George Steiner, fully Francis George Steiner

George
Steiner, fully Francis George Steiner
1929

European-born American Literary Critic, Essayist, Philosopher, Novelist and Translator

Author Quotes

Literary criticism should arise out of a debt of love. In a manner evident and yet mysterious, the poem or the drama or the novel seizes upon our imaginings. We are not the same when we put down the work as we were when we took it up. To borrow an image from another domain: he who has truly apprehended a painting by Cézanne will thereafter see an apple or a chair as he had not seen them before. Great works of art pass through us like storm-winds, flinging open the doors of perception, pressing upon the architecture of our beliefs with their transforming powers. We seek to record their impact, to put our shaken house in its new order. Through some primary instinct of communion we seek to convey to others the quality and force of our experience. We would persuade them to lay themselves open to it. In this attempt at persuasion originate the truest insights criticism can afford.

The immense majority of human biographies are a gray transit between domestic spasm and oblivion.

To many men... the miasma of peace seems more suffocating than the bracing air of war.

Even where it is manipulated by major talents, deconstruction tends to bear either on marginal texts (Sade, Lautréamont), or on secondary work by a great writer (Barthes on Balzac's Sarrazine). The classics of deconstruction, in Jacques Derrida or Paul De Man, are "misreadings" not of literature but of philosophy; they address themselves to philosophical linguistics and the theory of language. The masks they seek to strip off are those worn by Plato, by Hegel, by Rousseau, by Nietszche or Saussure. Deconstruction has nothing to tell us of Aeschylus or Dante, of Shakespeare or Tolstoy.

Literature and the arts are also criticism in a more particular and practical sense. They embody an expository reflection on, a value judgment of, the inheritance and context to which they pertain.

The journalistic vision sharpens to the point of maximum impact every event, every individual and social configuration; but the honing is uniform.

To shoot a man because one disagrees with his interpretation of Darwin or Hegel is a sinister tribute to the supremacy of ideas in human affairs - but a tribute nevertheless.

Fantasizing about action out there in the 'real' world, spinning dreams abut the secret centrality, about the occult importance of the labours in which he has interred his existence — labours that the vast majority of his fellow men would deem wholly marginal and socially wasteful if they knew of them at all — the pure scholar, the master of catalogues, can sup on hatred. At the ordinary level, he will exorcize his spleen in the ad-hominem nastiness of a book review, in the arsenic of a footnote. He will vent his resentments in the soft betrayals of an ambiguous recommendation or examination report and in the scorpion's round of a committee on tenure. The violence stays formal. Not, one supposes, in Professor Blunt.

Monotheism at Sinai, primitive Christianity, messianic socialism: these are the three supreme moments in which Western culture is presented with what Ibsen termed "the claims of the ideal." These are the three stages, profoundly interrelated, through which Western consciousness is forced to experience the blackmail of transcendence.

The letter kills the spirit. The written text is mute in the face of responding challenge. It does not admit of inward growth and correction. Text subverts the absolutely vital role of memory.

To starve a child of the spell of the story, of the canter of the poem, oral or written, is a kind of living burial. It is to immure him in emptiness.

For it is a plain fact that, most certainly in the West, the writings, works of art, musical compositions which are of central reference, comport that which is "grave and constant" (Joyce's epithets) in the mystery of our condition.

More and more lower-middle-income families either live their lives in debt or leave the city altogether. The boom is strictly at the penthouse level.

The most important tribute any human being can pay to a poem or piece of prose he or she really loves... is to learn it by heart. Not by brain, by heart; the expression is vital. When two of God's children join hands and hearts, all of Heaven rejoices.

Tragedy speaks not of secular dilemmas which may be resolved by rational innovation, but of the unalterable bias toward inhumanity and destruction in the drift of the world.

For let us keep one fact clearly in mind: the German language was not innocent of the horrors of Nazism. It is not merely that a Hitler, a Goebbels, and a Himmlerhappened to speak German. Nazism found in the language precisely what it needed to give voice to its savagery. Hitler heard inside his native tongue the latent hysteria, the confusion, the quality of hypnotic trance.

No phonetic sign, except at a rudimentary, strictly speaking pre-linguistic level of vocal imitation, has any substantive relation or contiguity to that which it is conventionally and temporally held to designate.

The new pornographers subvert this last, vital privacy; they do our imagining for us. They take away the words that were of the night and shout them over the roof-tops, making them hollow.

Tragedy springs from outrage; it protests at the conditions of life. It carries in it the possibilities of disorder, for all tragic poets have something of the rebelliousness ofAntigone. Goethe, on the contrary, loathed disorder. He once said that he preferred injustice, signifying by that cruel assertion not his support for reactionary political ideals, but his conviction that injustice is temporary and reparable whereas disorder destroys the very possibilities of human progress. Again, this is an anti-tragic view; in tragedy it is the individual instance of injustice that infirms the general pretence of order. One Hamlet is enough to convict a state of rottenness.

A good deal of classical music is, today, the opium of the good citizen.

For many human beings, religion has been the music which they believe in.

Nothing in a language is less translatable than its modes of understatement.

The Oresteia, King Lear, Dostoevsky's The Devils no less than the art of Giotto or the Passions of Bach, inquire into, dramatize, the relations of man and woman to the existence of the gods or of God.

Verse no longer stands at the centre of communicative discourse. It is no longer, as it was from Homer to Milton, the natural repository of knowledge and traditional sentiment. It no longer gives to society its main record of past grandeur or its natural setting for prophecy, as it did in Virgil and Dante. Verse has grown private. It is a special language which the individual poet insinuates, by force of personal genius, into the awareness of his contemporaries, persuading to learn and perhaps hand on his own uses of words. Poetry has become essentially lyric — that is to say, it is the poetry of private vision rather than of public or of national occasion.

A perceptive French critic has argued that in an age of deepening illiteracy, when even the educated have only a smattering of classical or theological knowledge, erudition is of itself a kind of fantasy, a surrealistic construct.

Author Picture
First Name
George
Last Name
Steiner, fully Francis George Steiner
Birth Date
1929
Bio

European-born American Literary Critic, Essayist, Philosopher, Novelist and Translator