Synopses & Reviews
We have no more beginnings, George Steiner begins in this, his most radical book to date. A far-reaching exploration of the idea of creation in Western thought, literature, religion, and history, this volume can fairly be called a magnum opus. He reflects on the different ways we have of talking about beginnings, on the core-tiredness that pervades our end-of-the-millennium spirit, and on the changing grammar of our discussions about the end of Western art and culture. With his well-known elegance of style and intellectual range, Steiner probes deeply into the driving forces of the human spirit and our perception of Western civilization's lengthening afternoon shadows.Roaming across topics as diverse as the Hebrew Bible, the history of science and mathematics, the ontology of Heidegger, and the poetry of Paul Celan, Steiner examines how the twentieth century has placed in doubt the rationale and credibility of a future tense-the existence of hope. Acknowledging that technology and science may have replaced art and literature as the driving forces in our culture, Steiner warns that this has not happened without a significant loss. The forces of technology and science alone fail to illuminate inevitable human questions regarding value, faith, and meaning. And yet it is difficult to believe that the story out of Genesis has ended, Steiner observes, and he concludes this masterful volume of reflections with an eloquent evocation of the endlessness of beginnings.
"Bibliographical pyrotechnics aside, there's very little to hold one's interest in this book after the first 10 or 20 pages. Steiner is the consummate 'great books' name-dropper, hyperventilating citations at an alarming rate. But one comes away with the impression that, like a child, Steiner uses phrases that sound good, but without understanding them. Conceived as a meditation on the 'darkness' of the 20th century and its implications for our 'grammar,' Steiner seeks to inquire into what happens after we have lost the capacity to begin, and thus the capacity to make art in the received ways. There is a real insight here into some of the most serious perplexities we face today. But for all Steiner's erudite showboating, one senses a profound helplessness, a sheer stupefaction at what he sees as the calamity that has befallen Western Civilization, and a fundamental lack of faith in art's capacity to inform or guide us today. At the heart of his manic narcissism, beyond his attempts to intimidate the reader with his learning, there is something desperate, panicky, almost hysterical in his erudition; confronted with the dangers, all he can do is allude. Such is the aesthete's destiny: to be so enthralled by the commerce of admiration as to forget just why some things merited admiration in the first place. One hopes that the world of 'arts and letters' will find better defenders." Reviewed by Andrew Witmer, Virginia Quarterly Review (Copyright 2006 Virginia Quarterly Review)