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Book Sections Year : 2019

The Mask and the Vanity Wound. Contemporary Populism through Canetti’s Insight

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Abstract

Elias Canetti’s anthropological thinking has inspired various different approaches to the populist phenomenon (Deleuze and Guattari, Baudrillard, Negri, Mouffe). Most of the developments concern crowds, but I would like to focus on the relationship between them and their leaders to better clarify the current populist explosion. The common man’s and the populist leader’s images are intertwined, and power emerges from this enigmatic relationship. According to Canetti, the crowd in itself is sane, it is the power that arises from this interaction that is mad. The populist leader holds up a mask-mirror to the masses in order to take the control of them. He manages to embody a stereotype who synthesises and solves the identity contradictions of his supporters. People recover self-esteem by identifying with him, because even if he seems as worthless as themselves, he displays disproportionate pretensions. This determines his clownish style of acting. Throughout this process, the multiplication of the images of the leader plays an essential role. The mask thus responds to a need for recognition and serves to redefine the identity of the group in depth. In his play Comedy of Vanity (2003 [1950]), the writer established a clear link between individual vanity wounds and the personality cult. Consequently, his thinking allows us to grasp that a sense of humiliation is as much at stake today as it was in the 1930s.
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hal-03925598 , version 1 (05-01-2023)

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Lynda Dematteo. The Mask and the Vanity Wound. Contemporary Populism through Canetti’s Insight. Anna Schober. Popularisation and Populism in the Visual Arts. Attraction Images, Routledge Taylor and Francis, pp.80-93, 2019, Routledge Advances in Art and Visual Studies, 978-1-138-60588-6, 978-0-429-46788-2. ⟨hal-03925598⟩

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