“A man who has read Book XXIV of the Iliad–the night meeting of Priam and Achilles–or the chapter in which Alyosha Karamazov kneels to the stars, who has read Montaigne’s chapter XX (Que philosopher c’est apprendre à mourir) and Hamlet’s use of it–and who is not altered, whose apprehension of his own life is unchanged, who does not, in some subtle yet radical manner, look on the room in which he moves, on those that knock at the door, differently–has read only with the blindness of physical sight. Can one read Anna Karenina or Proust without experiencing a new infirmity or occasion in the very core of one’s sexual feelings? To read well is to take great risks. It is to make vulnerable our identity, our self-possession.”
George Steiner, from the essay Humane Literacy in Language and Silence
Perfect! Exactly what I think, but expressed so much better. And I should have run for miles when I realised that my then boyfriend (later husband, now ex) was not transformed by reading, that he anaysed it cold, or, even worse, just laughed derisively or skipped such passages as being non-factual and ‘boring’ (he is a scientist, he only believes in facts).
The great divide that C. P. Snow called ‘the two cultures’: someone who reads no Shakespeare is uncultured; to which Steiner would add but not more so than one who is ignorant of calculus or spherical geometry. Each is blind to each other’s world.
Ah, but what if the sociologist/literary person also reads scientific texts, but there is no reciprocity? I’m not complaining: it’s made me all the richer mentally.
To be able to read the language of mathematics and literature is to have, to me, unimaginably wonderful riches.
Where does Steiner say that?
If you mean this: “to which Steiner would add but not more so than one who is ignorant of calculus or spherical geometry. Each is blind to each other’s world”, it’s a refrain repeated often in his work, most recently read in ‘Humane Literacy’ (I think) in ‘Language and Silence.’
These are wonderful and bracing Steiner quotes you share with us, Anthony. This one particularly. If reading doesn’t transfigure us, it isn’t proper reading.
For every Steiner quote I’m sharing, there is another five going into my notebook. I’m thrilled to have discovered his work.
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