In this remarkable short book, the foremost intellectual of our age brings a lifetime of erudition to bear on a subject that he has grappled with for decades, and whose future is profoundly uncertain. The Idea of Europe finds George Steiner reckoning with Europe from a number of different angles. “Europe,” he writes, “is the place where Goethe’s garden almost borders on BIn this remarkable short book, the foremost intellectual of our age brings a lifetime of erudition to bear on a subject that he has grappled with for decades, and whose future is profoundly uncertain. The Idea of Europe finds George Steiner reckoning with Europe from a number of different angles. “Europe,” he writes, “is the place where Goethe’s garden almost borders on Buchenwald, where the house of Corneille abuts on the market-place in which Joan of Arc was hideously done to death.” It is, in other words, a continent rich with contradiction, whose many tensions—cultural, social, political, economic, and religious—have for centuries conspired to pull it apart, even as it has become more and more unified.
But what lies ahead for a continent whose borders are growing and economic might is strengthening, even as its cultural identity recedes? A continent where, in Steiner’s words, “young Englishmen choose to rank David Beckham high above Shakespeare and Darwin in their list of national treasures”? This is the trajectory that Steiner explores so brilliantly in The Idea of Europe. ...more
Hardcover, 71 pages
Published March 10th 2015 by Overlook Duckworth (first published 2004)
On 6 September 1973 the French newspaper Le Monde published a retrospective article by George Steiner on the life and work of J.R.R. Tolkien, who had died a few days earlier at the age of eighty-one. Titled "Tolkien, Le Mandarin Excentrique D'Oxford," the article studied Tolkien's achievements in the light of his academic background, the sources of his fiction within English culture and the turbulent years in which he produced his major works. The article shows that Steiner was already well aware of the most important currents in Tolkien's literary output long before the most significant critical works on Tolkien were published. This will not surprise those familiar with Steiner: one of the twentieth century's outstanding polymaths and probably its greatest literary critic, his interest in the Humanities and Art, and his overall erudition, seem limitless. His most important work, After Babel (1975), is a philological tour-de-force and even now, three decades after its original publication, it is unsurpassed as a study in comparative literature and the phenomenon of translation. He has also made important contributions to modern scholarship in the areas of philosophy, music and linguistics. This is the only essay George Steiner ever wrote specifically about J.R.R. Tolkien, and it displays his usual breadth of learning and freedom from prejudice.
One would have imagined that the opinion of one of the twentieth century's greatest literary critics on the twentieth century's "most popular author"1 would have been of considerable interest to the English and North American community of Tolkienian scholars, particularly in view of the unsympathetic treatment Tolkien has usually received from famous post-war literary critics (Edmund Wilson and Harold Bloom, in particular). Steiner's encyclopaedic, multilingual knowledge of world literature gives him a critical perspective which is considerably broader than that of most Anglo-American critics, enabling him to appreciate the whole picture of Tolkien's overall creative achievement. His article has remained virtually unknown in British and American academic circles, however, for the simple reason that it was written in French.
Starting from a single sentence concerning Tolkien's fiction with a source reference "George Steiner—Le Monde 1973" posted in Spanish on an Internet book site, I have tracked down the original Le Monde article and have translated it into English, so that it can be enjoyed by Tolkien specialists and by enthusiasts of English literature in general. It is certainly an intriguing combination: the sharpest mind in post-war literary criticism taking a quick but incisive look at the century's most [End Page 185] remarkable and atypical philological fictionist.
The publication of this translation has been authorized by George Steiner and by Le Monde. [End Page 186]
Ross Smith is head of the translation department at the Madrid offices of PricewaterhouseCoopers. A graduate of Edinburgh University, he is an intérprete jurado (sworn legal translator) and a member of the Chartered Institute of Linguists. He is a regular contributor to specialized language journals, including The Linguist and English Today, writing on aspects of translation, computerized translation resources and Global English, as well as on certain language-related issues in Tolkien's work. He is the author of Inside Language: Linguistic and Aesthetic Theory in Tolkien.
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