passerby as he grows angry to Kein’s indifference and Kein in turn writes in his notebook of Stupidities, that he failed to realize the seriousness of his indifference. The chapter ends with Kein sitting down to his writing desk after talking to his housekeeper, who will play a big part in the rest of the story. Professor Kein is the owner of the largest collection of books in the city. He is a sinologist (a student of Chinese history and language and culture) and absolutely dissolved from the world of man. The pages of books are more valuable than interpersonal relationships, intellectual meanderings better than discussing the weather, and the matters of daily of life are the mere dust balls that catch upon the flooring of his carpeted library. Frugal, stoic, under the spell of words, under the spell of ideas, under the spell of higher education and snobbery Professor Kein exists. This is the entrance into his lonely world. Mr. Canetti won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1981, his “The Voices of Marrakesh: A Record of a Visit” is short and vivid, his autobiographical “The Memoirs of Elias Canetti: The Tongue Set Free, The Torch in My Ear, The Play of the Eyes” recounts early life in Vienna and Europe, it was here I learned about Robert Musel, Isaac Babel, Karl Kraus, and his book “Crowds and Power”. I remember reading this book slowly as I said above, listening to Charles Mingus’ “Mingus Au Um” especially the tracks entitled: “Self-Portrait In Three Colors” and “Fables Of Faubus”. I remember it was a journey of not only words, but a journey of notes. It seems to me today that music has turned into a different partner, my reading habits are different and listening to music is a background environment instead of a center of influence. We are listening to “Dear Heather” by Leonard Cohen this morning – we have had it since it’s release, but neither one of us has really listened to it fully, it is sweet and soft. An excerpt from Auto De Fé “But no mind ever grew fat on a diet of novels. The pleasure which they occasionally offer is far to heavily paid for: they undermine the finest characters. They teach us to think ourselves into other men’s places. Thus we acquire a taste for change. The personality becomes dissolved in pleasing figments of imagination. The reader learns to understand every point of view. Willing he yields himself to the pursuit of other people’s goals and loses sight of his own. Novels are so many wedges which the novelist, an actor with his pen, inserts into the closed personality of the reader. The better he calculates the size of the wedge and the strength of the resistance; so much the more completely does he crack open the personality of his victim. Novels should be prohibited by the State.” Elias Canetti Auto de Fé


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  1. says

    what’s not to agree with – that the book is good? Canetti isn’t a good writer? that it didn’t affect me profoundly then and now?