Craig Raine

Immortality For Who?

The Human Province

By Elias Canetti (Translated by Joachim Neugroschel)

André Deutsch 281pp £9.95 order from our bookshop

Just before his death, the speechless Kafka scrawled this wry joke on a conversation slip: ‘Tremendous amount of sputum, easily, and still pain in the morning. In my daze it went through my head that for such quantities and the ease somehow the Nobel Prize…’ Why was Elias Canetti awarded the Nobel Prize in 1981? For the English reader, any answer must be provisional, because the American translations of the autobiographical volume, The Tongue Set Free and The Torch in My Ear are not yet available in this country. We have only the following: the novel Auto Da Fé, Crowds and Power, best described as a synthetic anthropology, a few plays, and now The Human Province, a collection of note-book jottings from 1942 to 1972. Judging from all this, one answer to the question might be that the Nobel Prize was given to Canetti because he asked for it so persistently.

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