Chapter 6: The Language of Power in Canetti
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c h a p t e r 6 The Language of Power in Canetti A Scrutiny ‘‘The discursive legitimation of power by law universals’’ typical of all great revolutionary rhetoric and, more generally, of every ‘‘philosophical reading’’ of political facts’’1 seems to constitute the perennial inexhaustible polemical motive of Elias Canetti’s work. Fulvio Papi insists, correctly, that the forms of the destructive intellect ‘‘act in a daily shadow zone,’’ that their idols are not traceable so much at the height of great theoretical syntheses, as in the concrete behavior of the ‘‘tribe,’’ in their normal and apparently spontaneous circulation (‘‘a destructive spontaneity of discourse circulates which is predisposed to the acceptance of any catastrophe ’’). This motive, too—the consubstantiality between conceptual confinement and mass behavior—is profoundly Canettian. In contemporary society, the great political rhetoric belongs to the masses and the mass is never innocent or speechless (in-fante). The destructive intellect—those forms of the intellect ‘‘that have thought politics as an identity of theory and practice, guaranteed by the figure of a subject . . . who was entitled to the universal’’ (F. Papi)—has to be understood, first of all, radically, as destruction of the body of the other, of the other as body. Canetti develops this idea, particularly, in his great essay on Kafka. The first product of power seems to be a sort of annihilation of body (annihilatio corporis). The body in Kafka is subjected to a PAGE 159 159 ................. 17190$ $CH6 03-20-09 13:47:35 PS 160 The Language of Power in Canetti desperate via crucis, from the impossible struggle for one’s recognition, to progressive decay, impotence, absence. The body is condemned to absence from the forms of power. They leave no room for K. For the destructive intellect, there is no Heideggerian ‘‘opening of space’’ (Freigabe von Orten), but only procedures of spatialization equivalent to procedures of control-incarceration. The condemned man must feel shame for the body that he still drags behind, or for its own absence of body, interiorizing as guilt the punishment received: ‘‘With such a body nothing can be achieved . . . it has no fat whatsoever for creating beneficial warmth.’’2 Love requires weight; it’s a matter of bodies. The skinny body, instead, is the absent body, the nonbody, or a shameful image of his impotence, a scandalous irruption of death amongst the figures of the living. Naturally, in Canetti’s discourse the theme of body-flesh assumes even more general urgency, in connection with his struggle against death, the very idea of death. It seems to me, by contrast, that in Canetti there are none of those three trends of that ‘‘mysticism of the body’’ analyzed by Norman O. Brown in Life Against Death, nor that Pauline one of the spiritual body, nor the cabalistic one, nor the alchemical one that reaches its peak in Goethe. These currents transcend the corporeality of the body, transfigure it, or sublimate it, and for which an authentic fullness of life can be reached only through negation, through mystical death. Even the Dionysian body, that no longer denies, apparently ‘‘über’’ any form of the destructive intellect, remains actually a transformed-transfigured body, a body initiated to sacred Laughter. If I had to hazard a name to define the conception of the body in Canetti, I would mention only that of Spinoza, except that Spinoza’s certainty in its substantial, indestructible productivity has become in Canetti hopelessness and defense, as to say: creatural certainty. But the annihilatio corporis accomplished by power is in its essence philosophical . ‘‘The thing that repels me most about philosophers is the emptying process of their thinking. The more often and more skillfully they use their basic words, the less remains of the world around them.’’3 Philosophical eschatology (different from the Christian one, and from those Jewish trends in which, although never explicitly, Canetti recognizes himself ) through the radical putting into question of every sensible experience , of every suffering (pathein), aims at overcoming the body. The forms of destructive reason appear, in Canetti, to be proper of philosophical thought. Philosophical discourse is really the weapon of the destruction of the body, of the reduction of the body to powerless otherness. It empties PAGE 160 ................. 17190$ $CH6 03-20-09 13:47:36 PS 161 The Language of Power in Canetti the body from thought. Therefore there is an intimate connection between philosophy and death. The body as dead is the...