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

In the Soviet Union, he knew, great art hangs in public galleries. No scholars, no men and women waiting to mend their souls before a Raphael or a Matisse need wait, cap in hand at the mansion door.

That is to say that every single book will be magnetized, will be ordered under complicated mathematical clusters, by related subjects, and semantic markers. You will state your questions, or the subject you are interested in, and the computer will find the books for you. Instantaneous retrieval brings with it enormous changes in our relation to the history of a subject, because there is a cut-off point in all these systems beond which the previous books are no longer relevant. They have been adequately subsumed in the later ones. You have a completely different way of organizing knowledge—an immensely efficient and in many ways powerfully logical way, but which blocks the essential motion of the hand reaching along a shelf and stumbling on what it did not know was there. When these great knowledge and data-banks, as they are called, are operative there will come a whole change in the way the human mind and eye live with books.

The symmetries of immanence are cruel.

As the glossaries lengthen, as the footnotes become more elementary and didactic, the poem, the epic, the drama, move out of balance on the actual page. As even the more rudimentary of mythological, religious or historical references, which form the grammar of Western literature, have to be elucidated, the lines of Spenser, of Pope, of Shelley or of Sweeney Among the Nightingales, blur away from immediacy. Where it is necessary to annotate every proper name and classical allusion in the dialogue between Jessica and Lorenzo in the garden at Belmont, or in Lachimo's stealthy rhetoric when he emerges in Imogen's bedchamber, these marvelous spontaneities of enacted feeling become "literary" and twice-removed.

In the United States dramatically, here fortunately much less so, the book store as we have known it is dying. In the United States it is now largely an emporium, featuring music, records, Christmas cards, a large range of semi-cultural and kitsch products with books fighting for their actual spatial lives. In some of the great university towns such as New Haven, or Princeton, within the past decade, the last good book stores have had to close, and what we have now are text book emporia which are not book stores, but store-houses bracketed according to set reading lists: in other words—where there is none of the genius of waste which a great book store has, where you cannot find what you are not looking for, which is the very essence of a book store.

The absolute scholar is in fact a rather uncanny being. He is instinct with Nietzsche's finding that to be interested in something, to be totally interested in it, is a libidinal thrust more powerful than love or hatred, more tenacious than faith or friendship — not infrequently, indeed, more compelling than personal life itself. Archimedes does not flee from his killers; he does not even turn his head to acknowledge their rush into his garden when he is immersed in the algebra of conic sections.

The whispers of shared ecstasy are choral.

A canon is a guarded catalogue of that speech, music and art which houses inside us, which is irrevocably familiar to our homecomings. And this will include, if honestly arrived at and declared (even if solely to oneself), all manner of ephemera, trivial, and possibly mendacious matter… No manor woman need justify his personal anthology, his canonic welcomes. Love does not argue its necessities.

A chess genius is a human being who focuses vast, little-understood mental gifts and labors on an ultimately trivial human enterprise.

There would be no history as we know it, no religion, no metaphysics or aesthetics as we have lived them, without an initial act of trust, of confiding, more fundamental, more axiomatic by far than any “social contract” or covenant with the postulate of the divine. This instauration of trust, this entrance of man into the city of man, is that between word and world.

There would be no history as we know it, no religion, no metaphysics or aesthetics as we have lived them, without an initial act of trust, of confiding, more fundamental, more axiomatic by far than any “social contract” or covenant with the postulate of the divine. This instauration of trust, this entrance of man into the city of man, is that between word and world

Books - the best antidote against the marsh-gas of boredom and vacuity.

The fantastically wasteful prodigality of human tongues, the Babel enigman, points to a vital multiplication of mortal liberties. Each language speaks the world in its own ways. Each edifies worlds and counter-worlds in its own mode. The polyglot is a freer man.

The inception of human consciousness, the genesis of awareness, must have entailed prolonged 'condensations' around intractable nodes of wonder and terror, at the discriminations to be made between the self and the other, between being and non-being (the discovery of the scandal of death).

There is something terribly wrong with a culture inebriated by noise and gregariousness.

The ordinary man casts a shadow in a way we do not quite understand. The man of genius casts light.

The age of the book is almost gone.

Men are accomplices to that which leaves them indifferent.

Language can only deal meaningfully with a special, restricted segment of reality. The rest, and it is presumably the much larger part, is silence.

Music has always had its own syntax, its own vocabulary and symbolic means. Indeed, it is with mathematics the principal language of the mind when the mind is in a condition of non-verbal feeling.

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