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.
Not literally, in so many words. Rather, in so few words, over such a long period – the twenty years it took to write Crowds and Power. Recent Nobel laureates have something in common which explains why Canetti is now one of their number. Take two worthy winners, Beckett and