A George Steiner Rabbit Hole

Saint Joseph Charpenter by Georges de La Tour (The Faber edition of Real Presences uses a detail from this painting as its cover)

Lost on none of the regular readers of this blog is my plummet headlong down a George Steiner rabbit hole, which may continue unabated until I’ve read all of his appreciable oeuvre. When outlining my reading intentions less than a month ago I warned of my fickle reading disposition. If you dislike Steiner’s work–he is a writer that attracts both passionate critics and acolytes–you may wish to ‘look away’ for a further few months.

Presently I am reading Real Presences in which he argues that “Where we read truly, where the experience is to be that of meaning, we do so as if the text (the piece of music, the work of art) incarnates a real presence of significant being”. The argument and Steiner’s wager of transcendence may prove unsuccessful but undoubtable is its force, virtuosity and autobiographical engagement.

The more I read of Steiner’s work the more I’m convinced that he is our age’s Montaigne or Dr. Johnson, not to be diminished by the term ‘critic’, which would suggest a purely parasitic relationship to literature and the arts, but a writer to which we can attribute ‘greatness’ as the most acutely sensitive reader of our age. Steiner often defends what he calls his “old” critical approach, “when the work of art invades our consciousness, something within us catches flame. What we do thereafter is to refine and make articulate the original leap of recognition”. This approach, abetted by Steiner’s astonishing polymathic erudition casts brilliant light on whatever the target of his attention.

16 thoughts on “A George Steiner Rabbit Hole

  1. As someone who regularly falls down rabbit holes which distract me from any plans I may have been mad enough to make, I empathise. I’ll following your posts about Steiner with great interest, even if I don’t always feel I can add anything by way of comment. The posts are most absorbing.

  2. Words like erudite, polymath, polyglot, genius keep coming to mind as I make my way through his books. But it is difficult to capture fully even with these words the mesmerizing experience it is to encounter his writing. I look forward with great interest your posts for the next few months on his body of work.

  3. Hello Anthony, hope that all is good with you. Both you and Melissa have been inspiring me to read Steiner. Just purchased Real Presences. Thanks for recommendation. I have been reading Peter Nadas A Book of Memories, and am still reeling from the experience. A Hungarian Proust!
    Best from here and bonne année, Susanna

      • Hello Anthony, I am fine thanks, albeit incredibly busy writing and working in January when part of me is just wanting to nestle indoors with a good book! How are you? I so hope that all is well. I have really enjoyed reading you and Melissa’s pieces on Steiner and spent yesterday listening to great interviews with Steiner by the brilliant Laure Adler on France Culture Hors Champs. So good on so many subjects…
        All best from here,
        Susanna

        • Thanks, Susanna, very well thank you. Happily deluged in fine books and music, and generally rewarding work. So pleased you are following us reading Steiner. There are some excellent Steiner interviews preserved on YouTube.

  4. Thank you for your posts. I’m somewhat mixed about Steiner,’s thinking but his choice of topics and their range is always deeply to the point.

  5. I’ve dipped into Real Presences, and I’m intrigued by his experiment of a society where there are no commentaries on art, such that art and translation themselves become the chief means of interpretation. I will have to read more!

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