June 14, 2021

George Steiner, the last sage of old European culture, dies at 90



He said things that alluded to ways of doing from another time, and that he considered to be preserved. For example, that today, society refuses to learn by heart. George Steiner (born in Neuilly-sur-Seine in 1929), already being retired as a university professor, lamented him especially in “Praise of transmission.”

His opinion in this regard had no borders in the Western world: “Our schooling, today, is planned amnesia.” Also, the great critic who left us on Monday night at age 90, had emphasized the importance of coffee for the configuration of the character of the entire continent in one of his works: «Europe is made of coffees. Draw a map of the cafes and you will have one of the essential indicators of the “idea of ​​Europe”. While there are coffees, “the idea of ​​Europe” will have content, “he said.

He was one of those cases in which, as happens in very few figures in the field of literary criticism, they become protagonists, they stand out as authorities whose voices are heard and end up being influential, sometimes linking their activity – that of serving as pedagogues. , culture facilitators – with their private life, and even becoming stars of the intellectual firmament.

As an example, we could remember two moments of his time in Spain, one in Madrid in 2001, for a talk at the Círculo de Bellas Artes, which enjoyed a great expectation, unheard of in the territory of culture. In a world where true wisdom embodied in individuals who are leaders of judicious and inspiring opinion is scarce, this Jew of trilingual formation (German, French and English) was giving an intelligent and scholarly look at everything that concerns the human being.

The public checked it in 2007, when he was invited to give a conference in Barcelona, ​​which would be published the following year in Catalan, with the title “Remember the Futur”. In it, after giving a reference to Catalan nationalism, in the context of a reflection on Europe, as soon as he spoke of the Big Bang as of James Joyce. Not long ago his autobiographical book – that is, intellectual – had appeared – “Errata. The examination of a life ”(Siruela, 1998), and had long been denouncing in an implacable and transparent way the disagreement between the humanities and the sciences, and being a representative of the« ancient criticism », which in him had a simple Justification: to deepen, from the affection and admiration, in the metaphysical, religious and political affairs of the masterpieces, and therefore read in the old way, without contaminations of modern critical currents, as perceived in the anthological volume « Readings, obsessions and other essays »(Alliance, 1990).

Another nuclear idea also characterized his thinking throughout his career until the 21st century. His conclusion could not be more visible and negative: man’s artistic ability, his aspiration to beauty in the midst of the linguistic crisis since World War I, has not served to distance us from barbarism and irrationalism. And although we found this premise in many of his works, we were able to locate the genesis of this idea in “Nostalgia del Absolute” (Siruela, 2001), a series of five lectures broadcast by radio in 1974 in which he pointed out the “decline of the role played by the formal religious systems, by the churches, in the western society ”, to then analyze the currents called“ scientific ”- because they have an essentially literary component – that have tried to fill“ the central void left by the erosion of theology ” . For this, it started with some substitute “mythologies” of the last one hundred and fifty years, such as Marxism and psychoanalysis, and then demonstrated its failure to provide solutions to our different sins.

For him, we were in a society that suffers a “dramatic crisis of confidence” and wonders if he has a future seeking the truth. His books were a perfect example of how comparative literature can lead to a hodgepodge of sociology, history, philosophy or psychology.

Steiner overwhelmed and dazzled with his extraordinary erudition, wisdom and elegance when he spoke to us of “essential tiredness in the spiritual climate of the end of the twentieth century”, and signed such important books as “In the Bluebeard’s Castle” (1971), “Presences real ”(1989),“ Readings, obsessions and other essays ”(1984) or“ Passion intact ”(1996), which penetrated the consequences of the decline of religious values ​​in our western society.

Master of Comparative Literature

Steiner was a master of literature compared to books like “Tolstoy or Dostoevsky”, published in Siruela: “But why Tolstoy or Dostoevsky? Because I propose that their accomplishments be judged and the nature of their respective geniuses defined by contrast, ”he said.

Thus, based on a selected bibliography on “the two greatest novelists in the world,” the author placed the flowering of the nineteenth-century Russian novel alongside other triumphant periods in the history of Western literature, such as the time of the Greek tragedy. , adding to Plato, and the Elizabethan era. «In all three, Western thought leapt forward from the darkness through poetic intuition; in them a lot of the light we possess on the nature of man gathered, ”he pointed out.

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