Professor George Steiner was born in Paris on April 23, 1929. He was educated at the Universities of Paris, Chicago, Harvard, Oxford and Cambridge. He was a member of the editorial staff at The Economist in London during the 1950s before beginning an academic career as a fellow at the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton University in 1956. He was appointed Gauss Lecturer at Princeton in 1959. Prof. Steiner has been a fellow of Churchill College, Cambridge, since 1961 and was Professor of English and Comparative Literature at the University of Geneva between 1974 and 1994. He has held visiting professorships at Yale, New York University, the University of Geneva and Oxford University. He is an honorary member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, an honorary fellow of Balliol College Oxford, and has been awarded the Chevalier de la Légion d’Honneur by the French Government and the King Albert Medal by the Royal Belgian Academy, the Truman Capote Lifetime Achievement Award for Literature in 1998 and in the same year was elected Fellow of the British Academy. He was the Weidenfeld Professor of Comparative Literature at the University of Oxford and the Charles Eliot Norton Professor of Poetry at Harvard University. He is currently Extraordinary Fellow of Churchill College at Cambridge University. He has been a regular contributor of reviews and articles to journals and newspapers including the New Yorker, the Times Literary Supplement and The Guardian. Professor Steiner lives in Cambridge, England.
With his hallmark forceful discernment, George Steiner offers The Poetry of Thought as his magnum opus: an examination of more than two millennia of Western culture that argues on behalf of the essential oneness of great thought and great style. Sweeping yet precise, moving from essential detail to bracing illustration, Steiner spans the entire history of philosophy in the West as it entwines with literature, finding that, as Sartre stated, in all philosophy there is “a hidden literary prose.”
"The poetic genius of abstract thought,” Steiner believes, “is lit, is made audible. Argument, even analytic, has its drumbeat. It is made ode. What voices the closing movements of Hegel’s Phenomenology better than Edith Piaf’s non de non, a twofold negation which Hegel would have prized? This essay is an attempt to listen more closely.”
Between 1967 and 1997, George Steiner wrote more than 130 pieces on a great range of topics for The New Yorker, making new books, difficult ideas, and unfamiliar subjects seem compelling not only to intellectuals but to “the common reader.” He possesses a famously dazzling mind: paganism, the Dutch Renaissance, children’s games, war-time Britain, Hitler’s bunker, and chivalry attract his interest as much as Levi-Strauss, Cellini, Bernhard, Chardin, Mandelstam, Kafka, Cardinal Newman, Verdi, Gogol, Borges, Brecht, Wittgenstein, Chomsky, and art historian/spy Anthony Blunt. Steiner makes an ideal guide from the Risorgimento in Italy to the literature of the Gulag, from the history of chess to the enduring importance of George Orwell. Again and again everything Steiner looks at in his New Yorker essays is made to bristle with some genuine prospect of turning out to be freshly thrilling or surprising.
In this fiercely original and audacious work, George Steiner tells of seven books which he did not write. Because intimacies and indiscretions were too threatening. Because the topic brought too much pain. Because its emotional or intellectual challenge proved beyond his capacities. The actual themes range widely and defy conventional taboos: the torment of the gifted when they live among—when they confront—the very great; the experience of sex in different languages; a love for animals greater than for human beings; the costly privilege of exile; a theology of emptiness. Yet a unifying perception underlies this diversity. The best we have or can produce is only the tip of the iceberg. Behind every good book, as in a lit shadow, lies the book which remained unwritten, the one that would have failed better.