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Real Presences: Is There Anything in What We Say? Hardcover – May 1989


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Product details

  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Faber & Faber (May 1989)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0571140718
  • ISBN-13: 978-0571140718
  • Product Dimensions: 21.8 x 14.2 x 2.4 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 819,679 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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About the Author

George Steiner has written a great many books during his long and distinguished career as a literary critic, essayist, philosopher, novelist, translator, and educator. He was professor of English and Comparative Literature at the University of Geneva, Lord Weidenfeld Professor of Comparative Literature and Fellow of St Anne's College at Oxford University, and Norton Professor of Poetry at Harvard University. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By J. Newth on 18 Jan. 2011
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I was introduced to this book 3 years ago whilst reading Richard Holmes' 2 volume biography of Coleridge. I had been particularly interested in Coleridge, because I found out that even in the grips of an Opium addiction he had travelled to Germany in 1789-90 (at first with Wordsworth) in order to learn German so that he could read Immanuel Kant on Metaphysics in the original language. As yet there was no English translation, only hearsay. Having myself struggled immensely to get to grips with reading Kant in English, I was under no illusion about the sheer genius of Coleridge actually to undersdtand what Kant had to say. Kant argues for the reality of the transcendent, and in reading him Coleridge himself took on a similar position in opposition to the scepticism of Hartley and Hume.
In a footnote in Holmes' Biography (Vol 1 p 320) he recommends the essay - our present book - by George Steiner, who had been his mentor, in these words. "Beyond the problem of 'personal authenticity' seems to be the question whether life - or literature - can have meaning without some form of Divine continuity or assurance within the structure of reality. These difficult issues have been most recently raised by Geoge Steiner in 'Real Presences'".
This is a very difficult read - Class 5 in mountain climbing terms - and after reading it 3 times I think I begin to understand what is being said and why it is so important in our current cultural and religious climate.
By looking at our 'poietics' - literature, art and music - he makes a case that all significant art forms are underwritten or guaranteed by the presence of Word or Logos, and Divine Logos at that.
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15 of 16 people found the following review helpful By M. P. Rendell on 29 Nov. 2006
Format: Paperback
In 'Grammars of Creation,' George Steiner will speculate on whether truly atheistic art is possible (he will suspect that it is) and on what poetry, music, painting done in a sense of radical spritual solitude might consist of. Here, he is more interested in the act of reading (he might say the act of 'living' the work of art), and whether we can respond in any meaningful way to serious art in the absence of any sense of transcendance.

The backdrop to 'Real Presences' is this: between 1870 and 1940, what the author calls the 'covenent' between word and world is broken for the first time, in any thorough and consequent sense, in European, Central European and Russian culture and speculative consciousness (from Mallarmé's 'l'absence de toute rose' and Rimbaud's 'Je est un autre' to Heidegger, Wittgenstein, and others). For Steiner, steeped not just in aesthetic philosophy but in Sprachkritik, linguistics and the hermeneutic tradition, this constitutes one of the few genuine revolutions of spirit in Western history. Modernity itself is defined by it.

Steiner defines the arts as 'the maximalisation of semantic incommensurability in respect of the formal means of expression.' The arts 'mean,' and they do so in overabundance. However, he asks, can we grasp the meaning of those multifarious meanings a-theistically, which is to say, without resorting to the intuition, however undefined or focused, of 'Real Presences'?

'Serious painting, music, literature or sculpture,' he writes, 'make palpable to us, as do no other means of communication, the unassuaged, unhoused instability and estrangement of our condition. We are, at key instants, strangers to ourselves, errant at the gates of our own psyche.
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18 of 20 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on 30 Nov. 1998
Format: Paperback
No where is J. Adler's maxim proved more true than here: "Good books are over your head; they would not be good for you if they were not." George Steiner's articulate thesis is that the assumption of God's presence may well be the the forgotten but necessary ground of all art and human dialogue. If this little volume cannot make you a "believer," it will be hard to find one that can. Get the paperback edition -- than after you have savored it, you may well want the hardback.
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