Robert Conquest to Elias Canetti

Finished The Great Terror yesterday.

Have they taken away Walter Duranty’s Pulitzer yet? You know who struck me as even more ridiculous than Duranty? The “Webbs” , Beatrice and Stanley Webb. They sat at those trials, and saw justice being served, they saw legality. They saw what they wanted to see. Conquest talks again and again about how Stalin is beyond the imagination … he consistently did the unthinkable, he consistently went beyond where normal people would say, “Okay, that would be ridiculous”. And he COUNTED on the lack of imagination in others. He counted on “normal” people under-estimating him.

For me, you know what was one of the most disturbing stories told in that book? Some advisor to Stalin was protesting feebly about the trials, and what a charade they were, and how letting the foreign journalists observe was a huge mistake because they would be sure to see through the facade … Stalin said, “Don’t worry. They’ll swallow it.”

That just gives me the heebie-jeebies. On multiple levels.

And yes. They did “swallow it”. As expected.

This morning, I started, again, Elias Canetti’s book Crowds and Power. Robert Kaplan, in his book Balkan Ghosts references Canetti’s work on crowd dynamics and crowd symbols again and again … and I finally realized: Okay, gotta read Canetti.

It’s dense stuff. Very dense. But every sentence is like a pearl of wisdom. It’s no wonder Kaplan wandered through the Balkans carrying 2 books: Rebecca West’s Black Lamb and Grey Falcon and Elias Canetti’s Crowds and Power.

I’ll post some excerpts tomorrow if I have a second.

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2 Responses to Robert Conquest to Elias Canetti

  1. Kadnine says:

    I read Kaplan’s Eastward to Tartary : Travels in the Balkans, the Middle East, and the Caucasus while on long convoys in the Iraqi desert, slackjawed at the courage of a man who travels (unarmed!) through some of the least stable regions in the world to meet with dissident professors and doctors, men and women who just may emerge in the near future as leaders of those areas.

    I found myself scrutinizing the faces, gestures and words of local Iraqi’s as I translated (badly) for my officers, in order to see if I could spot the next regional governor after Saddam. Maybe the next prime minister?

    Thank you for reminding me that I want to read his earlier Balkan Ghosts next.

  2. red says:

    Kadnine –

    It’s a wonderful book. It was a real catalyst for me … through that one book, I have discovered so many other terrific writers. Rebecca West, Elias Canetti, and many more.

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