Friday, 10 August 2007
Something for the Weekend
"The story of a life should contain many puzzles and leave much to guesswork...Some things should be presented in such a way that their nature is always concealed...The story of a life is as secret as life itself. A life that can be explained is no life at all." Elias Canetti.
As a professional biographer should I attempt to refute this proposition? I think not. Biography that claims to have penetrated the last mystery of its subject, answered all questions, achieved a 'definitive' account, is absurdly presumptuous. A biography is no more than an attempt on the truth, a brave try, but in the end it will be no more than a version (exact, scholarly, precise, insightful if it is worth anything at all, but never the last word).
This is by way of saying that I am reading Canetti's lethal Party im Blitz translated by Michael Hofmann (2005), the writer's memoir of his London years from 1939 to the Thatcher era. His judgements on individuals (has anyone written more scarifying criticism of TS Eliot?) and English society are fascinating and bracing (some stronger word is needed). I think I shall be coming back to this. I'd happily trade this slice of intellectual life in wartime for the latest 'debut novel' set in World War Two, as every second one seems to be just now.