CONFRONTING CROWDS AND POWER: 10. Aspects of Power (Human Postures and Their Relation to Power. Standing. Sitting. Lying. Sitting on the Ground. Kneeling, The Orchestral Conductor, Fame)

4 September 2013

Introduction & Disclaimer

This is the fifty-fifth entry in a series that ambitiously addresses, section by section over the course of a year+ Canetti’s  Crowds and Power [1] and the first to address Part 10 (Aspects of Power), which Canetti breaks up into several sections.  Here I address sections 1–3, “Human Postures and Their Relation to Power (Standing, Sitting, Lying, Sitting on the Ground, Kneeling), The Orchestral Conductor, Fame ”[2]

Human Postures and Their Relation to Power

I sympathize in advance if you cringe at the notion of having to take seriously human postures and their relation to power. Since one either voluntarily or involuntarily submits to Power (whether in the form of actual people or possessing spirits, in Jung’s sense), for the former we may find a more symbolic expression of a person’s experience (i.e., getting as low to the ground as possible to symbolize one’s lowliness compared to a divine power, &c), whereas in the latter the “symbolism” involves a person’s or people’s outward assent to a symbolic expression of obedience that Power may or may not accept as real or sufficient.

On the one hand, however we complicate the picture with specific postures, what always and ever only remains at stake involves the relationship between the one taking up the posture and the one demanding or deserving it; in other words, the underlying issue only ever involves the dynamic of interaction between two (or more) people, or two “entities” realized as on the one hand Power and on the other the supplicant before Power. On the other hand, the interminable richness of human culture also persuades us to look specifically at each and every form that these sorts of things take on, to suss out in a fine granularity the specific qualities of the specific interactions between those specific individuals or entities.

Any sort of middle-ground attempt to view this—half-generality, half-specificity—can offer only a half-baked and misleading picture, adding inappropriate generalities to fine-grained differences of actual cultural practice on the one hand or grossly overgeneralizing those fine-grained differences into universals about human postures on the other. The iconography of India attempts to negotiate this issue by providing single avatars of deities with, sometimes, thousands of gesturing hands or arms, but what this also proposes—in a context where we find millions of deities offering similar visionary matrices or sets of gestures—involves precisely whole specific sets of gestures (postures), whole systems of them, and not merely a random heap.[3] Because such figures often sit, this also illustrates that something like “sitting on the ground” cannot necessarily get broken apart from the total postural or gestural meaning. Having said all this then, no surprise that Canetti insists,[4]

We know what it means when one man sits raised up while everyone round him stands; when one man stands and everyone else sits; when everyone in a room gets up as someone comes in; when one man falls on his knees before another; when a new arrival is not asked to sit down (387).

We also know what it means, for English speakers, to say, “I’m hungry” &c. What knowledge does this signal except our acculturation to a given set of shared understandings. So in this list Canetti supplies, the meaning of a posture precisely does not mean what he claims when someone does not know what it means.[5] If Canetti wants to limit his remarks about Power only to (1) a specific cultural milieu or (2) merely what he imagines Power as, then so it goes—we needn’t pretend for a femtosecond then that his limited analysis has any bearing anywhere except in his head or in whatever now long-gone historical era his remarks might apply to.

He wants to emphasize changes of posture (for some reason) and so says, “Every new posture a man adopts is related to the one which precedes it and can be properly understood only if this is known” (387).[6] He pays lip service to cultural context here and notes how gestures made in unexpected settings have often unexpected effects. Despite all of these caveats, and against human freedom, he insists that “a sitting or a standing man makes an effect as such, irrespective of spatial or temporal circumstances” (387, emphasis in original). He points to the conventionality of monumental statue as an example of this point, which of course makes for  wholly backward question begging but even here, again, someone not sufficiently acculturated to share Canetti’s assumptions about the meaning as such of such gestures precisely would not agree to his generalized assertion, especially if they come from a culture where Power expresses itself differently.

Of standing, he says, “Our pride in standing consists in feeling independent and needing no support” (387). I cite this only to show yet again the vacuity that obtains everywhere in this text.

Whether the memory of the first time one stood alone as a child contributes to this, or the sense of our superiority to animals, hardly any of whom by nature stand unsupported on two legs, the fact remains that a man who is standing feels confident and self-sufficient (387–8).

This borders on unbearable and ungrounded (not “unfounded” I say) to an almost unanswerable degree. Find me the 50-year-old who, standing in line at the grocery store, feels confident and self-sufficient through the ancient memory of tottering for the first time on two legs—I’d think that being upright again after a debilitating illness or paralysis kept him in a wheelchair for months or years might more probably ground such self-sufficiency and confidence—or, even more ridiculously, find me the one with self-esteem out of a sense of superiority that no giraffe (or whale!) has ever so towered over creation by standing on two legs.[7]

“When someone gets up from a sitting or lying position his standing is the result of a specific effort by which he makes himself as tall as he possibly can” (388), except for those who slouch or who, being already over-tall, deliberately decrease their height. “Someone who has been standing for a long time expresses a capacity for endurance and resistance, either because, like a tree, he stands firmly in one place, or because he allows all of himself to be seen without fear or concealment” (388). Besides all one might lambaste in this, I would emphasize foremost the supposedly inclusive either/or Canetti proposes. I recently stood at a musical concert for more than three hours, my legs more or less locked in position so I could do so easily; no resistance and no particular endurance got involved in it—I simply only had a very small area in which to stand in order to watch the bands—and afterward my legs were weirdly rubbery or awkwardly operable due to having stayed more or less locked, without respite, for the duration. Nothing special or notable in this, and certainly nothing tree-like or fearlessly allowing others to see me. I gave almost no thought whatsoever to those around me. So no: “the stiller he stands, the less often he turns and looks about him, the more impressive he is. He shows that he does not even fear an attack from behind, where he cannot see” (388).

It seems pointless to continue this:

People normally stand before they begin to walk or run … (388)

This falls below even the level of vacuity.

Standing is the central position, from which every other position can be directly reached and any movement initiated (388).

Let us remember Canetti has just declared that to understand a posture requires understanding its previous posture. Since standing does not occur first for humans in their lives, it hardly denotes the position “from which every other position can be directly reached” much less “any movement initiated” (388). If I float in water, what standing occurs before I backstroke? &c Or, how does standing somehow supersede all of my actions in priority when I must rise from being supine in bed to start each day?

We tend, therefore, to ascribe a relatively high degree of tension to any one who is standing, even when he himself does not in fact feel it … (388)

Once again, the key Canetti move of declaring for others what their experience really means.

We always overrate the man who stands” (388).


Canetti’s first notion of sitting goes immediately to chairs, which smacks of anachronism in human-cultural terms in the first place, and he immediately confirms this impression by asserting, “The chair, as we know it today, derives from the throne, and the throne presupposes subject animals or human beings, whose function it is to carry the weight of the ruler” (389). Of course, one immediately dismisses this wild overstatement with the banal correction that human beings had things like chairs long before thrones, but let us pay a wee bit more attention to this claim instead, especially as Canetti specifically addresses sitting on the ground in a later section.

I will suggest that this claim by him points to an implicit view of “primitives” who lacked culture, since it presumes that only after the invention of the throne (and thus imperial civilization as we know it from Sumer, Egypt, &c) does the invention of the chair (for all the petty, would-be kings of the domestic sphere) come about. In other words, people without civilization sit on the ground. If this seems an over-reading, the phrase “subject animals or human beings,” like the phrase “subject races” as Said (1978)[8] makes clear, reeks unmistakably of colonialism and orientalism.

From this, it can only seem a short jot to an absolute assertion of property rights; i.e., “the thing sat on is no longer even animate … Its user is free to do exactly as he likes with it” (389). To imagine that the ruler who sits on objects and who has some contraption whereby she sits on humans (o animals) in an analogous manner gives very little credit to rulers. Using people as furniture, which some in BDSM communities seek out as an experience (as thee furniture, I mean), proposes a distinction with objects requiring a rather profound degree of daftness to miss in practice. When I use you as an ashtray, that has a very different feel than the liberties I permit myself with respect to mere ashtrays. In psychopathic states, these things might become confused, an children too sometimes get very frustrate by the differences that obtain between handling objects versus animals, younger siblings, or living things generally. To pretend that this distinction collapses demands an almost wholesale castration of the intellect, never mint eh undesirability of doing so as well.

But I began this comment by noting the short jot to an absolute assertion of property rights, so that the so-called objectification of human beings as slaves points either (1) to the profoundly willful degree of intellectual disingenuousness involved in treating humans as objects or (2) the necessary level of mental illness required to believe such ownership and disposition of humans as property makes sense.[9] As Said (1978) makes unambiguously clear, the “truths” of  culture occur rather as representations, and so for those who encounter only representations (i.e., cultural commentators), it will seem easier for them to fall more into the psychopathic category, where they justify treating human beings as property—mind you, this happens all of the time with children as well—than for those who actually face on a daily basis those very people being represented as objects. We’ve certainly come to believe we can dispose of “our property” however we wish, but even as we allow ourselves to extend that fantasy into the human realm, so long as we see actual humans, that belief generally exposes itself as merely immoral (not yet a case of actual insanity). The object-play of the BDSM community makes this theme visible, and while at times this can lead to problematic interactions—if someone who actually really believes people comprise nothing but objects hooks up with someone willing to play along with what at least on the face of it seems a fantasy of such  thing—in general, the way it makes visible the immorality (or mental illness) of Power outside of such play settings remains helpful.

That any of this relates materially to sitting, as Canetti insists, fails of course in persuasion.

The simplest form of power is that derived from a man’s own body and he can express it either in terms of height—in which case he must stand—or in terms of weight—in which case he must exert visible pressure [on something i.e., sit] (390).

One can take this as a kind of seriously a little at least. However, merely to stand or exert pressure still means nothing when no one recognizes the gesture—either intra-culturally because the one standing or sitting has no standing (pun intended), or interculturally because what standing or sitting means to my culture means something different or other than I witness in this culture. Something more like an “inherent” authority seems to obtain if someone sits in a particular place, i.e., in a place of authority. Similarly, to (suddenly) stand in a seated group presupposes “taking the floor”; it serves as a moment that (suddenly) distinguishes the one standing from all the rest. It makes one literally outstanding and, as such, provides one route to an assertion of leadership or declaration to the group generally. But such outstandingness in itself requires social recognition; merely to stand up and leave the room, if no one notices, leaves no trace except the change of group dynamics affected by your absence. So the principal power obtains from the group, from its recognition of your standing, from your taking the floor. In terms of sheer numbers, the group still has it out over you—unless you whip out a submachinegun as a way to neutralize sheer numbers. In Errington and Gewertz’s (1987)[10] book about the Chambri people, they demonstrate how the bluff of power makes a claim less that “I am great” and more that “Many people think I’m great,” which itself takes the strategy again of pointing to sheer numbers as the basis of Power, in these “simplified” situations. Similarly, sitting in the place of Power implies numbers as well—others have built this place and they approve of those who sit on it. Imagine the cheek of putting your cheeks on the British throne, and it becomes clear enough that your mere sitting—exerting pressure—on a chair does not provide at all the “force” of Power that that act implies.

“A man lying down is a man disarmed. … Anyone who lies down disarms himself so completely that it is impossible to understand how men have managed to survive sleep” (390). I will assume Canetti indulges some verbal coyness here, though not with any great faith; this phrase, all the same, shows how far removed from “reality” the discourse that Canetti’s discourse wanders in. For him, “The marvel is that there are still men in existence. One would expect them to have been exterminated long ago … long before they reached the point of lining up for reciprocal annihilation” (391). As a result,

This one fact of sleep—defenceless, recurrent, and prolonged—shows the inadequacy of all the theories of adaptation to environment which are put forward as explanations of so much that is inexplicable (391).

Seriously? The most obvious rejoinder hinges on recognizing that one does not become so defenseless in sleep as Canetti images; more precisely, that safety during sleep does not remain so hard to come by as he tries to insist. Very arguably, the ubiquitous occurrence of sleep does little to make its phenomenological strangeness any less strange, but claiming it denotes a death sentence we miraculously dodge each night, or that should have killed us off ages ago and thus gives lie to theories of adaption, merits little more than raspberries. Meanwhile, as for lying:

A standing man is free and independent of support; a sitting man uses his weight to exert pressure on something. A recumbent man is certainly not independent, for he uses anything and everything to support him; nor can he really be said to exert pressure, for his weight is so spread that he is scarcely conscious of it (391).

Again, I find no utility in contending with such empty vacuities but would point rather to Canetti’s resort to them. Although a recumbent man occupies space, Canetti merely asserts he does not; although a recumbent man exerts gravitational pressure, he merely asserts that he does not, inadvertently suggesting some kind of empty distinction that unless the weight spreads your ass-cheeks it doesn’t count as exerting pressure. The perfectly evident missing portion here involves the observer of the one lying down, just as the one who stands becomes outstanding and the one who sits, sits in the acknowledged place of power, here Canetti frames things just to speak of no particular anyone lying down in any particular anywhere.

But obviously to lie in the Queen’s bed does not have this inconspicuous quality at all; neither did Rachel Corrie lying down in front of an Israeli bulldozer before it crushed her to death occupy no particular anywhere.

The sight of a striken [sic] man arouses two feelings at once: there is the instinctive and habitual feeling of triumph over a hunted-down animal and also uneasiness at the fall of a fellow-man. We are discussing here what a man who can still stand really feels when he sees someone down, not what he should feel, and there is no doubt that the element of triumph is always there and, in certain circumstances will become very strong (392, italics in original).

Kudos to Canetti for owning up here, but shame on him for once again abusing his power (as an author) to contradict the actual experiences of those people who do not feel any triumph—much less anything like triumph over a hunted-down animal—or uneasiness at the fall of a fellow human being, whether instinctively or habitually.[11] That caveat that Canetti does not address “what he should feel” does not address this point. The assertion that a person should feel sympathy or pity or something like that, more precisely that a person should not feel triumph, does not speak to the person who does feel sympathy or pity or who does not feel triumph.[12]

One of the activities Augusto Boal’s theater of the oppressed can invite participants to do involves depicting as a kind of sculpture of human bodies various experiences of oppressive hierarchy. For those watching, this depicts (represents) with real human bodies a range of individual senses of or experiences of (representations of) Power and oppressiveness. One sees it, point blank, and for that reason, it can have very resonating effects, not only for those who witness the reactions of people expressing (representations of) oppression but also for those who have occasion to enact (their representations of) oppression.

In these sorts of sculptures, people stand, lie, sit, gesture, &c. Canetti’s earlier insistence that we all already know what these things mean finds a sort of tentative support in the way that people improvise their postures of oppression and oppressing. And this, because most of us have some degree of acculturation to these things, so it provides no proof of anything but cultural doxa if those expressing the oppressed get lower to the ground in these sculptures, just as those oppressing tend to stand or place themselves above others. Imagine, however, a group of four people standing, one of whom extends her (or his) arm in a declamatory or accusing pointing in one direction—the other three variously occupied in some more innocuous way—while above the four from a platform depending from the ceiling one person lies on her back, draped over the edges of the platform and with a look of agonized horror on her (or his) face—a position the participant has taken because she (or he) understands oppression in those terms (either culturally or idiosyncratically).

What these sculptures make clear that Canetti fundamentally elides, even as he pays a kind of lip service to it, involves the necessary relationship between people. Although he claims to acknowledge cultural context, he nonetheless insists, “In spite of their multifarious meanings there is, none the less, an indubitable tendency to fix and ‘monumentalize’ human postures. A sitting or a standing man makes an effect as such, irrespective of his spatial or temporal circumstance” (387, italics in original). This offers an unhelpful and misleading abstraction, because whether Power exists in the abstract, the sort of Power Canetti concerns himself to write about only prevails transactionally, either directly between bodies or indirectly through the agents, proxies, n representatives of bodies. So a standing or sitting man means nothing as such, and we may identify the missing second party in any such image or representation (of Power) that makes such a claim about the standing or sitting (or otherwise posturing human being) s Canetti himself, or the observer generally.

One again, then, we see Canetti mesmerisation before Power as well as his projection of that experience as a generality in his text itself.

The Orchestral Conductor

Canetti asserts, perhaps with at least a little tongue in cheek, that the orchestral conductor provides the most thoroughgoing image of power; “every detail of [the conductor’s] public behavior throws light on the nature of power” (394). As usual, the details go to the wayside; the conductor “is the only person who stands” (394), except of course for those members of the orchestra who stand, often the percussionists in back, and those members of the audience who stand, often in the cheap seats in the back, standing-room only. These facts in this case don’t necessarily propose a fatal blow to Canetti’s argument, but they certainly qualify it, and they illustrate yet again his “method,” which involves falsifying at the very outset the phenomenon he describes for the sake of an (ideological) assertion.

As in the previous section, where I pointed out that what matters does not involve merely standing (or sitting) but the relationship of the stander to anyone else and also where one stands; the position the conductor occupies at the podium, and the (cultural) fact that those in the audience (standing or not) and those in the orchestra (standing or not) grant to that position, and the person who occupies it, whatever Power accrues to that position provides the “significance” for that occupier. The conductor could sit on a stool—and those who cannot stand certainly have—and this would offer an only minor variation on the “power and glory” of the conductor’s position.

Canetti ascribes omnipotence and omniscience to the conductor but then allows that the “conductor bows to the clapping hands; for them he returns to the rostrum again and again, as often as they want him to. To them, and to them alone, he surrenders; it is for them that he really lives” (395). If we acknowledge that certain kinds of Power involve an interplay between an empowered Power and an empowering Powerless, then we clearly find ourselves in a muddle, because where does Power really start then, &c. but it seems unclear if this constitutes Canetti’s point; rather, it seems he shifts frameworks—imagining the conductor as the omnipotent one who only appears to surrender, in a kind of flattering performance, to the crowd. Canetti doesn’t mention the conductor’s bowing to the crowd, which (using Canetti-think) signals a conventional deference to or an obeisance to a superior force.

In the context of Canetti’s book overall, this shift of emphasis becomes problematic; once again it seems to offer an apologetics for the sorts of abuses of Power we find earlier in the book, because here the conductor—just moments ago referred to as the only significant and omnipotent Power in the room and summarized at the end as “the ruler of the world” (396)”—gets construed in some sort of helpless terms; he (or she) lives only for the audience, or the applause of the audience; his (or her) entire raison d’etre and being hinges on creating the circumstance that leads to such applause. So in this way, we get encouraged or invited to imagine that Power simply gives us what we want.

At this point, the breakdown of the metaphor, its inappropriateness, becomes apparent. It already peeked out when Canetti described the orchestra by saying, “an orchestra is like an assemblage of different types of men. The willingness of its members to obey him makes it possible for the conductor to transform them into a unit, which he then embodies” (395). However, the willingness arises from a very specific cultural configuration, one in which the desire of the orchestra members themselves to make a kind of beautiful music (never mind to get paid for it and feed their family) plays a role here as well. At the very most, nay autocratic moves by conductors (as opposed to collaborative ventures in orchestral performance) have “merit” because (1) people accept the “premises” of the game of orchestral playing, in which circumstance sometimes the conductor gets to act like an autocrat, but also (2) existential factors involving income, the ability of the musicians to clothe an feed themselves and their family come into play as well, so that we may speak at most (at least with any assurance) only of an appearance of willingness.

All of this context notwithstanding, the collective task of creating a cultural event distinguishes itself, as an aesthetic event, from Power as typically practiced in a more literally political setting, obviously. One searches, more or less in vain, for the enthusiastic audience for the sort of conduct the Obama Administration currently exhibits regarding another Middle Eastern invasion.[13] Whatever desire the musical audience has for the powerful embodiment of a Beethoven symphony or whatnot, any analogous audience in this political sphere comprises obviously and only a very narrow demographic. One doesn’t get to throw the whole populace into the audience, just as one may not count on the “reaction of the poor” (who remain excluded from musical performances) to offer the same reactions (had they been permitted presence) as the well-heeled luxuriates who typically can afford and attend orchestral performances.[14]

All culture itself already embodying the artificial—once again Said’s distinction of representations not truths having cultural currency lurks in the background—the artificiality of orchestral performances offers something different in kind, not just degree, from the artificiality (culturality) of the political sphere. As a domain of idealized fantasy (I mean art and music specifically), the orchestral performance and other theatrical things like it gives us an idealized picture as well—one where the pretense of actual and real submission to Power by a group of people (the orchestra) for the sake of another group of people (the audience) gets carried out in a not-too-complex and temporarily reduced version of a social contract. This more or less collectively agreed upon premise by all parties (orchestra, audience, and conductor alike) immediately makes it inappropriate as a metaphor for the non-aesthetic realm, especially in the way it tries (1) to make the audience responsible (to “blame”) for the performance and (2) to offer an apologetics for the abuses of Power that the conductor gets circumstantially allowed to commit in the course of presenting such a cultural object.


If the rich man “collects cattle an hoards of grain … He does not worry about men; it is enough that he can buy them” (397) while “a ruler collects men” (397) to die for him or go with him when he dies,

A celebrity collects a chorus of voices. All he wants is to hear them repeat his name. As long as there are enough of them and they are versed in his name it does not matter whether these voices belong to the dead, to the living, or to the as yet unborn (397).

What relation fame has to aspects of power remains unstated. Presumably, fame at the very least resembles reputation, although we might remember Gramsci’s distinction between civil (cultural) and political life, and maintain a distinction then between fame and reputation, respectively. As Said (1978) makes clear from Gramsci, these two domains interpenetrate and reciprocally inform one another in an often complicated knot. Said desires to make clear that seemingly cultural-only intellectual work (e.g., the humanities most generally) contains political aspects as well, even if only distantly related to those disciplines that impinge more directly on policy-making aspects of government (e.g., area studies, sociology, &c). On this view, we may understand how fame and reputation, while both containing political elements (contrary to what some might claim for those who seem “merely” famous, like a celebrity on a reality TV show), have a different relationship to Power; in essence, mere fame does not automatically convert into the sort of political power that reputation points to, just as reputation similarly does not convert into the kind of branded, widespread visibility that fame points to.

The transformation of Reagan (or Schwarzenegger) from an actor to a politician illustrates this—a pronounced fame became the launching pad for a political reputation, as other famous people have not as successfully attempted. Of course, all the while one stands as famous, one’s reputation runs in parallel (or at least in tandem, not usually perpendicularly), and so we see again the justness of Said’s remark that representations, not truths, prevail in a culture, since fame has everything to do with image and little to do with facts whereas the opposite tends to prevail for reputation. Amongst prisoners, lifers in general, one’s reputation can carry an immense cache, since it often amounts to the only thing one actually has.

Because “fame” and “reputation” propose a dichotomy, this means those with ‘famous reputations’ (e.g., Lawrence of Arabia, or Lawrence Olivier) and ‘reputations for fame’ (e.g., Donald Trump, Alan Dershowitz) also rattle about in our world and both of these categories (obviously) blur any tidy opposition between “apolitical” fame (and public visibility) and “political” reputation (and public non-visibility).


[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] Although I imagine at times iconography gets the better of itself and a deity might exactly get piled up with an essentially random assortment of postures, perhaps sometimes due to imaginative ineptness on the part of the ones commissioning or creating the statue.

[4] In one of those banalities Philips (1963)* emphasizes, Canetti opens by insisting, “Man, who prides himself on standing upright, can also, while remaining in the same place, sit, lie, squat or kneel” (387). In Nichols’ (1980)** Jung and Tarot: an Archetypal Journey, she more than once stresses the verticality of the human creature, echoing Canetti’s insistence that “man” (specifically) prides himself on standing upright, but this generality only holds (obviously) for those who hold it. This immediately limits the reach of the generalization, and perhaps to a very narrow range of people, sine uprightness may concern only a very small portion of commentators, even when we allow “uprightness” to have metaphorical overtones.

* 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)

** Nichols, S. (1980). Jung and Tarot: an archetypal journey. New York: S. Weiser.

[5] One might also find contrary examples of the meanings Canetti seems to intend here, though he himself does not offer to tell us what these obvious things mean—a rather disingenuous move on his part. For example, with “we know what it means when one man sits raised up while everyone round him stands,” I doubt Canetti expects anyone to think of a circumstance at, say, a musical concert with general seating where a woman sits in a wheelchair while everyone around her stands to watch the concert. Canetti’s imaginable objection, that this denotes a different situation, then points to the tautological nature of his example—he would insist he speaks of a circumstance where, say, an audience gazes upon someone raised up with people standing around him, in which case why this depicts a Power relation begs the question essentially, other than the fact that humans just do it that way, or have.

[6] A pity Canetti didn’t bother to insist on this when speaking of packs, though when he did try to link one event to another, he ended up in a morass of unusually empty platitudes that went more nowhere than usual. He never successfully addressed this point with regard to crowds.

[7] As much as it should seem easy to think immediately of animals that don’t stand on two legs, things like deer, squirrels, meerkats, to say nothing of dogs, cats, horses, elephants, and lots else besides, monkeys especially, all quite capably can get up on two legs for shorter or longer periods of time often enough. Apparently our superiority consists in our inability to go down on all fours for any appreciable length of time? How ignorant to count our debility  superiority—it smacks of sour grapes.

[8] Said, E. W. (1979). Orientalism. 1st Vintage Books ed. New York: Vintage Books.

[9] I do not resort to psychological labels in a rhetorical sense. Human beings in psychotic states can at times adopt relationships with objects that have problematic characters. It becomes a matter of law to what extent these psychotic states actually usurp conscious will. The malignant narcissist may, amongst other things, lack the lesson of something like object permanence, the realization that the howling and screaming of another human being signals their pain and not something simply entertaining. Small children often abuse younger siblings (or animals) without realizing the harm they do; most stop when they learn this. Gradually, the psychopathic comes to enjoy the pain inflicted because of the pain inflicted—the victim has become an instrument, an object–and the question remains (sometimes for the jury) to what extent did the perpetrator really know that the victim remained a human being or did the objectification totally take over to the point that culpability for the actual terror or agony inflicted gets (arguably) diminished? In this sense, then, the statements made by cultural commentators who respond to representations of the Other, such descriptions already themselves Objects, makes their pronouncements about the right of property to dispose of such Objects more resemble the psychopathic mode of addressing actual human beings than the actual slave owner (or parent) who daily looks into the eyes of those he or she would dispose of absolutely under the banner of the rights of property.

[10] 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

[11] This goes, even in the wholly limited circumstance that he seems to keep returning to: of war.

[12] Canetti continues, “the sight of large numbers of prostrate and lifeless bodies has a terrible effect on anyone who experiences it: he comes to feel as though he himself had struck them all down and his sense of power increases rapidly and uncontrollably” (392). Is this Canetti’s reaction to images from the Holocaust? “no feeling of triumph is more dangerous than this. A man who has once given way to it will do anything to repeat it” (392). On  strictly logistical note, most have no capacity to repeat the sublime imagery of a field of dead—even if Canetti improbable assertion has merit somewhere—unless we count the danger of this in artistic representations as equivalent.*I doubt even Bush Jr. gloated over the shock and awe of dead Afghanis and Iraqis, calling out to Powell and Rice to provide him with more and more heaps of dead bodies on a daily basis, which does not claim either that his protestations of “terrible, terrible” really meant anything. What could the fucker do, really, except wallow in an orientalist lamentation that Arabs (by which he meant Afghanis and Iraqis both) refused to see the sense of exported democracy. &c.

*One may argue that, in a way, they prove worse.

[13] In this metaphor, the military stands as the orchestra.

[14] In a European setting, the accessibility of classical music seems much broader than here. As a result, the range of audience reactions does, in fact, tend to cover much more ground than here; the Rocky Horror Picture Show phenomenon of shouting back at the movie screen has many antecedents in Italian opera, I understand (for example).


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