I’m now reading The Torch in my Ear; I’m very pleased to be not trudging my way through a book. The second volume of Canetti’s biography is no less delightful than the first, but the tone is slightly different: more sober, more mature; because he’s writing from a young adult’s point of view. His observations regarding people and their attitude have become even more nuanced and thorough; his metaphors more sophisticated. The two adjectives that spring to my mind when I think of his personality are “subtle” and “respectful”. From roughly one third of the book onwards, he started using sentences in the present tense like “I remember” or “I now regret,” which means we’re getting closer to the time of narration.
His relationship with his mother gets even more troubled in the second installment. But now he starts considering aspects of this relationship from multiple points of view. For example: “At home, while thinking I would suffocate under my mother’s animosity, which my conduct provoked, I pictured the moment when I would ring Veza’s doorbell” (126). Veza is an attractive, enigmatic and very well-read Spanish woman – an “aesthete,” according to Elias’s mother – who lives in Vienna. Elias meets her in one of the readings of the influential public figure Karl Kraus and later frequently visits her at her apartment, where they talk about books and paintings.
He must have developed a very special intellectual and emotional bond with Veza. On page 162, he says that while writing his “accusation” against his mother in his diary during his mountain trip, he kept seeing Veza’s face in his mind’s eye. I do that too; when there’s a personal conflict that I can’t resolve, and probably when I need reassurance, I catch myself imagining talking to someone whose judgement I trust. Of course, the mentor in my mind listens to me patiently, giving me at least tacit approval and ideally agreeing with me on how I see things.
That said, Elias is not physically attracted to the woman, or any other woman actually. I’m halfway through the book, (and he’s 21 years old) and any mention of an emotional attraction, let alone a romantic relationship, is conspicuously absent. We’ll see…
Regarding her relationship with her mother again; as an only child raised by a single mother; I can relate to this:
“As the faith in God’s presence waned in her, as God was there for her less and less and almost disappeared, the meaning of sacrifice grew in her eyes. It was not only a duty, it was the highest human achievement to sacrifice oneself; but not at God’s command; he was far too away to care; it was sacrifice in and of itself, sacrifice at one’s own behest, that’s what mattered” (102).
“Gratitude was a frequent topic. If I was furious about something and criticized Mother, she promptly came out with my ingratitude. […] When she felt cornered, she resorted to her sacrificing herself to us for twelve years and reproached me for showing no gratitude” (105).
I assume the title of this volume comes from the title of the magazine that Karl Kraus edited: Die Fackel (The Torch), but why in his ear? That hasn’t been explained yet. I’ll keep on reading.