ERRATA: An Examined Life by George Steiner
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ERRATA: An Examined Life

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Composing in a minor key, one of our great literary and cultural critics reflects on his life and the themes that have aroused his passion. Steiner has published 12 or so remarkable books of criticism, depending on how you count them, and sundry other volumes of fiction and essays. As a senior book reviewer at the New Yorker, he did much to call attention to books that might otherwise have slipped by unnoticed. Lately, he has taken a chair in comparative literature at Oxford, the first ever. Not a bad track record, by any standard. Alas, Mr. Steiner is not satisfied, for no Steinerian school of thought has sprung from his brow. Despite undertones of self-pity and outlandish self-regard, Steiner once again offers a beautifully written and intensely stimulating book. This one is a retrospective of the main influences on and themes of his career: the relationship of high culture to cruelty in the 20th century; the superior authenticity of diaspora Judaism vis-ˆ-vis Israel; the undefinable link between language and music; the sheer miracle of language itself; the modern retreat from the word; and the meaning of God for the modern mind. Steiner explores these themes anew from a biographical point of view, explaining how he came to them and what they have meant to him. Oddly, Steiner's tone is elegiac, for he thinks his work has been underrated and occasionally plagiarized. At the same time, he is proud to be an outsider to recent decades of literary criticism. Justifiably so--he really is an extraterritorial critic, belonging to the tradition of exceptional figures such as Walter Benjamin and Karl Kraus. This new book amply rewards both casual readers and specialists. Steiner's work is a tribute to a single-minded originality that has been successful against the odds. He is inimitable; a Steiner school of criticism is a contradiction in terms.

Pub Date: March 1st, 1998
ISBN: 0300080956
Page count: 192pp
Publisher: Yale Univ.