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The Library of Babel

A Spin-off of http://bookwormshead.blogspot.co.uk

Elias Canetti - The Torch in My Ear

The Torch in My Ear - Elias Canetti

Well, I've to confess that my expectations for 'The Torch in My Ear' were not that high upon having been struck by the mesmerizing (if slightly self-referential) beauty of the first volume of Canetti's autobiography, 'The Tongue Set Free'.

This was essentially my problem as I do prefer memoirs dealing with childhood years and focusing on other characters than the protagonist himself.

In fact, this book took a little longer than the first one to catch my attention as I've found the first pages about young Elias in Frankfurt a bit rusty and not that compelling.
Yet, from then onwards 'The Torch in My Ear' stopped taxing and took off.

The years Canetti spent in Vienna as a chemistry student pining for solitude up in the Austrian mountains were interesting enough, but what I did enjoyed were the pages on the months he spent in Berlin in the late 1920s.
This is a wonderfully exciting intellectual and hedonistic Berlin caught in between the writings of Robert Walser and Christopher Isherwood. Just imagine this: Canetti hadn't published anything yet at that time, but had the chance of being introduced to the likes of George Grosz, Bertolt Brecht and Isaac Babel.
And the way these these great men of letters behaved is described in such a perfect, hearty and sincere way by Canetti that I loved it.

As for the Viennese years of Canetti before and after Berlin, there is a good deal of Karl Kraus and a lot of entertaining insights on interesting characters. Those who read and remember 'Auto Da Fe' will be delighted to recognize - in nuce - Fischerle the dwarf and Professor Kein himself in two of the people Canetti met while in Vienna.

Moreover, it's Canetti himself telling the reader from where did he get the inspiration for his two most important works. First, the author recounts how he got fascinated by crowds during a Viennese tumult in the 1920s thus planting the seed in his head of the future and seminal 'Crowds and Power'.
Then, Canetti explains the process which led him to the creation of Prof. Kein - the buchermenschen par excellence - and how he spent six years working on 'Auto Da Fe' from a garret overlooking the Steinhof, the mighty Viennese mental hospital.

The final part of 'The Torch in My Ear' introduces the fascinating character of the crippled in body but brilliant in mind Thomas Marek whom Elias Canetti got acquainted with.
If I have to find a flaw in the way Canetti arranges his narration here is that the author seems estranged with and not interested in his youngest brother (Nissim later to become Jacques) - whose name is not even mentioned once. However, as the other brother of Elias - Georges - is barely mentioned in The Tongue Set Free but gains more importance in this book, I've reasons to expect a better treatment for Nissim/Jacques in 'The Play of the Eyes'.

All in all, I look forward to read the third and final installment of Canetti's memoirs with far better expectations than I thought.
I should have known better!