This guy never ceases to amaze me. Here he is, pushing eighty, and instead of dimming the lights and shuffling off to somber senescence, he’s upping the ante and teaching new dance steps.
T. S. Eliot said that the job of poets and saints is “to apprehend / The point of intersection of the timeless / With time.” This job description can be applied as well to the work undertaken by the last of the great philologists, Ernst Robert Curtius and Erich Auerbach, both of whom passed from this world in the late 1950s, just as George Steiner was beginning his academic career as a fellow of the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey, and working on his first book.
If Curtius and Auerbach can be said to have an heir, it is Steiner, who has surpassed them in his investigation of the crossroad where time and timelessness breathe as one. Curtius and Auerbach were clinical in dissecting the historical, literary, and linguistic knowledge they commanded. Steiner has ventured further, wandering from academic confines to where mysterious wildflowers, germinated by Heraclitean and Gnostic elements, blossom forth in light and shadow. Where Curtius and Auerbach illuminated, Steiner has been a weaver of illuminations.
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