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Crowds and Power by Elias Canetti

Crowds and Power by Elias Canetti

“There is nothing that man fears more than the touch of the unknown. He wants to see what is reaching toward him, and to be able to recognise or at least classify it. Man always tends to avoid physical contact with anything strange… All the distances which men create round themselves are dictated by this fear.”

Our world is largely an ecosystem of crowds — families, nations, faiths, political ideologies, art movements, fan bases.

Crowds and Power is an anthropological and political study of our relationships with ourselves and others, and an emotional manifesto that digs into the cultural symbols that we still hold tight. And then it’s an emotional inquiry into what defines crowds, why we join them, and how they shape the meaning of freedom.

Crowds and Power shines a light on customs, postures, expressions and behaviours, and (almost randomly) selects pieces of history and theatrical moments to illustrate our constantly changing identities. In a way, it precedes google in making everything connected to everything else. 

“It is only in a crowd that man can become free of this fear of being touched. That is the only situation in which the fear changes into its opposite. The crowd he needs is the dense crowd, in which body is pressed to body; a crowd, too, whose psychical constitution is also dense, or compact, so that he no longer notices who it is that presses against him. As soon as man has surrendered himself to the crowd, he ceases to fear its touch.”

While there is a powerful pulse that we carry with us from history and use to inform our personal identities, there is also a new digital depth that, in an information age, makes all of us more powerful than ever. If you like, it makes us more a part of power and more responsible than ever to be alive and alert. Elias Canetti would have posted the best Instagram Stories.

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