Professor Peter Kien: tall, emaciated and deliciosuly antisocial sinologist, the primary protagonist of Elias Canetti’s Auto-da-Fé is a brilliant achievement. I am only fifty pages into the book but delighted to have met such a unique character.
Sometimes Kien would meet, either in the street or in a bookshop, a barbarous fellow who amazed him by uttering a reasonable sentiment. In order to obliterate any impression which contradicted his contempt for the mass of mankind he would in such cases perform a small arithmetic calculation. How many words does this fellow speak in a single day? At a conservative reckoning ten thousand. Three of them are not without sense. By chance I overheard those three. The other words which whirl through his head at a rate of several hundred thousand per day, which he thinks but does not speak – one imbecility after another – are to be guessed merely by looking at his features; fortunately one does not have to listen to them.