In Grammars of Creation
critic George Steiner discusses how key differences between the historical meanings of concepts of "creation" and "invention" in the arts and the sciences relate to time, the world, and the human psyche.
For Steiner there are four interrelated and, as it were, "transcendental", domains in which men and women seek to escape "the eradicating dictates of biological-historical time" (or death): music, poetry and the arts, pure mathematics and speculative metaphysics. He argues that the "creation" and reception of works of art have rendered them "more indispensable to men and women than even the best of science and technology." On the other hand, industrial and technological "invention" answerable to specific needs is viewed as worldly, pragmatic and utilitarian.
Steiner's belief that the current changes in "the experience of communication, of information, of knowledge, of the generation of meaning and form, are probably the most comprehensive and consequential since Homo sapiens development of language itself" provides the background for these reflections. He also believes that the root and branch critique of language in Central Europe during the first third of the 20th century (supported currently by philosophy, literature, sociology, political science, sociology and the arts) may have consequences more far-reaching than those of the political revolutions and economic crisis which have marked our age.
He wonders if the creation of art, poetry and metaphysics in the future may prove more difficult. If artists and philosophers have been enabled and fuelled, in some sense, by an explicit engagement with transcendence, then what is the fate of the creative process in a technologically driven age and in an intellectual world where the notion of "transcendence" is ridiculed?
What is most impressive about Grammars of Creation is Steiner's breadth of knowledge: he is equally at home talking about Plato and Dante as he is Heidegger and Hegel, the Romantic poets, music, mathematics, modern art or the Bible. Overall, this is a dense, unapologetically high-toned book perhaps not suitable for those with weak powers of concentration. Nevertheless it remains a fascinating work of creative synthesis unusual--by contemporary standards--in its willingness to allow the ultimate metaphysical questions to sit centre-stage. Well worth the sustained effort required to read it.--Larry Brown
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'This is a mesmerizing book... Expressed in prose that is unfailingly apt, luminous and evocative.' Guardian