George Steiner  

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"We do not know whether the study of the humanities, of the noblest that has been said and thought, can do very much to humanize. We do not know; and surely there is something rather terrible in our doubt whether the study and delight a man finds in Shakespeare make him any less capable of organizing a concentration camp." --"To Civilize Our Gentlemen" (1965) by George Steiner

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Francis George Steiner (April 23, 1929 – February 3, 2020) was a Franco-American literary critic, essayist, philosopher, novelist, translator, and educator. He wrote extensively about the relationship between language, literature and society, and the impact of the Holocaust. He is the author of "Night Words" (1965), somewhat central to this site, because of its pornosophical content. Another favorite is In Bluebeard's Castle (1971).


George Steiner's career spans half a century. He has published original essays and books that address the anomalies of contemporary Western culture, issues of language and its "debasement" in the post-Holocaust age. His field is primarily comparative literature, and his work as a critic has tended toward exploring cultural and philosophical issues, particularly dealing with translation and the nature of language and literature.

Steiner's first published book was Tolstoy or Dostoevsky: An Essay in Contrast (1960), which was a study of the different ideas and ideologies of the Russian writers Leo Tolstoy and Fyodor Dostoevsky. The Death of Tragedy (1961) originated as his doctoral thesis at the University of Oxford and examined literature from the ancient Greeks to the mid-20th century. His best-known book, After Babel (1975), was an early and influential contribution to the field of translation studies. It was adapted for television in 1977 as The Tongues of Men and was the inspiration behind the creation in 1983 of the English avant-rock group News from Babel.

Several works of literary fiction by Steiner include four short story collections, Anno Domini: Three Stories (1964), Proofs and Three Parables (1992), The Deeps of the Sea (1996), and A cinq heures de l'après-midi (2008); and his controversial novella, The Portage to San Cristobal of A.H. (1981). Portage to San Cristobal, in which Jewish Nazi hunters find Adolf Hitler (the "A.H." of the novella's title) alive in the Amazon jungle thirty years after the end of World War II, explored ideas about the origins of European anti-semitism first expounded by Steiner in his 1971 critical work In Bluebeard's Castle. Steiner has suggested that Nazism was Europe's revenge on the Jews for inventing conscience. Cheyette sees Steiner's fiction as "an exploratory space where he can think against himself." It "contrasts its humility and openness with his increasingly closed and orthodox critical work." Central to it is the survivor's "terrible, masochistic envy about not being there – having missed the rendezvous with hell".

No Passion Spent (1996) is a collection of essays on topics as diverse as Kierkegaard, Homer in translation, Biblical texts, and Freud's dream theory. Errata: An Examined Life (1997) is a semi-autobiography, and Grammars of Creation (2001), based on Steiner's 1990 Gifford Lectures delivered at the University of Glasgow, explores a range of subjects from cosmology to poetry.


  • Fantasy Poets Number Eight. Fantasy Press, Eynsham, 1952. (Seven poems.)
  • Tolstoy or Dostoevsky: An Essay in Contrast, Faber and Faber, 1960
  • The Death of Tragedy, Faber and Faber, 1961
  • Homer: A Collection of Critical Essays, 1962
  • Anno Domini: Three Stories, Faber and Faber, 1964
  • The Penguin Book of Modern Verse Translation, Penguin, 1966
  • Language and Silence: Essays 1958-1966, Faber and Faber, 1967
  • Poem Into Poem: World Poetry in Modern Verse Translation, Penguin, 1970
  • In Bluebeard's Castle: Some Notes Towards the Redefinition of Culture, Faber and Faber, 1971
  • Extraterritorial: Papers on Literature and the Language Revolution, Faber and Faber, 1972
  • The Sporting Scene: White Knights of Reykjavik, Faber and Faber, 1973
  • Nostalgia for the Absolute, 1974
  • After Babel: Aspects of Language and Translation, Oxford University Press, 1975
  • Why English?, Oxford University Press, 1975
  • Contemporary Approaches to English Studies, Heinemann Education, 1977
  • Has Truth a Future?, BBC, 1978—The Bronowski Memorial Lecture 1978
  • Heidegger, Fontana Modern Masters, 1978
  • On Difficulty and Other Essays, Oxford University Press, 1978
  • The Uncommon Reader, 1978
  • The Portage to San Cristobal of A.H., Faber and Faber, 1981
  • Antigones, Clarendon Press, 1984
  • George Steiner: A Reader, Penguin, 1984
  • A Reading Against Shakespeare, University of Glasgow, 1986
  • Treblinka, 1986
  • Real Presences: Is There Anything in What We Say?, Faber and Faber, 1989
  • Proofs and Three Parables, Faber and Faber, 1992
  • What is Comparative Literature?, Clarendon Press, 1995—an inaugural lecture before the University of Oxford, UK on October 11, 1994
  • Homer in English, Penguin, 1996 (Editor)
  • No Passion Spent: Essays 1978-1996, Faber and Faber, 1996
  • The Deeps of the Sea, and Other Fiction, Faber and Faber, 1996
  • Errata: An Examined Life, Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1997
  • Grammars of Creation, Faber and Faber, 2001
  • Lessons of the Masters, Harvard University Press, 2003
  • Nostalgia for the Absolute, House of Anansi Press, 2004
  • The Idea of Europe, Nexus Institute, 2005
  • Le Silence des Livres, Arléa, 2006
  • My Unwritten Books, New Directions, 2008
  • George Steiner at The New Yorker, New Directions, 2008
  • Les Logocrates, L'Herne, 2008
  • A cinq heures de l'après-midi, L'Herne, 2008 (fiction)
  • Ceux qui brûlent les livres, L'Herne, 2008

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "George Steiner" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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