George Steiner’s Grammars of Creation

Martin Heidegger, Philosopher (1988) by Jean Tinguely

Grammars of Creation is extraordinary. I’ve not given George Steiner much attention beyond reading his TLS reviews from time to time. He is somewhat controversial and perhaps this dissuaded me from exploring his work, an omission I intend to rectify. If Grammars of Creation is typical of his passionate eloquence and immense level of erudition and culture, I have some thrills ahead.

In Grammars, Steiner ranges discursively across philosophy, literature, painting, mathematics and science and looks at what comes before, during and after the act of creation, invention or discovery. His intellectual curiosity is brilliantly on display; page after page offers sensitive and illuminating readings.

There’s a section I read this morning on the nature and enduring reality of characters created in fiction that is among the finest writing about literature I’ve ever read. I’ve posted a few fragments of this book recently but here’s a taste of what I read this morning:

“It is the actual process of this import into ourselves of imagined beings, of landscapes, situations, objects more various. often more memorable than those in the external world, it is the psychology (the neurophysiology?) of reception, which elude us. How do we ‘make flesh’ – the eucharist-metaphor is obviously kindred – semantic suggestions? By what recognitions or concessions  do we ascribe to them truth-values, a mode of existentiality so credible as to make ghostly so many of the women and men and empirical facts we come across ‘out there’?”

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