Grammars of Creation


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George Steiner

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“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.

George Steiner is Fellow of Churchill College at Cambridge. He has received numerous awards for his writings and work, including Fulbright and Guggenheim Fellowships, the Morton Dauwen Zabel Prize for the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and the Truman Capote Lifetime Achievement Award. Among his many books are Errata: An Examined Life; No Passion Spent; Language and Silence: Essays on Language, Literature, and the Inhuman; In Bluebeard’s Castle: Some Notes Towards the Redefinition of Culture; Antigones: How the Antigone Legend Has Endured in Western Literature, Art, and Thought; Tolstoy or Dostoevsky: An Essay in the Old Criticism; and The Death of Tragedy, all published by Yale University Press.

Originating in the Gifford Lectures for 1990

“This study marks the high point of a lengthy and productive career. Steiner has a unique mind among scholars. . . . Thoughtfully constructed and written, this book wanders discreetly through the history of Western, Islamic, and Hebraic aesthetics to gain a sense of language’s future direction. In today’s market society, few books attempt to address such lofty concepts, but this one is a brilliant success, skillfully fulfilling its aim.”—Booklist

“In the beginning was the creative imagination: From Dante’s Virgil to Stevenson’s engine, George Steiner writes like no one else about human invention. . . . A fresh, revelatory, golden eagle’s eye-view of western literature. . . . No one can unturn words and ideas, ease them out of their embeddedness in texts and history, and hold them up to the light of cultural or spiritual change, like Steiner. . . . No one else can join up the dots between so many different worlds with such originality and creativity en route.”—Financial Times

“George Steiner’s new book is the excavation of the relationship between God’s creation of the world, and human creativity’s understanding of itself, from Judaism and ancient Greece to the Renaissance, European hermeneutics, and the “mopping up” of Christianity by Derridean deconstruction. . . . From The Death of Tragedy to Grammars of Creation, George Steiner always offers his readers a fresh, revelatory, golden eagle’s eye-view of western literature. This time, he does this through images of creation, creativity, and creators. The thrill is in the relation of the argument to the rich tapestry of detail. No one can unturn words and ideas, ease them out of their embeddedness in texts and history, and hold them up to the light of cultural or spiritual change, like Steiner.”—Ruth Padel, Financial Times

“An important study on the nature of creation. . . . This is an exciting work, full of insights, bold statements, and thoughts about our present condition. Recommended for literature and philosophy collections.”—Library Journal

“The range of [Steiner’s] learning and his passionate engagement with values and ideas have made him one of the more dynamic and compelling voices in contemporary criticism. . . . Steiner ranges over an impressively wide array of even more impressively lofty subjects and reference points.”—Merle Rubin, Los Angeles Times

“The book is, beyond doubt, an intellectual tour de force.”—Michael Potemra, National Review

“It is difficult not to be impressed by George Steiner. Part literary critic, part existential elegist, he presents himself as the polymath’s polymath. The erudition is almost as extraordinary as the prose: dense, knowing, allusive. . . . In Grammars of Creation, he has outdone himself.”—Roger Kimball, New York Times Book Review

“One reads Steiner . . . for the many sharp insights and speculations that fill all of his books. There is no shortage of them . . . in Grammars of Creation—Kenneth Baker, San Francisco Chronicle

“In this essential text, Steiner is a virtuoso, a fully armed witness to past and present ideas of creation in Western culture. Whether it is about literature, philosophy, science, theology, or, ultimately, hope, his discussions range from Plato’s Timaeus to Dante’s Divine Comedy, Heidegger’s ontology to Freud’s mythmaking.”—The Antioch Review

“This is a powerful book, full of penetrating comments and compelling illustrations. One feels the passion, the persuasive force, and the richness.”—Carver T. Yu, Theology Today

“[A] brave act of intellectual resistance to all those End of X and Death of Y tomes that mark our current mood.”—Stan Persky, Toronto Globe and Mail

ISBN: 9780300097290
Publication Date: August 11, 2002
350 pages, 5 x 7 3/4
In Bluebeard's Castle

Some Notes Towards the Redefinition of Culture

George Steiner

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An Examined Life

George Steiner

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No Passion Spent

Essays 1978-1995

George Steiner

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How the Antigone Legend Has Endured in Western Literature, Art, and Thought

George Steiner

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Tolstoy or Dostoevsky

An Essay in the Old Criticism, Second Edition

George Steiner

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