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Elias Canetti on Being a Writer in a Tumultuous and Troubling World

Among the words that have long lain in helpless exhaustion, shunned and hidden away, words that one made a mockery of oneself by using, words that were so drained of meaning that they shriveled and became ugly warnings—among these one finds the word “poet.” And any person who still took up the activity of , which continued to exist as always, called himself “someone who writes.” One have thought that writing meant abandoning false claims, setting new standards, becoming stricter with oneself, and above all avoiding everything that leads to spurious success. In reality, the opposite occurred. The same people who mercilessly attacked the word “poet” developed own style of sensationalism. They pathetically proclaimed that literature was dead and printed their small-minded idea on expensive paper, as if this claim were somehow worth considering. Naturally, their particular case soon drowned in its own ridiculousness, but other people—people who weren't yet barren enough to wear themselves out with proclamations, and who instead penned bitter if intelligent books—soon gained the reputation of “people who write.” They did what poets had done before them: they wrote the same book again and again instead of remaining silent. And regardless of how imperfect and deserving of death mankind seemed to them, one task still remained for men: to applaud those who write. Anyone who didn't want to do that, anyone who had grown tired of the endlessly repeated outpourings, was damned twice: once as a human—humans were already lost—and then as someone […]

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