Lionel Trilling and the Critics: Opposing Selves

By John Rodden | Go to book overview

43
“An Overture to Silence,” Book Week
October 1965

George Steiner

One of the most erudite intellectuals of his generation, George Steiner (1929—) is regarded on both sides of the Atlantic as a major cultural critic and essayist. Fully conversant with all schools of contemporary cultural theory and centrally preoccupied with inquiry into the potential and limitations of communication via language, Steiner writes cultural criticism in French, German, and English; he reads and has addressed himself to literature written in every major European language. A professor of English and comparative literature at the University of Geneva and a fellow of Churchill College at Cambridge University, he is the author of Language and Silence: Essays on Language, Literature, and the Inhuman (1967), In Bluebeard’s Castle: Some Notes toward the Redefinition of Culture (1971), After Babel: Aspects of Language and Translation, and On Difficulty and Other Essays (1978), among other books.

By the mid-1960s, when he wrote the following review as the regular book reviewer for The New Yorker, Steiner was already a well-known critic in New York intellectual circles.

For my generation, Lionel Trilling was part of growing up. As they appeared individually and were then collected in The Liberal Imagination (1950), Trilling’s critical essays were more than just that. They showed, as had Edmund Wilson in the preceding decades, that a man could write about writers and in that way define or enact some of the primary gestures of contemporary politics and intelligence. The sum of the voice was greater than the individual parts. Though they ranged from Tacitus to Kipling, the essays came from a vital center, from an implicit base of vision. And that center was a subtle, necessary thing: a belief in the tremendous importance to a mass

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