CONFRONTING CROWDS AND POWER: 8. The Command (The Expectation of Command Among the Pilgrims at Arafat, Discipline and the Sting of Command, The Mongols. The Horse and the Arrow, Religious Emasculation. The Skoptsy)

30 June 2013

Abstract

Canetti’s fascination with power, and the fascination that all others like him experience, leads “logically” enough to the claim, “If you want to avoid being a victim, become a victimizer”. Because the prevailing myth of power constructs it (and maintains that construction) monolithically—in other words, as the only game going—then this sort of fascination with the spectacle of power similarly makes the above imperative to become a victimizer the only game going as well. As a diagnosis of a certain kind of sociopathy in culture, this may seem more or less apt, but to claim out of this fascination with power that this diagnoses the entire human condition or shows human beings the only course of action they might resort to must similarly belie the mark of that sociopathy as well.

Introduction & Disclaimer

This is the forty-sixth entry in a series that ambitiously addresses, section by section over the course of a year+ Canetti’s  Crowds and Power [1] and the second to address Part 8 (The Command), which Canetti breaks up into several sections.  Here I address section 6–9, “The Expectation of Command Among the Pilgrims at Arafat, Discipline and the Sting of Command, The Mongols (The Horse and the Arrow), Religious Emasculation (The Skoptsy)”. [2]

The Expectation of Command Among the Pilgrims at Arafat

Canetti returns to a previously used example—Islam’s wukuf or “standing upon Arafat”—to illustrate this point. His source, Gaudefroy-Demombynes’ Le Pèlerinage à La Mekke  came out in 1923.[3] He has doubtless never seen wukuf himself, so one may wonder about the veracity and intentions of his source. Nonetheless, this provides him an occasion for the story he wants to tell.

He characterizes this ceremony in terms of an expectation of command, pointing to how pilgrims Stan and cry out for hours “labheika ya Rabbi, labheika” (“we wait for your commands, O Lord, we wait for your commands”). This gets followed by what he calls “a kind of sudden crowd-fear, called ifadha, or torrent” (314). People run “headlong” to another place, people getting trampled to death on the way of course—one can never fail to mention this sort of thing when speaking of Islam—and then  large number of animals get slaughtered and eaten. Canetti assures us, “The ground is drenched with their blood and covered with the scattered remains” (314).

In this all, he sees the original pattern of the command; people stand expectantly (ideally in the same manner as a motionless Buckingham palace guard), and when the command comes, it poses no domesticated type—that draws something toward—but rather causes a panicked flight, because (like the lion’s roar) it portends and promises death. With this threat of death hanging over everyone, they pass the command along to someone else—the animals who get slaughtered. Moreover, since this command issues upon a crowd, it leaves no sting—because according to Canetti, commands issued to crowds don’t.

Thus the pilgrims escape the slaughter God (sic) intended for them. They have surrendered themselves to his command, so much so that they have fled before him, but they have not denied him the blood he wanted: the ground is drenched with the blood of slaughtered animals (314).

A recurrently annoying note in Errington and Gewertz’s (1987)[4] Cultural Alternatives & a Feminist Anthropology concern those moments when they make claims for interpretations but do not member-check those descriptions against a “native understanding” of the event described, even though it seems they could have.[5] Here, Canetti insists,

For the sudden fear which overcomes them at the given signal, there is a cogent explanation, namely that here the original character of the command—the compulsion to flee—breaks through, although without the faithful being consciously aware of it (314, emphasis added).

This kind of mind-reading frequently comes off facilely enough when an analyst claims to know an analysand better than the analysand, but when an amateur Western anthropologist consulting a text[6] claims to know better than Muslim pilgrims themselves, claims to write about their unconscious motives, then then mere ignorance of this may serve the uglier purpose of dehumanizing orientalism.

But this lame resort aside, other parts of Canetti’s exposition here contradict his narrative. For one, the crowd chants: “we wait for your commands”; here, the crowd waits for “commands” but Canetti speaks of the command. This may seem a slight point,[7] but this point requires more intellectual to explain (a claimed) expectation of commands and an issuance of an only singular command; similarly, while ifadha (Canetti tells us) means “torrent” (it is also a common name), Canetti prefers to call it crowd-fear.

The most glaring point, however, involves how Canetti makes it seem—“then, in a kind of sudden crowd-fear, called Ifadha, or torrent, everyone flees as though possessed (314, emphasis added)”—as if this event occurs spontaneously, but nonetheless admits that this happens upon a given signal (from the people running the event), e.g., he notes “the sudden fear which overcomes them at the given signal” (314, emphasis added). If any fear (reverential or not) prevails in all of this—and in a crowd of 600,000, we will no doubt find a whole range of human reactions from fear to ecstasy—at most it gets symbolically reflected through the clerics in charge if it does not simply fall on the clerics themselves as religious authorities. So, beyond Canetti’s untenable insistence that all commands comprise death sentences, we certainly have no idea from his report what this signal (not even a command) directs everyone to do, much less that it encodes a demand of blood-lust by Allah that must get satiated with a bunch of slaughtered animals later.[8]

That “no other religious usage … so forcefully illustrates the nature of a command” (314) makes visible the vast extent between Canetti’s discourse and the actuality of the event he uses to make his point. He has spun a tale, no doubt—has made a sow’s ear out of a purse—and I leave it to the reader to explore further why a European might want to make up this story about an Islamic religious practice.

Discipline and the Sting of Command

Canetti claims two forms of discipline exist, the open and the secret, within a military chain of command.  Once again, he insists on claiming to see what others do not; “duller men may only occasionally be conscious of [what he writes about], but, although hidden, it remains awake in most soldiers” (315). And the secret he divulges: “the open discipline of an army manifests itself in the actual giving of commands; the secret discipline operates by using the stored up stings of command” (316).

*clunk*

Hence, all of the “abuse” (the stings) heaped on the lowest grade soldiers may get alleviated (only) through promotion, at which point the promoted soldier can pass along his stings from above onto those beneath him, those who stand now or newly subordinate to him. Or, as the kids on the street say, “Shit rolls downhill”. Some secret, Canetti. This immediately reminds me of what Philips (1963) noted in his review of Crowds and Power: “its method is … to state a fact as though it were a discovery, such as that “a soldier on duty acts only in accordance with commands,” … and then to give these inflated facts all kinds of historical resonance” (Philips, ¶3);[9] hence, from Canetti, this secret discipline “remains awake in most soldiers, particularly those of our own time” (315, emphasis added).

Canetti  never served as a soldier, so he has here even less notion of how military command works out than most, but one may say also, “Even were this the case, so what? What does a military setting have to do with anywhere else?” In fact, the problem of a commander abusively passing on “discipline” to his subordinates stands, precisely, as an acknowledged problem in the military, just as domestic abuse constitutes a problem in the civilian world, and the lines of power that exists both do and do not address these problems, after their own fashions, according to the powers involved, &c. This constitutes no secret whatever. Much less the “secret” that, if you want to act like a dick toward people, climb the food chain. No secret.

In terms of the discourse Canetti develops, we may now see an unambiguous commitment on his part to the notion that one may get rid of stings. His first position contended stings never go away—in fact, the very word “sting” itself seemed to operate in a numinous and symbolic way in Canetti’s text. He simultaneously and contradictorily claimed one could not get rid of them, least of all the one’s from childhood, while also stating that one unconsciously then re-inflicted them upon the next generation of children. Since then, he has claimed that commands issued to crowds leave no sting—like a magical hail of arrows—and now here Canetti presents an unambiguous organizational structure that allows the ridding of stings; with a promotion one “has a justified hope of getting rid of them” (316).[10]

Whether Canetti thinks his discourse remains delimited by his resort to the completely artificial world of the military, his point—if you wish to rid yourself of the humiliating stings of a command, become a commander—offers a misleading analogy when applied to other domains. No doubt, the humiliated child may take his rage out on the family dog—in this way, budding psychopaths often get started. It hardly seems necessary, really, to state the inappropriateness of Canetti’s point, both in social terms but also analogical terms. For one, soldiers do not experience the sting of command like confetti insists, precisely because one understands—or quickly comes to understand once in it—that willingness to accept commands makes up the backbone of the thing. Canetti himself allows that one may not suffer the sting if one can evade it, and sitting (aloud or to oneself), “I am ready to be commanded” precisely functions like such an evasion. Canetti seems to think that evasion consists of not doing the command, but one may “steal’ the command from the commander and make it your own, thus neutralizing any claimed sting it might confer.

This gets trickier for the secretary of an abusive boss or the child of an abusive parent. There do occur times when the consequences of insubordination for a soldier take on life-or-death consequences, but generally these risks stand s different than those faced by the secretary or child. That female soldiers experience and get threatened with rape often in the military specifically points to the kind of “difference of risk” I speak to. For the secretary who gets fired (for insubordination), the threat of having to resort to prostitution hangs statistically closer than whatever undesirable form of a work a soldier (dishonorably discharged for insubordination) gets threatened by. For the child, the only resorts consist of waiting to grow up, running away, murdering one’s parents, committing suicide, perpetrating abuse on others, or using drugs or alcohol to numb the pain—all of these stand as very dire consequences, even for minor forms of insubordination (if the parents takes an egregiously authoritarian stance).

In other words, while military commanders do abuse their power, the very structure of the military not only enables but also makes bearable (for the soldiers) behaviors that outside of a military structure stand primarily as abusive; we might speak of the military as a domestication of such abuse of power. The fact that prison guards and police organize themselves under military titles—but only in the leadership echelons[11]—points to this misanalogy of military settings. When such “militarization” shows up in the workplace or the home it only gets more absurd and worse.

For instance, my (adoptive) mother’s step-father had a military background an apparently acted the very stern disciplinarian; years later, my mother’s little brother referred to her as a drill sergeant. This illustrates the partial utility of Canetti’s diagnosis. We may understand that my mother’s father—perhaps because of his military background, or maybe he already had a taste for abusing power—inappropriately brought that into a domain (the home) where such military discipline will almost invariably operate abusively.[12] And all of the stings my mother received she then reproduced upon her little brother. In this, we see that passing along stings needn’t occur only intergenerationally—from parent to child, and then from grown child to the next generation—and of course not, since those who must abuse power—due to the unbearable psychic pressure of stings inflicted—may have no way to wait that long—so you torture your dog or your little brother, &c.

Thus, the militarization of command (as a domestication of power-over) becomes immediately problematic in the ways it normalizes abuse of power, especially in non-military settings but also in military settings as well. Canetti fails to take this into account, when his argument disregards not the ways that the militarization of daily life seems inappropriate but rather the ways that military life makes the abuse of power normal (bearable). He describes soldiers as hopelessly piling up stings, but military life simply does not function that way for most soldiers. In  labor setting, one may imagine Canetti similarly waxing on about the stings inflicted on factory workers by the bosses, either because he never knew any working class people, who may (one might try to say arguably by necessity) hold themselves utterly superior to the pathetic pasty weak effeminate managers who think they run shit, or simply wants to engage in empty ideologizing to spin up another of his (seemingly to him strangely necessary) denials.

In all of this, Canetti belies an utter fascination with power. The masses remain too dull, too stupid, too unconscious of what their masters do to them—one of their masters being Canetti—or so he bluffs—as he tells them what their experience really consists of. He belies such  fantastic faith in the effectiveness of stings, showing no awareness, and even less, any knowledge of the bazillion countless ways that the poor, the workers, children, women, the colonized, have practiced resistance to command—one of the oldest and most venerable simply being to laugh at it, even as it chops off your head. And this fascination Canetti belies leads—logically enough—to the claim, “If you want to avoid stings, move up the ladder.” In other words, if you want to avoid being a victim, become a victimizer.

The Mongols. The Horse and the Arrow

I recently read Frank Miller’s (2006)[13] silly or grotesque 300, trying to figure out what useful response I might give as a reaction to it, and have had it in the back of my mind while reading Canetti’s own silly and grotesque material about the myth of power which he (Canetti) seems to helplessly reproduce. Although in something of a different vein, I see Canetti as offering what amounts to an orientalist version of Miller’s Laconicism—(“laconicism” denotes the enthusiastic appreciation for Sparta aka Laconia or Lacedaemon; hence also the phrase “Laconic wit” by the way). What I think to focus on right off the bat with Miller and Varley’s retelling of a portion of the battle of Thermopylae hinges on the question: what purpose does it serve to retell this story particularly in this way? We can ask the same of Canetti’s retelling of the history of the Mongols—encountered in his text at at least two levels of remove in terms of representation.

However, when in general I imagine trying to respond in detail to Miller’s text I have the same dispiriting experience as when I think about responding in detail to this portion of Canetti’s text—and this equivalence provides to me a key sense of a link between both texts. But even while linked, I feel oppressed by that sense of dispiritingness, which I can describe in terms of a fable or analogy.

It all feels like that kind of circumstance where someone inside of a massive stone castle keeps screaming through a window, “Jews are parasites.” Short of walking away to leave the asshole raving in their tower, the very structure of the castle provides not just a barrier but also a distraction; it seems as if one must get through the barrier (through the narrative presentation in Miller or the discursive exposition in Canetti) simply to arrive at the point one wishes to debunk. Again, just to say “fuck you” and wander off may spare me the trouble but the problem of this kind of raving lunatic remains. Canetti received a Nobel-prize; 300 generated $450 million in theaters. And both did so, in no small part, because what seems a raving lunatic in tower actually embodies a (well-protected) spokesperson for many, many people. The sense of dispiritingness then may arise less from the fact of a well-protected ranter (like Miller or Canetti), but knowing that their rant gets very well-received.

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Putting this less abstractly, as we all collectively struggle toward a more just world—and we have reasons to accept this as actually happening and not just some vacuous hope that it might—at every moment the opportunity exists for some e-bag to take up the old, shitty, too-familiar positions of oppressiveness, &c—at any moment, someone can re-pen another Mein Kampf, can use a position of social visibility or celebrity to model and thus pander to baser human instincts, or can utilize cherry-picking in the media to increase anxiety through lies or exaggerations. And some do this solely for the sake of celebrity (i.e., money, fame, a decent life for them and their kids, &c). Between the true believer and an empty shill like Rush Limbaugh or Howard Stern I’d normally rank the true believer as more dangerous, but in this case the shill has taken up Canetti’s advice “if you want to avoid being a victim, become a victimizer” on the grounds that “that’s how things are” [14]–themselves providing the proof of the point.

That said, I want to avoid too much contending with the castle walls; the ranter within more concerns me. I’ll assume some Epialtes has shown me the goat path into the castle[15] and simply confront “Canetti” in his tower. He links (all of) the success of the Mongols to the instrumental extension of will affected between a rider and his force. Because, from a very young age, Mongol children were taught to ride horses, this permitted a much readier discharge of those usual commands supposedly all children receive everywhere in every culture of the world, without exception. By this capacity to pass on to their horses these stings, Mongol children didn’t suffer so much accumulation of them. How this leads to the reported extraordinary discipline of the Mongol army remains unclear in Canetti’s exposition.

In this context, the arrow (as Canetti’s symbol par excellence of command) has a special place, reflecting the death-dealing, potentially evadable but otherwise fatal or scarring quality of a command. But what Canetti does not draw out from this involves the license to command that each bow-armed Mongol thus reflects and possessed. If Canetti’s solution to the problem of victimization amounts to “become a victim,” then the Mongols horse represents the first (patient) recipient of that victimization but then, with the granting of adulthood, also a bow for victimizing others.

Reducing Mongol civilization to this seems pretty repellent, and it makes exactly the same gesture Miller does (as well as a lot of popular history generally) with 300, reducing all of Spartan civilization only to this military lens. As for why one might try to pretend that what civilization (in general) really boils down to involves only military prowess and the destruction of weaker people (as opposed to the composition of poetry, music, &c) might seem obvious enough already, especially from aging males like Miller or Canetti (c.f., history as nostalgia, or perhaps more often historians as nostalgic). Similarly, while Mongols have a reputation for wit rather like the Spartans—when for instance Phillip II threatened, “If I enter Laconia, I will raze Sparta,” the Spartans laconically replied, “If”[16]—we needn’t pretend some exclusive genius here; the Norse made a cultural form of flyting, a “ritual, poetic exchange of insults practiced mainly between the 5th and 16th centuries,” and verbal bluff makes for a central part of male politicking in many places around the world, including Papua New Guinea.[17]

The primary distinction to emphasize here: whatever the rule of militarization in Mongol and Spartan culture, it represents a part of that culture which comes also with song, dance, religion, &c. An absolutely central part of success both in Spartan and Mongol Empires involved alliance building and technological innovation—Genghis Khan himself remained an ardent student of experience, &c, and the Spartans were already the big military cheese in the region at the time of their most famous under-dog moment. Importantly, then, Napoleon and Alexander the Great thus appear as the two worst of the students of Genghis Khan and Leonidas,[18] because both of them amassed vast and extremely disciplined armies but had no culture (except militarization) to go with it.[19] Thus, one may further contrast military juntas in South American history with the cultural paraphernalia that comes with fascism; the former offer, at best, pointless butchery, while the latter offer, often unfortunately, butchery with a point.

Between the two evils (of juntas and military adventurism a la Napoleon and Alexander the Great, on the one hand, and empire building like Sparta, the Mongols, or fascism, on the other), one would prefer not to choose. But we can see that colonization falls then on the side of the junta or military adventurism and thus offers nothing in the way of culture, but only a “top-down” articulation of militarization. Thus, Canetti and Miller—both of them for the most part simply repeating long-standing narratives—transform the Spartan and Mongol cultures from empire builders into juntas.

Or, not quite. Both of them emphasize (to a more or less reactionary degree) cultural aspects of the empire builders that they admire but then only cite military forms of culture as a way of realizing that culture. Thus, Mongol children (boys) do not suffer the usual sorts of wounds that Canetti insists (most) other children do; wounds that, in one of the odder passages in this part of his book, become “what drive [a person] towards this or that otherwise inexplicable deed or meaningless relationship” (318). Thus, “compared with the child of higher, sedentary civilizations, the Mongol or Kirghiz child, who learns to ride so early, enjoys a freedom of a special kind” (318). Similarly, as Miller writes, every Greek always knows what is right but only Spartans actually do it.

Thus, the kind of cultural confidence out of which Queen Gorgo (of Sparta) could answer the question “why are Spartan women the only women in the world who could rule men” with “Because we are the only women who are mothers of men” gets explained (in iterations like Canetti’s and Miller’s) in terms of military culture, rather than the cultured military Sparta and the Mongolian empire actually reflect.[20] Canetti and Miller’s argument establishes (or attempts to establish) a basis for asserting, “Give us a strong military, and we will have a strong people.” Current conditions in United States and Israel both give evidence otherwise.[21]

Religious Emasculation. The Skoptsy

Here, Canetti links ritual castration (from ancient days of yore), a more recent (nineteenth century) Russian sect of “white doves” who converted themselves into angels by castration, and the secret sect of Assassins.

Let me say first, if the bloodbath of genital mutilation Canetti presents here makes me snicker, this comes not from some squickishness about the topic and even less from some failure to appreciate the gesture that castration can represent. I had a co-worker once who eventually got gender reassignment surgery, and he expressed great relief at the absence of the sort of male sexual urges he’d long experienced. Whyever he found such urges bothersome or disturbing or anything else, his report of the relief of their absence seems to me the main point.[22] I’ve also known others who actively seek and enjoy the head-space that comes with simulating castration—whether by looking at and thus vicariously experiencing videos of actual castrations (of humans or animals), or by temporarily “banding” themselves or through other means. Unlike my friend who got gender reassignment surgery because he wished to avoid or no longer have a particular kind of experience, these others seem very interested to attain to a particular kind of experience. In saying this, I do not suggest that my co-worker suffered from some kind of neurosis while the others do not; the specific experiences of specific individuals do not lend themselves to easy generalizations.

Partly I mention this because one of the sources Canetti lists particularly for its investigation into the “secret cult” of the Skopsty (the Russian sect) has the title (which I translate from its French) Introduction to Collective Psychopathology: the Skopsty Mystic Sect. People (perhaps most) frequently imagine that the kinks of others constitute perversions, so no doubt the notion of hacking your balls off—or worse, wanting too—will readily brand you as nuts.[23] But if one spires to seriously examine the phenomenology of castration, then citing texts on psychopathology might overly distort the frame of reference too much. Thus, I mention others who offer far more prosaic reasons than “religious ecstasy” (whether in days of yore for Syrian goddesses or more recently as a divine secret in Russia) or something like masochistic self-hatred.

I have to acknowledge, by the way: it seems no accident that Canetti selects his examples once again from middle easterners (this time ancient Syrians) and those dubiously European asiatics, the Russians. I won’t go into this ghoulish orientalism any further, except to say I mention my co-worker and fans of castration that I know also in part to make explicit that both here and now (in the western world) one may find the phenomenon Canetti raises and not only then or there.[24]

Ultimately, as also with the religious flagellation Canetti readily plays up in the Muslim festival of Muharram but downplays in all of its European manifests ions, what I see at stake involves a certain degree of intensity of experience specifically involving the body—all of this blood and lashing and mutilation signals—even in the person who desires to “painlessly” undergo gender reassignment surgery[25]—an especial degree of commitment. Many may aspire to haven, but you chopped your nuts off to get there—that shows balls.[26] Whatever the “point” hat such gestures make—and the history of crucifixion painting has its vicissitudes of fashion in the iconography of grueling torture willingly undergone by Christ—it has a tacit “I see you’re serious about that” ring to it, whether in ancient Damascus, modern St. Petersburg, Damascus, Iowa, or St. Petersburg, Florida.

Having said all of this to contextualize what Canetti writes, he seems at some pains to puzzle out such mutilation. He imagines the original founder of the sect as receiving the command from on high and who then proceeded to “pass the sting” along to other converts, issuing the command “thou must”. But what seems to trip Canetti up rises precisely in the fact that the new Skopets wills this command upon himself; “it is himself the Skopets has to stroke or mutilate” (321). Without Canetti saying it—although one of his source texts points to it; and keeping in mind that Canetti titles next section of his book “Negativism in Schizophrenia”—it seems as if he moves toward an assertion of masochism, at least as far as this kind of command goes.

A problem for his exposition that arises from this involves his earlier insistence that ideally one doesn’t notice a command; only an especially endowed elect even notice a command, and then it evokes feelings of hostility. Obviously, the Skopet counts himself a member of the elect by (willingly) accepting this command, but feelings of hostility if he has any at all in fact (toward the cult leader, toward the deity, &c) become sublimated; feelings of ecstasy result instead. Taking this out of its “gruesome” context for a moment, we may see that Canetti might have used this to understand how a soldier may experience commands—that he willingly accepts the “emasculating lash” of the commander’s command joyously, as his badge of courage, his proof of membership—rather than as an ever-accumulating humiliation that must eventually get inflicted on someone else (following the soldiers promotion or practiced against his wife and family before the promotion comes about). If so, then we get to call the soldier by analogy the sort of masochist or sexual pervert Rappaport describes in the dismembered member of the psychopathological collective of the Skopets, and the army itself as a mystic cult.

Fun as that might prove, we might rather acknowledge that Canetti’s ridiculous insistence on the one-valenced character of command cannot and does not stand up to even minimal scrutiny. One may, without being a neurotic masochist, willingly accept a command such that no sting gets left, just as surely as one may neurotically impute hostile intentions to a non-command someone makes[27]. Similarly, in the process of trying to manage the “pressure” imposed by what stings one has experienced, not only might one get rid of them permanently—no doubt most from childhood disappear through mere amnesia—one also needn’t get rid of them only by inflicting them on others. Psychological evidence suggests women tend to direct destructiveness more towards themselves than others, but even the stung child (at least as Canetti imagines it in a Mongol setting) might avoid becoming a psychopath because he gets to vent his stings on a large and powerful animal (a horse) rather than small and powerless ones (pets).

Through all of these possibilities, Canetti focuses only on the permanence of the sting, for which we have at best only one solution (as a temporary relief): to victimize others as we were. The closest Canetti can get to taking cognizance of an alternative, as this section shows, involves genital mutilation for the sake of religious ecstasy or taking on as an assassin the (literally) suicidal mission of murdering someone else.

Endnotes

[1] All quotations are from Canetti, E. (1981). Crowds and Power (trans. Carol Stewart), 6th printing. New York: NY: Noonday Press. (paperback).

[2] The ongoing attempt of this heap is to get something out of Canetti’s book, and that of necessity means resorting to the classic sense of the essay, as an exploration, using Canetti’s book as a starting point. I can imagine that the essayistic aspect of this project can be demanding—of patience, time, &c. The point of showing an essay, entertainment value (if any) aside, is first and foremost not to be shy about showing the intellectual scaffolding of one’s exposition as much as possible. This showing, however cantankerous the exposition, affords the non-vanity of allowing others to witness all of the missteps, mistakes, false starts, and the like—not in the interest of merely providing a full record (though some essayists may do so out of vanity or mere thoroughness, scholarly drudgery, or self-involvement) but most so that readers may be exasperated enough by the essayist’s stupidities to correct his or her errors and thus contribute to our collective better human understanding of ourselves.

[3] I do not suggest that old must stand as suspect. I recall reading somewhere (perhaps in something by Dabashi) that of the old-line Islamicists in the western scholarship, Goudefroy-Demombynes’ name did not occur in the list of not-hopelessly-orientalist commentators on Islam. But whether the passage Canetti draws upon itself seems problematic in is original context or not may apply here as well, whatever Goudefroy-Demombynes’ critical or uncritical orientation. The main point, as far as Canetti’s book goes, comes from his non-scholarly (not just unscholarly) resort to one text, from 1923 or otherwise.

[4] Errington, F, and Gewertz, D. (1987). Cultural alternatives and a feminist anthropology : an analysis of culturally constructed gender interests in Papua New Guinea. Cambridge [Cambridgeshire], New York: Cambridge University Press

[5] On those occasion when dealing with older texts—specifically Margaret Mead’s or her unpublished field notes—remarks about dead informants, or when they really had no access to the people reported about, not checking obviously does not pose such an immediate problem or concern.

[6] Of dubious provenance, perhaps.

[7] If, with Canetti, we allow ourselves to imagine the practice of Islam requires unconsciousness bout one’s experience, then we can imagine a situation where a crowd before a lion calls out, “We await your commands, oh Lord,” but then when the lion roars, this single command stands as so terrifying and so unexpected—so not the one that the crowd expected—that it induces the torrent.

[8] An obvious objection in all of this would note how Canetti takes no account of the fact that people have been fasting all day—he mentions this in his previous engagement with this festival. So, having stood all day in the sun, people then decamp to another location and, even then, before they can eat, must butcher and cook large animals—one would think an emphasis on (religious) hunger might be apt here, but Canetti doesn’t mention it at all. In any case, on simply the most banal level, that one begins with a whole prolonged religious harangue followed by food afterward needn’t make us think that “Amen, let’s eat” gets implicated in a death sentence or blood command. Those who organize social events where the organizers expect something from a crowd of people not necessarily inclined to cooperate know that baiting the event with food (“free pizza!”) will get people to show who otherwise wouldn’t. Less pragmatically, one might note how the moment of saying grade before a meal itself ‘whets” the (religious) appetite precisely by putting off the gratification of eating. Once again, neither in free pizza nor in the phenomenology of grade do we find any death sentence.

[9] Philips, W. (1963, 1 February). History on the couch: a Review of Elias Canetti’s Crowds and Power, The New York Review of Books [online] (see here)

[10] Of course, Canetti might say the soldier who loves or respects his commander stands either as masochistic or stupid, in which case the child who loves or respects his or her parents similarly stands as masochistic or stupid.

[11] Actually, everyone amongst prison guards and police form part of the “officer” class. While sergeants, lieutenants, and captains run the show, they issue orders to officers. So no one in such structures “suffers” the plight or position of a common soldier or a corporal.

[12] I say “almost invariably,” because if you can contrive a family setting where the children (and wife) make themselves willing to accept commands, then the domestication of command the military may reflect can get imported into the home. Whether this “works” in some ultimate psychological sense ‘for society” remains an open question. I for one do not think that a society gets served by making “militarization” the core of its socialization. Compulsory military service (rather than compulsory social service, which might include the military) seems symptomatic of this sort of thing. The current social order of Israel provides simply the most readily to mind example of this.

[13] Miller, F., & Varley, L. (2006). 300. Milwaukie, Or.: Dark Horse Books.

[14] For the record, Miller and Canetti seem more like true believers than shills, in contrast to that Nafasi that wrote Reading Lolita in Tehran.

[15] This refers to the supposed traitor of the Greek forces at the battle of Thermopylae.

[16] During World War II, the Germans sent a demand to a US general to surrender; he replied, “Nuts.”

[17] C.f., Errington and Gewertz (1987); see note 4 above.

[18] Just to arbitrarily pick a name to represent the Spartans.

[19] In this respect, Hitler’s Germany has more of a cultural element behind it, and its worth remember that whether one’s military comes artificially separated from culture or appears as an outgrowth of it, both deal out extraordinary levels of bloodshed.

[20] This does not mean that Sparta and the Mongolian empire have the same social structures somehow, even if both had slavery. The point, again, simply emphasizes that the warrior stands as a part, even if a central part but still only a part, of culture generally.

[21] And I would add, against the notion that the US has veered toward a fascist state: rather, we have moved toward a junta (i.e., internal colonization). As the joke in the Big Lebowski has it, “Say what you want about National Socialism, at least it’s an ethos,” one can’t make that joke about the US currently.

[22] One might want to imagine that he might have found relief by some other less drastic means. Perhaps. The point remains that attaining relief came as very welcome to him.

[23] Really. Did you think I could avoid that?

[24] This applies to assassins as well, of course.

[25] The psychological experience of gender reassignment, coming to the point of saying yes to the surgery and then all of the consequences that follow from that, comprises no simple cakewalk. Moreover, the relative simplicity of the surgery does not mean (1) it can have no complications and (2) proposes a radical alteration to one’s sexual physiognomy still makes even the most routine surgery a very corporeal affair, even when you remain under the knife for the surgery itself. Canetti notes, of the Skoptsy, “the fact that the operation is generally performed by someone else should not mislead us. Its significance is that the man surrenders himself” (321) has some sense; nonetheless, who performs the operation does matter. Amongst aboriginal tribes, unexpectedly the adults pounce on the intimate, hold him down, and circumcise him; at a later date, the more dire alteration of subincision gets done to him. It might well come about that, if left to the will of the young man himself, these things would never happen. It denotes a kindness in  way that others do it. All of this makes clear: the man who castrates himself (or the woman who cuts off her own breasts) may show more ‘commitment” than the one who says, “Do that to me”. For those into nullification, who cut off portions of their body (often starting with fingertips and extremities), this may seem even more hair-raising and incomprehensible. At least with scrotums and breasts we might imagine some kind of (perverse or masochistic, some might add) pleasure, but just to cut off the end of your pinky with a kitchen knife may prove hard for many to understand. Nonetheless, having done so—whether one numbed the area before or not—the naked fact of one’s fingertip on the kitchen table, separated from your body, offers a rather vertiginous moment. And having been the one who brought about such a (vertiginous) state of affairs could easily prove strikingly empowering. Certainly, in Miller’s 300, the battle-hardened willingness of the Spartans to suffer the slings and arrows of fortuitous outrage denotes a major clam to their glory and links them, just as surely, to the nullo who stares at her separated pinky tip on the table top.

[26] Sure, sure. I know.

[27] As, for instance, by asking a question. One might recall some of Canetti’s language about questions; “all questioning is a forcible intrusion” (284, emphasis added). “When used as an instrument of power it is like a knife cutting into the flesh of the victim” (284); “the final purpose of questioning is to dissect, but it begins by probing gently at a succession of points and then, wherever resistance seems weak, forcing an entrance” (285). One might ask how, if all questioning denotes  forcible intrusion, how the use of questioning by power offers any material difference, beyond evoking out of Canetti the subsequently relentless use of mutilation metaphors throughout this section; “it cuts like a knife” (287); “a question cuts most sharply when” (287); the “questioner can shoot at him from anywhere … he probes his defences with questions and, when he succeeds in piercing them, that is, in forcing him to answer, he has him pinned down and unable to move” (286); unanswered questions “are like arrows shot into the air” (285), &c.

Putting this less abstractly, as we all collectively struggle toward a more just world—and we have reasons to accept this as actually happening and not just some vacuous hope that it might—at every moment the opportunity exists for some e-bag to take up the old, shitty, too-familiar positions of oppressiveness, &c—at any moment, someone can re-pen another Mein Kampf, can use a position of social visibility or celebrity to model and thus pander to baser human instincts, or can utilize cherry-picking in the media to increase anxiety through lies or exaggerations. And some do this solely for the sake of celebrity (i.e., money, fame, a decent life for them and their kids, &c). Between the true believer and an empty shill like Rush Limbaugh or Howard Stern I’d normally rank the true believer as more dangerous, but in this case the shill has taken up Canetti’s advice “if you want to avoid being a victim, become a victimizer” on the grounds that “that’s how things are”

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