The Power of the Key

“Creation, infinitely rarer [than invention], can, indeed must, open on to “the terra incognita of the soul” (Coleridge). Its avenues are those of the trackless. It can, as Walter Benjamin argues, wait for us to follow, to catch up with it, although it is implausible to suppose that we will do so.”

– George Steiner, Grammars of Creation

This reminds me of Kafka’s letter to Oskar Pollak: “Some books seem like a key to unfamiliar rooms in one’s own castle.” (There is of course his more often quoted passage about the ‘axe for the frozen sea’.) Steiner’s paragraph above, and in expanded detail in his book, is as good a description of the spirit of extreme seriousness that ought accompany the splendour of reading.

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