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Errata - An examined life [Paperback]

George' 'Steiner
3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)

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5.0 out of 5 stars At the top of western culture Feb. 18 2002
Format:Paperback
To me, Erata is a display of the best qualities of Western culture. Steiner is as knowledgable in European cultural Classic as there is. He is in love with European classical music, with European literature - ancient and new, with philosophy, poetry and more. He loves Western cultural achievements without showing any disrespect for Asian, African or other non-European cultures. Of these he has some superficial knowledge - but he does not pretend otherwise.
Steiner's attempts to define in words the importance of art is illuminating. This is especially true in his discourses on the essence of music - he knows it can not be defined in words, but his words did contribute to my perceptions and did have their own positive effect.
Throughout - Erata shines with humanism and love (are they not the same after all ?). It is not really an autobiography - it is more of a story someone tells of the things he feels have made his life worthwhile.
I know a few people that read Erata - they all took something from the book - each according to his/her own needs and circumstances. Therefore I feel safe to recommend it to anyone who loves life.
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5.0 out of 5 stars a profound, passionate and humane thinker Aug. 11 2000
Format:Paperback
First off, I should mention that I'm new to the work of George Steiner and this review will perhaps be most helpful to other newcomers. Having spent the better part of the past 20 years immersing myself in music ( of varying types ) I've recently found myself being drawn to the world of literature. Although by no means ignorant of the basic literary "classics" ( Bible, Homer, Shakespeare, Dostoevsky, etc ), I make these prefatory comments only to point out that I am certainly NOT an exceptionally well-read person and don't wish to imply my thoughts should count for more than what they are; namely, those of an interested "common reader".
My interest in George Steiner stems from reading several of his essays. Moved by his graceful and substantive style, I set out upon his recent "ERRATA", which, although it contains threads of an autobiographical nature, seems to me to be just a more personal interweaving of the themes he plays with in his essays. Steiner, while an immensely well-read and cultured man ( fluent in at least 5 languages ), displays a knack for a mellifluous prose which neither condescends for the "benefit" of the less knowledgeable reader nor imposes a convolution of word jumbling just for the sake of being clever. He is passionately interested in the "what, how and why" of life, not just in dusting off a corner of literary history ( though he certainly would be capable of spinning a monograph on any one of dozens of literary/philosophical figures from the past 3000 years of human history ). A palpable humility coupled with a thirst for knowledge and "transcendence" shines through "ERRATA".
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0 of 4 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Errata: the unexamined manuscript Sept. 26 2000
By A Customer
Format:Paperback
This book is a series of autobiographical essays, by the ultra-conservative American journalist George Steiner (who hates America so much that he pretends to be English). You are supposed to be amazed, impressed, overawed by the author's brilliant intellect, all the people he has met, and his privileged life.
But looking beneath his thick prose (given, George Steiner has just about the thickest prose around, so reading and understanding what he is saying is not the easist thing in the world) the picture he gives you is utterly self-indulgent.
I mean, his only regret is not taking LSD? We are supposed to think, what a fun, interesting guy, oh my, what connections he has. But who cares! That event was not an event in his emotional, social, or intellectual development.
In fact, the only anecdotes we see are what he allows us to see. Here is a partial list of what I would have liked to see, but didn't: What about that time he slept with someone, or slighted one of his students. When he was humiliated, when he felt that he had grown, what were some big moments when he was raising his children.
You don't see any of this! Reading this book, except for a few biographical facts here and there, does not tell you anything REAL about this journalist. The whole point of the book is that the great George Steiner wrote it. You buy it because he is so amazing that you want to hear every detail about his life.
But guess what... He is not a great mind; just a great ego and an equally great voice. If you buy this book, you are a sucker, and he is that much richer.
See my review for No Passion Spent.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 4.2 out of 5 stars  9 reviews
42 of 43 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars a profound, passionate and humane thinker Aug. 11 2000
By Ian K. Hughes - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
First off, I should mention that I'm new to the work of George Steiner and this review will perhaps be most helpful to other newcomers. Having spent the better part of the past 20 years immersing myself in music ( of varying types ) I've recently found myself being drawn to the world of literature. Although by no means ignorant of the basic literary "classics" ( Bible, Homer, Shakespeare, Dostoevsky, etc ), I make these prefatory comments only to point out that I am certainly NOT an exceptionally well-read person and don't wish to imply my thoughts should count for more than what they are; namely, those of an interested "common reader".
My interest in George Steiner stems from reading several of his essays. Moved by his graceful and substantive style, I set out upon his recent "ERRATA", which, although it contains threads of an autobiographical nature, seems to me to be just a more personal interweaving of the themes he plays with in his essays. Steiner, while an immensely well-read and cultured man ( fluent in at least 5 languages ), displays a knack for a mellifluous prose which neither condescends for the "benefit" of the less knowledgeable reader nor imposes a convolution of word jumbling just for the sake of being clever. He is passionately interested in the "what, how and why" of life, not just in dusting off a corner of literary history ( though he certainly would be capable of spinning a monograph on any one of dozens of literary/philosophical figures from the past 3000 years of human history ). A palpable humility coupled with a thirst for knowledge and "transcendence" shines through "ERRATA". One learns of the event which proved to be the decisive moment setting Steiner on the path to teaching- an all night "study session" in which Steiner, as an undergraduate at the University of Chicago in the late 1940's, read and expounded upon Joyce's "The Dead" to an emotionally moved audience made up of people 5 to 10 years older than him. His 16 page chapter ( 6 ) on music is, from my perspective as a person obsessed with music, one of the finest pieces I've ever read on the "poetics" of music, whether by musician or non-musician. The following chapter on language is equally profound. I have no idea what people immersed in scholarly fields would think of his work. From where I stand, his perspectives shed light, expand the mind and renew one's commitment to pursue those aspects of humanity which remains its greatest hope.
I sincerely hope Mr. Steiner continues to share his thoughts. His profound and passionate insights, so beautifully imprinted in "ERRATA", are needed as we live through an era all too often emphasizing media-driven glamour and technological innovation at the expense of aesthetic and spiritual substance.
13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars At the top of western culture Feb. 18 2002
By nadav haber - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
To me, Erata is a display of the best qualities of Western culture. Steiner is as knowledgable in European cultural Classic as there is. He is in love with European classical music, with European literature - ancient and new, with philosophy, poetry and more. He loves Western cultural achievements without showing any disrespect for Asian, African or other non-European cultures. Of these he has some superficial knowledge - but he does not pretend otherwise.
Steiner's attempts to define in words the importance of art is illuminating. This is especially true in his discourses on the essence of music - he knows it can not be defined in words, but his words did contribute to my perceptions and did have their own positive effect.
Throughout - Erata shines with humanism and love (are they not the same after all ?). It is not really an autobiography - it is more of a story someone tells of the things he feels have made his life worthwhile.
I know a few people that read Erata - they all took something from the book - each according to his/her own needs and circumstances. Therefore I feel safe to recommend it to anyone who loves life.
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Dense, Typically Provocative, Worthwhile July 2 2003
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Lovers of intellectual autobiography, pounce. True examples of this genre are scarce, certainly among living writers. And Steiner's insistence on concision assures that this slim volume won't waste your time. Typically, even when a theory or two seems wrong (as with his on the underpinnings of anti-Semitism), it can test your own, or stimulate you to more plausible ideas not otherwise occasioned.
The relative dearth of this genre among professions other than the writer's own stuffy vocation is annoying--I treasure Agnes Martin's "Writings" for that reason--but Steiner's eloquence, not to mention the intensity of his passions, overcomes the familiarity of his perspective. As has been pointed out in the editorial reviews here, Steiner does not emerge as particularly sympathetic, but then I would rather read him than meet him at a cocktail party, in any case.
8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Pundit worries April 13 2003
By Berry Vorstenbosch - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Errata is a collection of "articles", offering meditations on cultural history, art, language, antisemitism, the fate of religion in our age - all more or less linked to a limited number of autobiographical anecdotes. As an intellectual biography it is not really satisfying, because the "articles" differ in tone and in the way intellectual matter gets linked to personal memories. The section on "silence", for instance, is very impressionistic, whereas the (more interesting) part on teachers is a true gallery of portraits.
In this work Steiner re-emphasizes what we all knew, that he is a devotee of High Culture. He even says that Great Minds like Goethe, Mozart or Dante could redeem the numerous atrocities that litter the history of the Western World. This "high culture" is consistently opposed to "popular culture", the main target being pop music with Madonna nevertheless being mentioned in the index. The voluminous presence of pop music, football, topless bars, noise in general, television in our world today - Steiner believes, tend to wash away the serenity high culture could inspire.
I have always great problems digesting this contrast. High culture very often seems to be embedded in authentic life-experience which more than touches the areas in which low entertainment finds home. In Milos Forman's Amadeus we find Mozart himself enjoying a vaudeville performance in its own right. And there is quite some "low entertainment" in the Shakespeare files.
George Steiner surely has problems establishing this lifeline between memories from the body in all its banality and the astral regions of cultural accomplishment. Errata is a failed attempt at self-examinition, which is nevertheless quite revealing. The passage on Philonenko, on his making the distinction between true original minds firstly, great and loyal interpreters secondly, and, thirdly, the wishwash of article writers and essayists - somehow scourges the tense and high self-esteem George Steiner has to live with. Steiner admits himself, rightly, to be just an essayist.
Most revealing is also Steiner's treatment of Freud's Oedipus conflict. It was Steiner's own dear father who made him kneel for the cultural coryphees. Steiner almost suggests that he kneeled too obediently, that his devotion always threatens him to get out of touch with Western Culture as it happens today. And this is one of his unnamed passions - to keep in touch.
And so, hesitatingly, surreptitiously, Errata talks about a sense a failure. Being both priviliged and successful, being able to look back on a life filled with numerous brilliant contacts, reviewing a life that many would experience as highly fulfilling - the atmosphere of Steiner's self-assessment is rather depressing. It is not easy not to be a Mozart.
24 of 31 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Amateurism's most beloved sense July 9 1998
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Short first sentence. A sentence immediately following, full of syllables and possibilities; often a semi-colon is included, to enjamb an extra layer of thought. A sentence which works its way toward unifying the three thoughts, but with a foreign phrase or intellectual reference, say to deus ex machina, to Elias Canetti. And a conclusion, always ironic and chancy, but hurled down at you to your lesser little plot of literary land, as though from Delphi to a swineherd. Which takes you to the next sentence. The topic sentence of the following paragraph is always a phrase left over from the one preceding. This is the way Steiner--earth's most extraordinary amateur reader--writes. I began mimicking this style when I was in college, to excellent success and occasional trouble, so I know the style by heart. And here, twenty years after After Babel, I finally have an opportunity to pay attention to the man behind the curtain and take a look into how the style--the style that did such service my own style--emerged. I am not at all shocked. Steiner, ever the champion of the canon and pedigree, begins life with an obsession for heraldry. His father tempts him with Greek as a dessert (Churchill, curiously and similarly, once said he would offer Greek to boys as a treat). He begins his book with a memory of the feel and smell of rain--he is surrenduring to Proust, and also to love of reading. Familiar Steiner themes emerge: the interanimation of text, the human hopelessness of ever getting to the bottom of the text, the critic's pathetic role. It is all amateurism in its most favorable and beloved sense. Not to be an amateur--not to love, to adore brilliant books--is to miss the point of it all. But then again, we are all ever missing the point, and all things are equal again. Matters of taste our, as Steiner has quoted elsewhere, non disputandum; and then he tries like hell to make sure all of our tastes are immaculate. This is Errata. After all has been written, the scintillating li! nguistic forays, the novel, the New Yorker reviews, it is the titling this book is the most artful, ironic, and canon-worthy stroke that Steiner has ever accomplished. Ever the lover of literature, ever suspicious of the precious postmodern, he is now through the looking glass, a postmodern museum-piece himself. It is, as Steiner would have it, were he allowed to see Steiner from outside Steiner--were he allowed to see Steiner the way we see Steiner--the ultimate irony.
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