Elias Canetti

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Elias Canetti

Elias Canetti (Ruse, Bulgaria, July 25, 1905-Zurich, Switzerland, August 14, 1994) was a writer and thinker in the German language, Nobel Prize for Literature in 1981. He was brother of the doctor Georges Canetti and of the musical promoter Jacques Canetti.

Elias_Canetti’s Biography


Elías Canetti was born in Ruse, of a merchant family of Sephardic origin, [n 1] eldest son of Jacques Canetti, a Jew of Spanish origin (the paternal ancestors were born with the surname of Cañete, but, after the expulsion of the Jews of the Iberian Peninsula in 1492, changed their last name), and Mathilde Arditti, born of a Sephardic Jewish family of Italian origin (maternal ancestors were Sephardic Livorno who settled in Bulgaria). The language of his childhood was the Ladino or Judeo-Spanish that speaks in the family (in his autobiography, associated with strong memories of childhood), but the little Elias had his first experiences with the German language that was for private use by parents (who considered it the language of the theater and of their years of study in Vienna).

After learning the Bulgarian language for everyday use, she had to learn English when her father decided to move to Manchester in 1911. The decision was received with enthusiasm by Mathilde Arditti, a cultured and liberal woman, who had to take Elijah of the influence of his paternal grandfather, who had joined the Talmudic school. His father died, the following year the family emigrated to Vienna where he lived the First World War.After installed in Austria, he will use German mainly. In 1916 the family moved to Zurich, where Canetti spent, between 1916 and 1921, his happiest years.

In this period, despite the presence of his younger siblings, Canetti’s relationship with his mother (who since 1913 suffered from periodic depressive crises) became increasingly close, conflictive and marked by mutual dependence. < / p>

Germany and Austria

In 1921 the family moved to Frankfurt, where Canetti attended the popular demonstrations after the assassination of Minister Walter Rathenau, the first experience with the behavior of the masses that left an indelible impression. In 1924 she returned with her brother Georges to Vienna, where she graduated in chemistry in 1929, although her great passion was literature and she devoted herself to it.Canetti quickly integrated into the Viennese cultural elite, where she studied the works of Otto Weininger, Sigmund Freud (who awoke his distrust from the beginning) and Arthur Schnitzler, and attended the famous lectures by Karl Kraus, polemicist and moralist, which he recognizes as his main teacher. In one of these cultural encounters he met the Sephardic writer Venetiana (Veza) Täubner-Calderón, very intelligent but without the right forearm from birth. In 1934 he married her, despite her mother’s opposition.

Under the influence of the memory of the Frankfurt events, in 1925 a book project on mass began to take shape. In 1928 he went to work in Berlin as a translator of American books (especially of Upton Sinclair), and there he met Bertolt Brecht, Isaak Babel and George Grosz. Two years later he received his Ph.D. in chemistry, but did not practice the profession for which he never showed interest. Between 1930 and 1931 he began working on the novel Die Blendung (Auto de fe), published in 1935, and returned to Vienna where he continued to frequent literary and artistic environment: Robert Musil, Fritz Wotruba, Alban Berg, Anna and Alma Mahler.

At this time he also got to know the conductor Hermann Scherchen, who describes his interesting and complex personality in the part of his autobiography from 1931 to 1937, entitled: The Eye Game, The Orchestra Director and following chapter, also narrating Scherchen’s passion for Anna Mahler, daughter of the musician Gustav Mahler and notable sculptor.

In 1932 he published his first play, La Boda. Two years later it was the turn of The Comedy of the Vanities. In 1937 he moved to Paris for the death of his mother, a fact that marked him deeply and symbolically closes the third volume of the autobiography.


In 1938, after the Night of Broken Glass in Austria, Canetti moved first to Paris and then to London, where he obtained British citizenship in 1952. It is in Britain where he lived poorly and worked on one of his works magnas, Mass and power (in German: Masse und Macht) ?, influenced notably by Nazi Germany that he had been able to see up close.The next two decades, he devoted himself exclusively to this project on the psychology of the masses, whose first and only volume, Mass and power, was published in 1960.

In 1954 he spent a period in Morocco, following a film shoot, room from which emerged the volume The Voices of Marrakech.

The premiere of his drama The Situations took place in Oxford in 1956. His wife Veza, with whom he shared his socialist enthusiasm and his veneration for Karl Kraus, committed suicide in 1963 after the failure of his marriage, perhaps due to the frequent betrayals of Elias. Uncomfortable with the English mentality and customs, he was very critical of the country’s intelligentsia, as he describes in his book Fiesta bajo las bombas, in which he left a merciless portrait of his lover, the British novelist Iris Murdoch.

In 1971 he married Hera Buschor, a museologist living in Zurich, who gave him a daughter, Johanna, the following year, an event that convinces the couple to settle permanently in Zurich, on Klosbachstrasse 88 in Züriberg (hill east of the city). In 1969 the other Kafka process was published. About the letters to Felice (Der Andere Prozess, Briefe an Felice) that analyzes the correspondence between Kafka and Felice Bauer.

In the 70s he toured Europe several times to give lectures. In 1977 he published the first volume of his autobiography, with great success of critics and audiences. He followed up with two more volumes and a fourth and last part published in 2003 after his death, completed by his daughter based on his notes.

Author centered like no other in the thought, published diverse aphoristic tests: in 1973: Die Provinz des Menschen (the province of the man), experience that renews later in 1992, with the agony of the flies (Fliegenpein Die). He also wrote a gallery of “characters” in 1974, in line with Theophrastus and Jean de La Bruyère, with Der Ohrenzeuge (The Hearing Witness).

In 1972 he received the Georg Büchner Prize, the most important literary distinction in the German language, and in 1975, the Universities of Manchester and Munich awarded him honorary doctorates. In 1981 he received the Nobel Prize for Literature, “for works that are characterized by a broad vision, the wealth of ideas and artistic power.” Among the foundations of the Nobel Prize, his study of mass movements and, in particular, of the brutality of German National Socialism and of dictatorships in general, is also mentioned.The whole of his personal work can not be known until the year 2024 by its own testamentary dispositions.

After the death of Hera (1988), Elias Canetti returned to Zurich, where he died on August 14, 1994, and in whose cemetery was buried with James Joyce.

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