E r a r i t j a r i t j a k a
musée des phrases
based on texts of Elias Canetti
I have no sounds that could serve to soothe me, no violoncello like him, no lament that anyone would recognize as a lament because it sounds subdued, in an inexpressibly tender language. I have only these lines on the yellowish paper and words that are never new, for they keep saying the same thing through an entire life. g
More than anything we resemble bowling pins. They set us up in families, approximately nine. Squat and wooden, we stand there not knowing what to do with our fellow pins.The way has long been paved for the stroke that is to bring us down; foolishly we wait; in falling we take along as many fellow pins as we can, it is the stroke that we pass on to them, the only contact we grant them in a hasty existence.Supposedly, we are set up again. But if that is so, then we are exactly the same in a new life, only we have changed places among the nine in the family, and not even always; and wooden and foolish we wait again for the old stroke. p
To invent a new music, in which the notes are in sharpest contrast to the words, thereby changing the words, rejuvenating them, filling them with a new content. To remove the danger from words, with music. To give words new dangers, with music. To make words hateful, make words popular, with music. To smash words, unite words with music. p
In music, words swim – words that usually walk. I love the pace of words, their paths, their stops, their stations; I mistrust their flowing. g
Phrases that shy away from one another.
Pause after pause, and in between, quadrangles of words like fortresses. h
A sentence by itself is clean. The very next one takes something from it.
He like sentences individually, single sentences, one can turn them over in one’s hand, one can bolt them, one can choke them.
Not to speak anymore, to place words next to one another mutely and watch them. p
Yes, you may place sentences next to each other, they may see each other and, if they should feel that urge, they may even touch each other. But no more. f
As of a certain age it would be nice to grow smaller again from year to year and go backwards over the same steps that we once so proudly climbed. The ranks and honors of old age would still have to be the same as today ; so that very small people, the size of six or eight-year-old boys, would be considered the wisest and most experienced. The oldest kings would be the shortest ; there would only be very tiny popes ; the bishops would look down on cardinals, the cardinals on the pope. No child could wish to become something great. History, because of its age, would lose significance ; we would feel as if the events of three hundred years ago had taken place among insect-like creatures, and the past would have the good fortune to be overlooked. p
Whenever you observe an animal closely, you feel as if a human being sitting inside were making fun of you.
To give a sigh of relief, standing among animals: they don't realize what's in store for them.
History talks too little about animals.
Impossible to imagine how dangerous the world will be without animals.
It would be nice to take each man apart into his animals and then come to a thorough and soothing agreement with them.
The missing animals: the species that the rise of man has prevented from evolving.
What an astonishing hierarchy among animals! Man sees them according to how he stole their qualities. p
At dinner I asked her if she would like to understand the language of animals. No, she wouldn’t. When I asked her why not, she hesitated a little and then said: So they won’t be afraid. g
Do animals have less fear because they live without words? p
Secrecy lies at the very core of power. The act of lying in wait for prey is essentially secret. Hiding, or taking on the colour of its surroundings and betraying itself by no movement, the lurking creature disappears entirely, covering itself with secrecy as with a second skin. This state, which can last for a long time, is characterized by a peculiar blend of patience and impatience and the longer it lasts, the fiercer becomes the anticipation of the moment of success. But in order to achieve success in the end the watcher must be capable of endless patience. If this breaks a moment too soon everything will have been in vain and, weighed down with disappointment, he must start again from the beginning.
Secrecy is primarily active. The primitive medicine-man is thoroughly familiar with it and knows how to assess its value and use it on any given occasion. When he lies in wait he knows what he is watching for and knows too, which of his creatures he can use to help him. He has many secrets, for he has many desires and he organizes these secrets so that they guard one another. He reveals one thing to one man and another to a second and sees to it that they have no chance of combining them.
Everyone who knows something is watched by a second person who, however, is never told precisely what he is watching for. He has to record each word and movement and by full and frequent reports enable the ruler to assess the loyalty of the suspect. But this watcher is himself watched and his report corrected by that of yet another. Thus, the ruler is always currently informed on the capacity and reliability of the vessels to which he has confided his secrets and can judge which of them is likely to crack or overflow. He has a filing system of secrets to which he alone keeps the key. He would feel endangered if he entrusted it entirely to anyone else.
Power is impenetrable. The man who has it sees through other men but does not allow them to see through him. He must be more reticent than anyone; no-one must know his opinions or intentions. m
The names of musical instruments have a magic all their own. f
I have no sounds that could serve to soothe me, no viola like her, no lament that anyone would recognize as a lament because it sounds subdued, in an inexpressibly tender language.I have only these lines on the yellowish paper and words that are never new, for they keep saying the same thing through an entire life. g
There is no more obvious expression of power than the performance of a conductor.
A conductor ranks himself first among the servants of music.
The conductor stands: ancient memories of what it meant when man first stood upright still play an important part in any representations of power.
The conductor is the only person who stands. In front of him sits the orchestra and behind him the audience. He stands on a dais and can be seen both from in front and from behind. In front his movements act on the orchestra and behind on the audience. In giving his actual directions he uses only his hands, or his hands and a baton. Quite small movements are all he needs to wake this or that instrument to life or to silence it at will. He has the power of life and death over the voices of the instruments; one, long silent, will speak again at his command. Their diversity stands for the diversity of mankind; 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.
The complexity of the work he performs means that he must be alert. Presence of mind is among his essential attributes; law-breakers must be curbed instantly. The code of laws, in the form of the score, is in his hands. There are others who have it too and can check the way it is carried out but the conductor alone decides what the law is and summarily punishes any breach of it. That all this happens in public and is visible in every detail gives the conductor a special kind of self-assurance. He grows accustomed to being seen and becomes less and less able to do without it.
The immobility of the audience is as much part of the conductor's design as the obedience of the orchestra. They are under a compulsion to keep still. Until he appears they move about and talk freely among themselves. The presence of the players disturbs no-one; indeed they are scarcely noticed. Then the conductor appears and everyone becomes still. He mounts the rostrum, clears his throat and raises his baton; silence falls. While he is conducting no-one may move and as soon as he finishes they must applaud. All their desire for movement, stimulated and heightened by the music, must be banked up until the end of the work and must then break loose.
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. The applause he receives is the ancient salute to the victor, and the magnitude of his victory is measured by its volume.
During a concert, and for the people gathered together in the hall, the conductor is a leader. He stands at their head with his back to them. It is him they follow, for it is he who goes first. But, instead of his feet, it is his hands which lead them. The movement of the music, which his hands bring about, represents the path his feet would be the first to tread. The crowd in the hall is carried forward by him.
His eyes hold the whole orchestra. Every player feels that the conductor sees him personally, and, still more, hears him. The voices of the instruments are opinions and convictions on which he keeps a close watch. He is omniscient, for while the players have only their own parts in front of them, he has the whole score in his head, or on his stand. At any given moment he knows precisely what each player should be doing. His attention is everywhere at once and it is to this that he owes a large part of his authority. He is inside the mind of every player. He knows not only what each should be doing but also what he is doing.He is the living embodiment of law, both positive and negative. His hands decree and prohibit. His ears search out profanation.Thus for the orchestra the conductor literally embodies the work they are playing, the simultaneity of the sound as well as their sequence; and since, during the performance, nothing is supposed to exist except this work, for so long is the conductor the ruler of the world. m
A country where anyone who says “I” is immediately swallowed up by the earth. g
A society in which all people sleep standing, in the middle of the street, with nothing disturbing them.
A society in which people can be old or young at will and keep alternating.
A society in which there is only one eye, it keeps making the rounds incessantly. All people want to see the same thing; they see it.
A society in which people weep only once in a lifetime. They do it very sparingly; and once it is past, they have nothing to look forward to and have become old and tired.
A society in which every man is painted and prays to his picture.
A society in which people suddenly vanish, but no one knows they are dead, there is no death, there is no word for it, they are content with that.
A society in which people laugh instead of eating.
A society in which never more than two people stand together, anything else is unthinkable and unbearable. When a third party approaches, the two of them, shaken with disgust, quickly separate.
A society in which one trains an animal to speak; it then speaks for him, while he goes mute.
A society consisting only of old people who blindly keep procreating even older ones.
A society in which there are no excrements, everything dissolves in the body. There are people without guilt feelings, smiling and eating.
A society in which the good stink and everyone avoids them. However, they are admired from afar.
A society in which no one dies alone. A thousand people get together of their own accord and are publicly executed; their festival.
A society in which everyone speaks openly just to the other sex, men to women, women to men; but no man to another man, no woman to another woman, or just quite secretly.
A society in which children serve as executioners so that no adult smears his hand with blood.
A society in which people breathe only once a year. p
To live in a city until it becomes alien to you. p
You can’t keep living in a truly beautiful city: it drives out all your yearning. p
A man who has never gotten a letter.
To take off one’s old clothes. To remember, yes. But not in the old clothes.
In love, assurances are practically an announcement of their opposite.
You can’t do anything nastier to a person than occupy yourself exclusively with him. p
To be alone, but not for yourself g
I feel at home when I write down German words with a pencil in my hand and everyone around me is speaking English. p
The only thing that does not avenge itself upon him are his notes. g
To write without teeth. Just try! p
It’s awkward to have to explain one’s notes, it’s as if one were taking them back. g
Explain nothing. Put it there. Say it.. Leave. g
Now he knows that he will continue to exist in a drawer. a
Can one turn calm through precision? Isn’t precision the supreme restlessness? p
The ludicrous thing about order is that it depends on so little. A hair, literally a hair, lying where it shouldn’t, can separate order from disorder. Everything that does not belong where it is, is hostile. Even the tiniest thing is disturbing: a man of total order would have to scour his realm with a microscope, and even then a remnant of potential nervousness would remain in him. Women ought to be happiest in this respect because they make order the most and always in the same place. There is something murderous in order: nothing is meant to live where it is not allowed.
Men will not find any more unknown objects. They will have to make them. How dismal!
To speak as though it were the last sentence allowed you. p
Look for someone to make you slow. h
Among the annoying words of propitiation in English life, there is “Relax!” I try to imagine someone saying to Shakespeare, “Relax!” p
The French: they sit down for dinner as if for life everlasting. h
Everyone ought to watch himself eating. p
Success is the space one occupies in the newspaper. Success is one day’s insolence. g
It’s all in the newspapers. One merely has to read them with enough hatred. p
He looks for happy adjectives, licks them clean and pastes them together. f
He went mute out of distrust against adjectives. p
- What are you doing here, my little man?
- Then why are you standing here?
Can you read?
How old are you?
Nine and a bit.
Which would you prefer, a piece of chocolate or a book?
Indeed? Splendid! So that’s your reason for standing here?
Why didn’t you say so before?
Father scolds me.
Oh! And who is your father?
Would you like to travel to a foreign country?
Yes. To India. They have tigers there.
And where else?
To China. They’ve got a huge wall there.
You’d like to scramble over it, wouldn’t you?
It’s much too thick and too high. Nobody can get over it. That’s why they built it.
What a lot you know! You must have read a great deal already?
Yes. I read all the time. Father takes my books away. I’d like to go to a Chinese school. They have forty thousand letters in their alphabet. You couldn’t get them all into one book.
That’s only what you think.
I’ve worked it out.
All the same it isn’t true. I’ve got something much better here. Wait. I’ll show you. Do you know what kind of writing that is ?
Well, you’re a clever little fellow. Had you seen a Chinese book before?
No, I guessed it.
These two characters stand for Meng Tse, the philosopher Mencius. He was a great man in China. He lived 2250 years ago and his works are still being read. Will you remember that?
Yes. I must go to school now.
What is your name?
Franz Metzger. Like my father.
And where do you live?
Twenty-four Ehrlich Strasse.
I live there too. I don’t remember you.
You always look the other way when anyone passes you on the stairs. I’ve known you for ages. You’re Professor Kien but you haven’t a school. Mother says you aren’t a real Professor. But I think you are - you’ve got a library. You wouldn’t believe your eyes, our Marie says. She’s our maid. When I’m grown up I’m going to have a library. There must be all the books, in every language. A Chinese one too, like yours. Now I must run.
Who wrote this book? Can you remember?
Meng-Tse, the philosopher Mencius. Exactly 2250 years ago.
Excellent. You shall come and see my library one day. Tell my housekeeper I’ve given you permission. I can show you pictures from India and China.
Oh good! I’ll come! Of course I’ll come! This afternoon?
No, no, little man. I must work this afternoon. In a week at the earliest. b
You can’t exist with human beings. You can’t exist without human beings. How can you exist? a
In order to stay alone, he feigns a trembling infirmity.
In old age the senses get sticky. g
She married him to have him around always. He married her to forget her. p
He loves her; he can’t be as careful with anybody else. h
You are so beautiful, he says at times but he is speaking to no one.
Will she enter the room? Will she say: It’s me?
Where have you been?
I don’t know.
You are like the other day.
Is it really that long ago?
Very long and like nothing, because you are here.
I’ll go away to keep it longer.
Where are you?
Show me the way.
There is no way.
You see it?
I don’t see anything.
Do you see me?
Who are you? a’
To spend the rest of one’s life only in completely new places. To give up books. To burn everything one has begun. To go to countries whose languages one can never master. To guard against every explained word. To keep silent, silent and breathing, to breathe the incomprehensible.
I do not hate what I have learned; I hate living in it. p
In every family that is not one’s own, one suffocates. One also suffocates in one’s own but one doesn’t realize it. p
Marvelous, the conversations we don’t have. h
One thinks, one thinks, until everything thinks of its own accord and then it means nothing more. p
To be another, another, another. As another, you could also see yourself again. g
It torments him that not everything he ever knew flares up at the same time.
A thunderstorm lasting a whole week. Darkness everywhere. Reading only when there is lightning. To remember and connect what one reads during the flashes. p
He who has too many words can only be alone. g
To become incomprehensible even to you, to stammer. h
The last pencil has been eaten up. g
They travel all over the world, come back, go away, and I am still here, always the same, nothing has happened, I, always dealing with the same thoughts and people.
What is awry here, is it them, is it me, or is it the same thoughts that have been haunting me for thirty years? Will I die of them, will I ever escape them? p
There each sentence connects with another. Between them lie a hundred years.
There the people never go anywhere alone, only in groups of four to eight, their hair inextricably intertwined.
There the dead live on in clouds and, as rain, they inseminate women.
There the gods remain small while people grow. When they have grown so tall that they no longer see the gods, they have to strangle each other.
There they speak a mangled language in the marketplace and are paralyzed at home.
There everyone is ruled by an innate worm and takes care of him and is obedient.
There they act only in groups of one hundred; the individual, who has never heard himself named, knows nothing about himself and oozes away.
There they whisper to one another and punish a loud word with exile.
There the living fast and feed the dead. p
There the people are most alive while dying.
There the people walk about in rows; it’s considered indecent to show oneself alone.
There everyone who stutters must also limp. g
There the dogs couple differently , while running. p
There the house numbers are changed every day so that no one can find his way home.
There it’s considered impudent to say the same thing.
There one has someone alse for pain, one’s own doesn’t count. g
There people read the newspapers twice a year, then they throw up and recuperate.
There countries have no capitals. The people all settle at the borders. The country itself remains empty. The whole border is the capital.
There it is the dead who dream dreams and resound as an echo.
There people greet each other with a scream of despair and part from each other in jubilation.
There the houses are empty and cleaned every hour: for future generations.
There someone who has been insulted closes his eyes forever, and opens them in secret when he is alone.
There people recognize their forebears but are blind to their contemporaries.
There people say "You are" and mean "I might be."
There people bite quickly and furtively, and then say: "It’s not me." f
Texts of Elias Canetti, taken from:
p The Human Province, transl. by Joachim Neugroschel, New York 1978, The Seabury Press
g The Secret Heart of the Clock, transl. by Joel Agee, London 1991, André Deutsch Ltd.
f The Agony of Flies, transl. by H.F. Broch de Rothermann, New York 1994, Farrar, Straus and Giroux
h Notes from Hampstead, transl. by John Hargraves, New York 1998, Farrar, Straus and Giroux
a Aufzeichnungen 1973-1984, München 1999, Carl Hanser Verlag
a’ Aufzeichnungen 1992-1993, München 1996, Carl Hanser Verlag
b Auto-da-fé, transl. by C.V. Wedgwood, New York 1984, Farra, Straus and Giroux
m Crowds and Power, transl. by Carol Stewart, New York 1984, Farrar, Straus and Giroux
1 January 2000