George Steiner

George Steiner’s many books include The Death of Tragedy, In Bluebeard’s CastleAfter Babel, The Portage to San Cristobal of A.H. and Lessons of the Masters. He taught at the universities of Geneva, Oxford, Cambridge and Harvard. He died on 3 February 2020, at the age of 90.


George Steiner, 5 May 1988

Memories would seem to come in waves. Just now the Twenties and the Thirties have taken on a vivid presence. Their music, their arts, their decorative styles and fashions are being rediscovered and imitated. Vintage cars out of those two decades have become emblematic of a lost nerve and ostentatious brio. There may be pretty obvious reasons for this mode. Our bourses and currencies are haunted by intimations of the previous crash and of the turmoil and recession which ensued. Our sense of the inward connections between the two world wars and of the decline of Europe looks to the armistice of the inter-war years with a new scrutiny. Could saner accommodations have been found? Could the palpable lessons of Armageddon have been learnt in time? And if we now find ourselves, more or less convincingly, at the twilight of Modernism in sensibility, in experimental form, is it not natural that we should seek out the sources and attempt a balance-sheet? But these could well be rationalisations. Shifts of taste, of mimetic focus, are obscure phenomena. The tango is back, and so is scotch.


George Steiner, 5 June 1980

Critics are legion. Good readers, i.e. those with a complete philological mastery of a major text and the ability to bring this text home to us in its own terms, are rare. Rarer, perhaps, says Borges, than good writers. Because the gifts required are infrequent: technical scruple, historical tact, a just sense for what is both untranslatable, resistant to paraphrase in a classical text, and, at the same time, a vivid enough commitment to the belief that even this ‘untranslatability’, or, indeed, it especially, will, if carefully circumscribed, have a vital presentness to the current reader. Professor Donald Carne-Ross, now of Boston University, is a reader in the best sense.

The Everyday Business of Translation

George Steiner, 22 November 1979

Translation was, until recently, the stepchild of critical attention and literary theory. Translators themselves were poorly-paid drudges. Views on the nature of literary translation turned on a dichotomy as ancient as Horace and Quintilian (who, themselves, took it over from Greek predecessors): as between the ‘letter’ and the ‘spirit’, as between goals of utmost fidelity, represented by an interlinear version of the original, and ideals of active echo or re-creation in the target-language. From Renaissance theorists and Dryden onward, a threefold historical scheme was standard: there are word-for-word transfers; there are attempts at faithful paraphrase but in a style native to the tongue of the translator; and there are diverse orders of ‘free’ translation or recasting which can range all the way from the Augustan stylisation in Pope’s Homer to the ‘variations on a source-theme’ which we find in Mallarmé’s Poe or Pound’s Propertius. With rare exceptions, it is around these two formal poles and in terms of this executive triad that treatises on the theory and business of translation are constructed from classical antiquity to the early 20th century.

Like a Meteorite

James Davidson, 31 July 1997

Two thousand seven hundred and thirty years ago, somewhere on the west coast of Turkey, not far perhaps from Izmir, you are attending a feast. Although some of your neighbours are still noisily...

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Manning the Barricades

Andreas Huyssen, 1 August 1996

Railing against academic vogues and the cant of critical fashions is what academic literary critics typically do, and George Steiner is no stranger to the game. He has never been seduced by...

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Holy Grails, Promised Lands

D.J. Enright, 9 April 1992

‘Proofs’, the longest story here, looks to be George Steiner’s farewell tribute on the passing of Communism; hardly a tribute, but rather more magnanimous than the run of...

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Wendy Steiner, 1 June 1989

Imagine a republic that bans commentary, ‘a society, a politics of the primary’ peopled with ‘citizens of the immediate’. In this aesthetic utopia, writer and reader share...

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Jonathan Barnes, 6 September 1984

Who else would refer in the space of a hundred pages to a newly discovered papyrus of Stesichorus, a Zurich medical dissertation on the fear of being buried alive, and four 19th-century Danish...

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Hitler at Heathrow

E.S. Shaffer, 7 August 1980

As the unwary traveller hurries into Heathrow’s international bookstall hoping to light on a good read for the plane, his eye is assaulted by a thwacking array of swastikas on black, gold...

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