20 Jun 2015

Canetti. Defining Crowds and Packs in his Crowds and Power

Corry Shores
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[The following is summary. All boldface, underlining, and bracketed commentary are my own.

Elias Canetti

Crowds and Power

Sections on Crowds and Packs

Brief Summary:
Both crowds and packs are groups of people. But packs tend to be smaller groups of individuals whose differences are vital to the well-being of the group. Crowds however are larger and differences between members are made irrelevant, since there is a sort of homogenizing equalization that comes in part from the group sharing a common aim. Given the dynamic structure of packs, members’ positions may change, perhaps like a stellar constellation whose stars constantly change relative positions.

Chapter 1: The Crowd

Subsection 10: Attributes of the Crowd

There are four important traits to a crowd:

1) “The crowd always wants to grow.” (29)
The crowd’s growth has no natural limits, and even when a crowd is limited by artificial, institutional means, it can and will erupt into growth.

2) “Within the crowd there is equality.” (29)
All members of a crowd are equal in the sense that differences between them become irrelevant. [It is perhaps an indifferent mass.] In fact, our notion of justice originates in this experience of equality in the crowd.

3) “The Crowd loves density.” (29).
A crowd would not like anything standing between its members that might divide them: “everything must be the crowd itself.” (29). [Previously Canetti wrote: “The most important occurrence within the crowd is the discharge. Before this the crowd does not actually exist; it is the discharge which creates it. This is the moment when all who belong to the crowd get rid of their differences and feel equal.” He now writes:] “The feeling of density is strongest in the moment of discharge.” (29)

4) “The crowd needs a direction.” (29)
The must move towards a goal, which gives it a sense of shared direction that strengthens the feeling of equality. This external goal “drives underground all the private differing goals which are fatal to the crowd as such” (29). The crowd will accept any goal when in fear of disintegration. And, “A crowd exists so long as it has an unattained goal” (29).

Canetti then notes that “There is, however, another tendency hidden in the crowd, which appears to lead to new and superior kinds of formation. The nature of these is often not predictable” (29d).

All these four attributes are found in all crowds to some extent, and crowds can be classified by its particular concentrations of these factors (30a).

“The crowd is open so long as its growth is not impeded; it is closed when its growth is limited” (30).

Canetti then distinguishes rhythmic and stagnating crowds, partly on the basis of the distinction between equality and density.

Stagnating crowds undergo prolonged periods of density in preparation of moments of discharge, with equality as its aim (30).

Rhythmic crowds begin with both density and equality. [The description here is a bit unclear, so I will quote it. He seems to be saying that the equality is attained by interactions where there is a give-and-take dynamic of some kind. I am not sure, but perhaps we might think of what Deleuze says about Robert Altman’s California Split, where the gambler accepts almost religiously that sometimes they lose, sometimes they win, but when they do lose, someone else gains, so it is all one community where it all equals out. I quote:]

In the rhythmic crowd, on the other hand (for example the crowd of the dance), density and equality coincide from the beginning. Everything here depends on movement. All the physical stimuli involved function in a predetermined manner and are passed on from one dancer to another. Density is embodied in the formal recurrence of retreat and approach; equality is manifest in the movements themselves. And thus, by the skilful enactment of density and equality, a crowd feeling is engendered. These rhythmic formations spring up very quickly and it is only physical exhaustion which bring them to an end.

A crowd is “quick” if its goal is something that can be attained in the near future, like a sports crowd wanting a victory in a current game, or it is “slow” if its aim is much further off, like a religious group striving for heaven. (30)

Canetti in the next section will look at these forms more closely.

Chapter 2: The Pack

Subsection 1: The Pack: Kinds of Pack

[Previously Canetti wrote: “Crowd crystals are the small, rigid groups of men, strictly delimited and of great constancy, which serve to precipitate crowds.”] Crowds and crowd crystals are based on the more basic unit of packs.

A pack cannot grow, because “It is surrounded by emptiness and there are literally no additional people who could join it. It consists of a group of men in a state of excitement whose fiercest wish is to be more” (93). However, were someone additional to join it, that person would be prized for their unique addition to the limited group. [This is unlike a crowd, perhaps, were the unique traits of a person who joins will not make a difference, given its size and undifferentiated composition.]

Members of a pack are unified yet never lose their individuality, and their place in the group is in a rhythmic flux.

In the pack which, from time to time, forms out of the group, and which most strongly expresses its feeling of unity, the individual can never lose himself as completely as modem man can in any crowd today. In the changing constellation of the pack, in its dances and' expeditions, he will again and again find himself at its edge. He may be in the centre, and then, immediately afterwards, at the edge again ; at the edge and then back in the centre. When the pack forms a ring round the fire, each man will have neighbours to right and left, but no-one behind him; his back is naked and exposed to the wilderness. Density within the pack is always something of an illusion. Men may press closely together and enact a multitude in traditional rhythmic movements, but they are not a multitude ; they are a few, and have to make up in intensity what they lack in actual numbers.

[Recall the four attributes we discussed above with regard to crowds: 1) growth, 2) equality, 3) density, 4) direction.] In packs, equality and direction exist in actuality, while growth and density are somewhat fictitious and must be enacted (93d). Now, “The first thing which strikes one about the pack is its unswerving direction ; equality is expressed in the fact that all are obsessed by the same goal, the sight of an animal perhaps, which they want to kill” (93).

Members of a pack know each other intimately, since there are so few and they can expect little addition. This is unlike the crowd, which can expect indefinite growth. Since the members of a pack know each other so well, “well, it can always form again, even if scattered by adverse circumstances. It can count on continuing; its existence is guaranteed as long as its members are alive” (94). There is little temptation for members to stray.

But whenever a pack does grow, it does so “in discrete quanta, and by mutual agreement of the participants” (94). Different packs may temporarily join forces, “But the separate consciousness of the two quanta will always be preserved” (94). Perhaps this distinction may disappear in the “heat of joint action,” but it reappears when honor is distributed afterward. Nonetheless, “The feel of the pack is always stronger than the individual's sense of what he himself is apart from it. At a certain level of communal life the quantum-feeling of the pack is decisive, and unshakeable” (94).

Canetti is contrasting his concept of the pack to the sociological notions of tribe, sib, and clan. These are different times of units. Tribes and so on are static. But the pack, however, “is a unit of action, and its manifestations are concrete” (94). [I am not sure why the tribes manifestations are not concrete, perhaps because I do not know what is meant by concrete here.] Crowds [we noted] are formed on the basis of packs, and packs are found all throughout time and everywhere on earth.

Packs have always had four different forms or functions. Grnted, these forms have fleeting features, and also one form may change easily into another. Nonetheless, we should begin by distinguishing the forms. The first form is the hunting pack, which is the “truest and most natural pack” and also the type which gives us the term “pack” in the first place. It forms “wherever the object of the pack is-an animal too strong and too dangerous to be captured by one man alone. It also forms whenever there is a prospect of a mass of game, so that as little as possible of it shall be lost” (95). The hunted and killed prey, which at times can be large, must be distributed, so there are two stages or states, hunting and distribution. “The object of both is the prey ; and the prey alone, its behaviour and nature, whether alive or dead, determines the behaviour of the pack which forms with it as object” (95).

The second kind of pack is the war pack. It has much in common with the hunting pack and can be transformed from it. The war pack is organized against some other pack of men [the enemy] which can even just take the form of revenge against one man. (95)

The third sort is the lamenting pack, which “forms when a member of a group is torn from it by death” (95). They might guard the body or interact with it in a variety of ritualistic ways. (95)

The fourth kind are increase packs, whose intent is to increase.

Increase packs are formed so that the group itself, or the living beings, whether plants or animals, with which it is associated, should become more. They manifest themselves in dances to which a definite mythical significance is attributed. Like the other packs they are found everywhere where there are men living together; and what they express is always the group's dissatisfaction with its numbers. One of the essential attributes of the modem crowd, namely its urge to grow, thus appears very early, in packs which are not themselves capable of growth.

Each form of pack can transmute into any other form. Later Canetti will show how this happens (96).

Canetti picks the term pack given how this sort of organization is strongly akin to animal packs.

The choice of the term "pack" for this older and more limited kind of crowd is intended to remind us that it owes its origin among men to the example of animals, the pack of animals hunting together. Wolves, which man knew well and from whom many of the dogs he uses derive, had impressed him very early. Their occurrence as mythical animals among so many peoples, the conception of a were-wolf, the stories of men who, disguised as wolves, assailed and dismembered other men, the legends of children brought up as wolves-all these things and many others prove how close the wolf was to man.
A pack of hounds, trained to hunt together, is a living renmant of this old association. Men have learnt from wolves. There are dances in which they, as it were, practise being wolves. Other animals, of course, have also contributed to the development of similar abilities among hunting peoples. I use the word "pack" for men as well as for animals, because it best expresses the joint and swift movement involved, and the concreteness ot the goal in view. The pack wants its prey ; it wants its blood and its death. In order to attain what it is after, it must have speed, cunning and endurance, and must not allow itself to be deflected. It urges itself on with its joint clamour, and the importance of this noise, in which the voices of all the individual creatures unite, should not be under-rated. It can swell and diminish, but it is persistent ; it contains the attack. The prey, when it is finally captured and killed, is eaten by the whole pack together. Every member is customarily allowed a share ; even among animals the rudiments of a distribution pack can be found. I use the same word "pack" for the three other basic formations I have mentioned. It is true that it would be difficult to find animal models for these, but I do not know of any | better word to express the concreteness, directness and intensity of the processes involved. * [* The German word for pack is Meute, which derives from the mediaeval Latin Movita, meaning movement. The Old French Meute has two meanings, "rebellion or insurrection" and also "the hunt". The human element is still well to the fore, and the word comprises exactly what is meant here. The ambiguity it contains is precisely what I am concerned with.]

From Deleuze and Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus:

Elias Canetti distinguishes between two types of multiplicity that are sometimes opposed but at other times interpenetrate: mass ("crowd") multiplicities and pack multiplicities. Among the characteristics of a mass, in Canetti's sense, we should note large quantity, divisibility and equality of the members, concentration, sociability of the aggregate as a whole, one-way hierarchy, organization of territoriality or territorialization, and emission of signs. Among the characteristics of a pack are small or restricted numbers, dispersion, nonde-composable variable distances, qualitative metamorphoses, inequalities as remainders or crossings, impossibility of a fixed totalization or hierarchization, a Brownian variability in directions, lines of deterritorialization, and projection of particles. Doubtless, there is no more equality or any less hierarchy in packs than in masses, but they are of a different kind. The leader of the pack or the band plays move by move, must wager everything every hand, whereas the group or mass leader consolidates or capitalizes on past gains. The pack, even on its own turf, is constituted by a line of flight or of deterritorialization that is a component part of it, and to which it accredits a high positive value, whereas masses only integrate these lines in order to segment them, obstruct them, ascribe them a negative sign. Canetti notes that in a pack each member is alone even in the company of others (for example, wolves on the hunt); each takes care of himself at the same time as participating in the band. "In the changing constellation of the pack, in its dances and expeditions, he will again and again find himself at its edge. He may be in the center, and then, immediately afterwards, at the edge again; at the edge and then back in the center. When the pack forms a ring around the fire, each man will have neighbors to the right and left, but no one behind him; his back is naked and exposed to the wilderness.”
(Deleuze and Guattari 37)

Works cited

Most from:

Canetti, Elias. Crowds and Power. Transl. Carol Stewart. New York: Continuum, 1962 / 1973.

Unless otherwise noted:
Deleuze, Gilles & Félix Guattari. A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia. Transl. Brian Massumi. London: Continuum, 1987

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