June 14, 2021

Steiner was not too stupid | Culture

George Steiner felt as if he was awarded the Nobel Prize when, reading the correspondence of Gershon Scholem – Master of the Kabbalah – noticed that he spoke of him in a letter to a third party: “Steiner is not too stupid,” he said. That such a phrase filled with “sense” the life of a giant of modern humanism gives an idea of ​​the value he attached to the teaching profession.

Steiner, in effect, was not foolish. Despite being a race end of polyglot scholarship turned into analytical acuity, he knew the limits of his intelligence and the exact value of his work. On the one hand, he never dared to compare himself with the writers he studied; It was always taken by an intermediary. On the other, he never stopped believing in the ability of the human mind to interpret a complex work. The first made him face those postmodernists who believe that criticism has the same category as poetry or the novel and they start to philosophize until they convert other people’s texts into mere pretexts. In a passage of Real presences, one of his greatest works, attributed to them the evil of the scholastics: the vertigo of great depths. He explained it like this: “Those who immerse themselves at great depths say that, at a certain point, the human brain is possessed by the illusion that natural breathing is again possible. When this happens, the diver takes off his scuba and drowns. ” The diver was Derrida.

George Steiner believed in excellence and pedagogy. He was a “specialist in generalities” who worried about the gap between dissemination and specialization, between science and literature. That is why he remembered with sorrow the day when the solution of the Fermat’s theorem at the Mathematics Institute of his own university, Cambridge. His colleagues explained that among the four possible solutions he had chosen the most “elegant”. He quoted Keats’ verse that identifies truth and beauty and asked to clarify that explanation. They replied: “We can’t. For us the word elegant is not an analogy, it is not a metaphor. You would have to devote yourself to studying elliptical functions 15 years before the word elegant came to mean something to you. ” “It was one of the saddest moments of my life,” he recalled. He lived to build bridges between disciplines. his death It leaves us without assisted breathing immersed in a time of vertigo.


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