The new George Steiner book

by on March 26, 2017 at 1:51 am in Uncategorized | Permalink

George Steiner, with Laure Adler, A Long Saturday: Conversations.  Steiner is one of the most knowledgeable people, even into his 90s.  From these conversations I learned that he started working for The Economist as an economics reporter after WWII, computers drive us to a notion of “minimal language,” “God is Kafka’s uncle,” he recommends North, by Louis-Ferdinand Céline, and Ben-Gurion once told him “Only one thing matters: send me your children.”  By the way, “Malraux predicted that the religious wars of the twenty-first century would be the greatest in history.”

Definitely recommended.

1 Ray Lopez March 26, 2017 at 2:23 am

The Yankees baseball owner? He’s deceased.

2 Dain March 26, 2017 at 2:29 pm

That’s George Steinbrenner.

3 Thor March 26, 2017 at 5:00 pm

Ray validates himself by attempting to post first, and in order to accomplish this he often posts something inane. This is a shame because his posts are intermittently interesting (money, chess, chickens esp.).

4 Ray Lopez March 27, 2017 at 12:13 am

Thanks Thor. It’s hard to be brilliant in five seconds or less. Like playing blitz chess, your performance rating goes down, though it makes for interesting chess.

Bonus trivia: one of the highest rated human players in 1981 in the MS state chess championship was Joe Sentef, with a USCF 2262 rating (something like 2160 to 2180 on Fide Elo) yet he lost to a chess playing computer, Cray Blitz, in a game he would have won, see here: http://www.chessgames.com/perl/chessgame?gid=1387845. (Wikipedia): “Cray Blitz wins the Mississippi State Championship with a perfect 5–0 score and a performance rating of 2258. In round 4 it defeats Joe Sentef (2262) to become the first computer to beat a master in tournament play and the first computer to gain a master rating”. Makes me wonder how strong was TC to win the NJ state chess championship in 1976/77? I am guessing about 2400 USCF or 2300 Fide Elo, which is borderline master. Hmm…I bet I can beat TC at least one game in ten, hehe. Maybe one game in five now that he’s rusty, though I bet he secretly practices like Kasparov does and just pretends he is rusty.

5 Joe Sentef April 20, 2017 at 8:17 pm

Not my best hour. I had beaten Cray Blitz a few times but I blundered in time pressure. I don’t enjoy being infamous and known for one game.
Joe Sentef MD

6 Thanatos Savehn March 26, 2017 at 3:13 am

“greatest”? Best? Worst? Most destructive? Most fun? Best martial music? Worst sequele? Most Dear John letters? Most fatuous assessments?

7 prior_test2 March 26, 2017 at 3:42 am

The Portage to San Cristobal of A.H. remains a truly striking representation of Hitler. (Apparently, also in a stage production from the past as well.) And oddly, considering the apparent beliefs of far too many readers and commenters of this web site, it is still likely worth mentioning a book that allows a fictional Hitler to defend himself against what he accepts as the established reality of being responsible for the murders of millions of people.

And to have the final scene present the reality that justice plays no role in human affairs, only power.

8 uair01 March 26, 2017 at 5:57 am

Thanks! I had almost forgotten that I have that book half-read in my bookcase. I should finish it now. It’s very grim but very original. It reminds me of this interesting book: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/54277.Explaining_Hitler

9 Thor March 26, 2017 at 1:19 pm

“And to have the final scene present the reality that justice plays no role in human affairs, only power.”

How does this differ from what most followers of Michel Foucault believe? He is probably the most influential social thinker since Marx, inspiring millions with his pernicious teachings.

10 prior_test2 March 26, 2017 at 1:37 pm

The book simply ends with the sound of an approaching helicopter – whether American, Israeli, Soviet, or someone else’s is unknown. Leaving the question of justice completely open, as the various factions have their own agendas they intend to follow, regardless of what that means to the actual finders of A.H., much less all those who were subjected to the evil that the Nazis created.

‘He is probably the most influential social thinker since Marx’

You are klidding, right? Gandhi comes to mind as someone who completely overshadows Foucault as a social thinker, particularly when one looks at actual historical events.

11 anonymous March 26, 2017 at 4:17 pm

Gandhi was not and is not “influential”; he was merely a clever individual who correctly strategized, in the context of his unique aristocratic circumstances, a way to accrue power to himself and away from the generally benevolent British Empire. Of course if you are similarly an aristocrat in your corner of the world and your goal in life is to accrue power to yourself and away from a generally benevolent Empire, have at it, be as influenced as you want. First you will have to find a generally benevolent Empire, here and now in 2017. Good luck!

12 bjdubbs March 26, 2017 at 4:02 am

Hugh Hefner was his roommate in college and took the young Steiner to visit some hookers. True story.

13 Rahul March 26, 2017 at 5:58 am

Steiner is the one who introduced Hef to Dostoevsky. True story.

14 rayward March 26, 2017 at 8:55 am

It won’t surprise to learn Steiner is a graduate of the Univ. of Chicago (class of 1948). His comments on tolerance exposed the intolerance of those who espouse tolerance for themselves but not others. Tolerance is one of those words that is used today in a way that is the opposite of what the word actually means. Readers of this blog will be pleased to know that the Univ. of Chicago teaches tolerance in the true sense of the word; and Steiner, having studied at the Univ. of Chicago, knows tolerance.

15 Jack March 26, 2017 at 12:18 pm

This “review” does not present any clear reason why one should read this book. Nor does it show that the reviewer really read it, as opposed to thumbing through it a bit.

16 prior_test2 March 26, 2017 at 12:20 pm

‘Nor does it show that the reviewer really read it, as opposed to thumbing through it a bit.’

Come now, this is no reason to disparage someone’s reading style – after all, this is often how Prof. Cowen reads books.

17 Thor March 26, 2017 at 5:06 pm

I can see your smirk from here, prior. It’s unseemly.

18 anonymous March 26, 2017 at 5:19 pm

I agree. Prior_test 2 is clearly an intelligent person, and T.C. does not ever claim to read and study every word of every book he reads, no more than I claim to completely smoke every cigar I smoke; so I don’t get the motivation for the insult. The analogy to cigars breaks down, though, when I think of all the books written by fascinating people of which I have read every word, whereas there has never been a cigar which I have not put down for a moment or two in between puffs (by the way, there was a scene in the Cumberbach Sherlock series where he (Cumberbach) clumsily showed that he had never smoked a pipe in real life – if you have seen the series you will know what I mean. Him and the guy from the hobbit both smoked a pipe as if they were competing with each other or playing some internet game like Minecraft where you have to do everything at every moment to succeed. Well acting is hard).

19 anonymous March 26, 2017 at 5:20 pm

The Moriarty guy would have smoked the pipe right.

20 anonymous March 26, 2017 at 5:26 pm

Yet another example of why the Hobbit movies were worse than the Lord of the Rings movies. No actor in the Lord of the Rings movies who played a hobbit or a man or a wizard would not have known how to smoke a pipe with appreciation. The Hobbit movies, though – 🙁 (Cumberbatch’s Watson was in the Hobbit movies but not the Lord of the Rings movies). See Pipes and Tobacco magazine, winter 2001, for further details.

21 Jay March 26, 2017 at 12:40 pm

Reading this “review” made me buy the book immediately.

22 shrikanthk March 26, 2017 at 8:19 pm

Such a first-rate name dropper!!

Just spent an hour listening to him.

23 Joël March 27, 2017 at 8:52 am

Commenter-bleg : what are the one or two best books of Goerge Steiner to read, in your opinion? Should I try his thesis “death of tragedy” or some more recent essay, or some fiction?

(Probably I come to late on this thread, but let’s see if anyone sees that).

24 efim polenov March 27, 2017 at 11:06 pm

Joel —- If you are new to the writer, try his “My Unwritten Books” – don’t read the whole thing, just read the one or two sections that you prefer. (Basically there are seven or so long essays on interesting topics, one or two are probably related to things you know a lot about, whoever you are). To understand the dark side of Steiner, read the first 20 or so pages of his book on Heidegger – there is no point in reading the whole book: “great German philosophers” are a transient phenomenon in the intellectual history of the Christian world, and the point is not to understand any individual philosopher (not even Kant, much less Heidegger – see the first few pages of Master and Margarita for a fictional explanation from a non-German genius) – the point is to understand what type of effort is involved when people try to understand each other. That is all, but that is alot. Moving on, I spent a couple years as a sort-of-professional translator and I think “After Babel” (a book specifically about translation) is a great book – don’t read the whole thing (Steiner is a good teacher and good teachers never want you to read their books from cover to cover – trust me on this—) – the best way to read “After Babel” is probably to look at the index and find writers or artists or concepts that you are fascinated by and then just read the part of the book addressing those writers or artists or concepts (that is what an index is for, after all, people who care about each other do not write books that they expect to be read from cover to cover). Finally, the guy has a sense of humor that is weirdly American, even though you would think he is some kind of Mittel Europ phenom grown up …. I have seen guys (and gals) like this in art museums saying the sort of weird thing in front of tragic paintings that the tragedian painters themselves would have laughed at, and I have seen other people nearby in the museum almost glare at them, self-righteously condemning the suspected pretentiousness – but I don’t think he is pretentious at all, he is just a very kind and brilliant man who is trying to explain a very dark world to people who, although they may have suffered as much from this world as any of us, might wonder what someone like him – with a good education and a life-long access to interesting people who are able to spend their time thinking about these things – has to say. Anyway, the guy is 90 plus, if you read and like one of his books, send him a fan letter. He might not respond but so what.

25 efim polenov March 27, 2017 at 11:07 pm

and if you read one of his books and want to review it on Amazon feel free to quote me at length ….

26 Joël March 28, 2017 at 10:19 am

Thanks a lot.

27 efim polenov 'prospectively' March 28, 2017 at 9:55 pm

You are welcome. I don’t know George Steiner at all – Chicago is a long way away from where I grew up – but he is close to my heart because 30 years or so ago (the 80s!) I saw a picture in a magazine, or a scene in a movie, where someone who looked like my future spouse ((dark hair combed to the left from a side part, standard brown eyes – although I preferred blue eyes before I met my then-future spouse, but the past is a different country (LP Hartley); kind average face in most ways but with no sign of impudence or weariness at the mouth or the eyes)) was sitting either on a 1989-era DC Metro subway or sitting in Central Park (to the right (from the typical southern entrance) where most of the granite rock outcrops are, I think, judging from the greenery in the dream and the pre-dream picture) and was reading a book with a humorous title – a title I cannot remember, of course, maybe it was “Heidegerr on the Uber-Soul and the Truly Human” (Scooby Doo used to say ‘uber-scary’ when he was about to go into one of those fake haunted houses the comical villains of the cyclical Scooby Doo universe used to fix up as the faux-grand architectural background for their comical villainy), maybe it was “Darkness and Light” or “Nothingness and Beingness”. There is a good chance the book was one of Steiner’s. We lose so much in this life, if we care, and one hopes the deep appreciation we have for these vanishing details is a sign that prospectively reminds us of joy in the morning. (the bad spelling of the philosopher and the worse punctuation are for the AI readership, which enjoys such details).

28 efim polenov on accurate portraiture March 29, 2017 at 9:50 pm

please replace ‘impudence’ with ‘vanity’; also, to be as humble and accurate as one should be, even on the internet: anyone painting a portrait of me would put more than a little unloveable animal cunning around the eyes or the mouth (I hope not both…. but probably, both 🙁

Comments on this entry are closed.

Previous post:

Next post: