Academic niceties — and savagery
George Steiner: photo (c) Vernon Doucette.
One of the cruellest genres is the acerbic academic review. Here is Joseph Epstein on George Steiner’s latest book (the print edition of his Charles Eliot Norton lectures at Harvard):
Quote 1: “My friend Edward Shils once gave me a most useful clue to the best way to read Steiner. He claimed that many years ago he read a splendid parody of Steiner’s of the way a Soviet apparatchik thought. Steiner, he felt, was a marvelous mimic. And so, I have come to see, he is. What George Steiner has been doing, over the past forty or so years, is an incomparable impression of the world’s most learned man.”
Quote 2:”So high does Steiner come at things, so greatly does he dramatize (and self-dramatize) ideas and all experience, that one may lose sight of the fact that he is himself a very considerable clichémeister. Most of his clichés, of course, come from books. One finds little evidence in Steiner’s writing that he knows either man or life. T.S. Eliot once said of Henry James that he had a mind so fine no idea could violate it. Steiner’s is a mind that seems to have been violated by just about every idea he has encountered.”