Canetti, Elias (1905–1994) By Bru, Sascha
Elias Canetti, winner of the 1981 Nobel Prize in Literature, spent the first half of his life traveling, and encountered often violence. He devoted the second half of his life to autobiographical writing that used his travel experiences as material. His debut work, Die Blendung (1935, literally “the glare” but published in an English translation as Auto-da-Fé in 1946), is a widely celebrated, late modernist novel. His book-length essay Masse und Macht [Crowds and Power] (1960) is still often today cited in discussions about crowd psychology.
Born into a family of Sephardic Jews in Ruse, a city located on the river Danube in Bulgaria, Canetti moved to Britain, and, following the death of his father in 1912, to Lausanne and thence to Vienna. When he arrived there at the age of seven, Canetti already spoke four languages: Ladino or Judeo-Spanish (his mother tongue), Bulgarian, English, and some French. After further moving to Zurich and Frankfurt, he returned to Vienna to gain a degree in chemistry (1929), but at that point it had already become obvious that philosophy and literature were his real passions. Witnessing the growing threat of Nazism in Austria, which in 1938 led to the Anschluss of Austria to Germany, he moved back to Britain, where he settled until the 1970s, and then to Zurich, where he eventually died.