This book is perhaps the single mostintellectuallyirresponsible book I have ever read. Let me be frank--I have an extreme dislike for both the content and the structure andstyle. In this review, I will however, try to curtail my emotions; Inshort, I beleive many of the essays in this book to be well writtenop-ed pieces which are passed off as scholarship. It is a greatdanger because a naive reader may be mislead. This review will pointout the major flaws of some of the essays contained within.
I findthe first essay utterly disgusting. "The uncommon reader"is clearly an attack on the essay "The common reader" byVirginia Woolf. Let me say that VW is quite possibly the greatestwriter of the twentieth century. An attack against her better addressthe points she raises directly; she is not to be tossed aside, asGeorge Steiner does. Essentially, VW says that everybody has a brain,and even, or perhaps, especially, the nameless middle-class armchairreaders are the most important ones. Steiner believes that thereshould be a class of priest-like readers, who receive special training(basically an intellectual elite). The common reader, he (I sense animplied male chauvanism in Steiner's work) never did anything,Steiner's essay snorts. I think the common readers should decided forhis/herselves.
I also take offence with his use of Heidegger toattack Shakespeare. Shakespeare apparently is not as good as any Greekpoet, Steiner twists Heidegger to say. First, Heidegger does not saythat; Second, the comparison is absolutely absurd-- it is either amatter of opinion, or a matter of cultural hegemony. To say thatShakespeare wins or Ancient Greece wins by the standards Steiner, isessentially to say which came earlier- which author has moresuccessors? Now certainly, the Greek tragedians win by thesecriteria, but does that really surprise anyone? Is that really sayinganything?
Finally, he wrote the essay "Archives of Eden"which bashes America. America has not had the cultural output of allof Europe in terms of Music, Philosophy and Mathematics; the truemeasures of culture. No doubt, many will agree that America'scultural output, especially with its consumer culture, is virtuallynil. (I am not one of those.) But who hasn't suggested this? Whatis needed is a clear phrasing of the problem, not a tirade against allthings America, filled with as much hate towards Americans as theNazis hated Jews.
Steiner's problem with the American culturaloutput is essentially that America does not have an aristocracy likethe European countries do. We do not produce as much because we donot have cultivated leisure.
Well, American culture does not placemuch value on leisure, but hard work (ostensibly) and social mobility.We don't have a vaunted aristocracy becuase we don't vaunt thearistocracy. We have a completely different system. Yes, we have notproduced a significant output of European culture. But that isbecause we are not European. We have our own culture. In short, Ithink Steiner's essays quite offensive because they are so hateful andmisleading...... but I am running out of words....