Monday, April 12, 2010

Impudence | The New Republic

"Dearest Georg": Love, Literature and Power in Dark Times: The Letters of Elias, Veza, and Georges Canetti, 1933-1948

edited by Karen Lauer and Kristian Wachinger

Other Press, 436 pp., $24.95

In The Human Province, a volume of fragmentary reflections, Elias Canetti writes that “one needs friends mainly in order to become more impudent, that is, more oneself.” With our intimates, Canetti believed, we are free to boast and lie and exaggerate, though we will come into our own only if we are moved to be indiscreet, to hold nothing back, to show the several faces we are inclined, as the spirit moves us, to put on. In this hefty volume of letters exchanged by Canetti, his wife Veza and his brother Georg between 1933 and 1948, we see at once how three remarkable people became “more” themselves by revealing to one another pretty much everything they thought and felt.

Of course we have known a good deal about Elias Canetti for some time, as he was one of the great memoirists of the twentieth century, the only Nobel Prize-winning writer whose autobiographical volumes may command more admiration than his more ambitious works: the early novel Auto-da-Fe, from 1935, and the massive historical-sociological-political study Crowds and Power, from 1960. In The Torch In My Ear, The Tongue Set Free and his other memoirs, we have not the surplus but the essence of a writer’s peculiar genius—a record of encounters, ideas, prejudices and passions as well as a vivid succession of novelistic portraits “from the life.” Canetti was an indefatigably curious and probing intellect, rarely playful but ever hungry to know and to extend his reach to everything under the proverbial sun. To read him is to feel consistently enlarged and provoked by what Susan Sontag once called his “moral and amoral seriousness.”

Impudence | The New Republic

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