Published: February 16, 2020 12:49:15 am
Some people are born with excellence; others obtain excellence of their life. George Steiner belonged to the second group. For him, to excel was to reside as a critic and to reside critically was to attempt for excellence. As a noble spirit, but additionally an unique thinker, George Steiner was likely the final encyclopaedic thoughts of the 21st century. He was a provocative literary critic and a prodigious reader of the classics. Whether discussing Leo Tolstoy and Fyodor Dostoevsky, Paul Celan, or Martin Heidegger, George Steiner got here out as an unique thinker and an astute thoughts, continually and critically observing our civilisation. As a post-Holocaust Jewish thinker, he was obsessed by the which means of tradition after absolutely the failure of tradition. As a consequence, the problem of how one can signify the Holocaust turned for Steiner the important query in modern tradition. Steiner’s reflections are to not be seen merely as working on an summary stage of theoretical thought; reasonably his writings will be seen as concrete reflections on the probabilities and limitations of post-Holocaust tradition. The recognition of Adorno’s impossibility of poetry after Auschwitz was continually tied in Steiner’s work to an acute consciousness of the aporetic complexity which Auschwitz had positioned on the concept of tradition. According to Steiner, “We now know that a man can read Goethe or Rilke in the evening, that he can play Bach and Schubert, and go to his day’s work at Auschwitz in the morning.” In different phrases, for Steiner, Auschwitz was not an accident, however “a suicidal impulse in Western civilisation.”
Steiner got here to the conclusion that the Holocaust was the results of one thing a lot deeper than merely the social and political circumstances of Europe within the 1930s. He noticed it as the results of a need for unconscious retribution in opposition to the unimaginable beliefs imposed upon Western tradition by the monotheism of the Hebraic custom, the ethical rectitude of Christianity, and the messianic socialism of Marxism. It is fascinating how Steiner appeared backed at his personal Jewishness as an infinite exile, reasonably than a dedication to the religion of the Patriarchs. Indeed, Steiner’s cosmopolitan view of Jewishness discovered its expression within the work of the “text”. The e-book, in his view, was the true homeland of the homeless Jew. “When the text is the homeland,” argues Steiner, “even when it is rooted only in the exact remembrance and seeking a handful of wanderers, nomads of the word, it cannot be distinguished.” This dedication to a textual “homeland” was thought-about by Steiner as a vital ethical perspective that rejected all ethnic and nationalist utopias. As such, Steiner perceived a contradiction between the lifetime of the spirit and political life. For him, this was most clearly evident within the determine of a Jew as a reader of human civilisation. Steiner, subsequently, outlined a Jew as “one who always has a pencil or pen in hand when he reads, of one who will in the death camps correct a printing error, emend a doubtful text, on his way to extinction.” Steiner noticed this particular Jewish intimacy with texts normally as being inherent not solely within the dedication to Jerusalem but additionally to Athens. “‘The idea of Europe’,” he underlined, “is indeed a ‘tale of two cities’. It is ‘the heritage of Athens to Jerusalem, which is that we have a book, we have several books.’”
Steiner defined the decline of European tradition by the lack of a public able to full readings of nice texts. He noticed, “The major part of Western literature, which has been for 2,000 years and more so deliberately interactive, the work echoing, mirroring, alluding to, previous works in the tradition, is now passing quickly out of reach.” It is on this spirit that the vital standpoint of George Steiner finds all its pertinence and relevance. The process that he set for himself as a thinker of tradition was to deal with the issue of a disaster of the European thoughts particularly, and of Western civilisation normally. Once once more, we’re reminded by Steiner that we reside in a “current ‘crisis of sense’ and a current equation of text and pre-text…” As Steiner places it, “the revolution… brought on by computers, by planetary electronic exchanges, by ‘cyber-space’ and ‘virtual reality’” has introduced this sense of presence into extinction. However, as readers of Steiner, we have to perceive that his intense dialogue with the nice creative and philosophical sources of Western civilisation could solely be appreciated within the mirror of his questionings on totally different modes of risk to although and creation in right this moment’s world. Interestingly, whereas describing the demise and decomposition of Western tradition, George Steiner brings all his many skills and sympathies to understanding these refined figures of the European tradition who tried one other means of experiencing and dwelling with tradition.
Undoubtedly, Steiner’s dedication to studying and understanding the canonical texts of human civilisation made his literary and philosophical effort an appropriate context for vital considering in our age of mediocrity. By dwelling and considering in opposition to the present, George Steiner introduced himself as an unsettling thinker. But as an unsettling thinker, he left many marks on the mental scene of our time, and can affect future generations.
The author is Noor-York Chair in Islamic Studies, York University, Toronto
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