Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Elias Canetti (July 25, 1905)

The Nobel Prize in Literature 1981 was awarded to Elias Canetti "for writings marked by a broad outlook, a wealth of ideas and artistic power" -- from the Nobel Prize website.

I have read parts of Canetti's famous memoirs, because I wanted to know about the Bulgarian Jewish community in which he grew up. I've not really figured out why he's considered a great writer. Evidently there's no consensus on that, as illustrated by Clive James in "Canetti, Man of Mystery." He finds Canetti vastly overrated! Here's a sample of what he has to say:
"While living in Britain, Canetti wrote three books of memoirs about his life in pre-war Europe. He wrote them in German. (All three volumes are now available in English, although readers are warned that the translations lose some of the effortless pomposity of the original.) ...  
"Canetti spent the last part of his life in Zurich. In his last year he was at work on his memoir about London. (Now, in Elysium, he is probably working on his memoir about Zurich.) The unfinished book, Party in the Blitz, is the story of his years in and around Hampstead during the war and just after. We are fortunate that there is no more of it, lest we start wondering whether Canetti should not have received another Nobel Prize, for being the biggest twerp of the twentieth century. But a twerp must be at least partly stupid, and Canetti wasn’t even a little bit that. Instead, he was a particularly bright egomaniac, and this book, written when his governing mechanisms were falling to bits, simply shows the limitless reserves of envy and recrimination that had always powered his aloofness."

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