The Flawed Tragedian

"He has learned speech and windy thought and the political temperament."
—Sophocles' Antigone

Among literary intellectuals, George Steiner holds a place of unmistakable influence. His essays on philosophy and literature can be found in the New York Review of Books, London Times Literary Supplement, and in other publications associated with making it in the world of letters. Since the 1950's he has published nearly a dozen books, most of which interpret Continental European thought for the benefit of Anglo- American readers. Some of Steiner's books, most notably his discussion of Martin Heidegger, combine insight with considerable learning. His book on Heidegger not only uncovers the brilliant ideas behind the horrors of Heideggerian syntax, but also takes seriously the antimodernist aspects of Heidegger's social criticism, Steiner neither denies nor exaggerates Heidegger's short-term fascination with the Nazi movement. He sets it into perspective by showing that it was Heidegger's old-fashioned communitarian ideals that allowed him to sympathize with at least some early National Socialist programs. Steiner notes how quickly Heidegger changed his mind about Nazism once Hitler had come to power.

Despite his talent as a literary analyst, Steiner does have tics which, I believe, are damaging to his scholarship. I stress...

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