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In Bluebeard's Castle: Some Notes Towards the Redefinition of Culture (T. S. Eliot Memorial Lectures) [Paperback]

George Steiner
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)

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Book Description

September 10, 1974 0300017103 978-0300017106
"Four impressive lectures about the culture of recent times (from the French Revolution) and the conceivable culture of times to come. Mr. Steiner's discussion of the break with the traditional literary past (Jewish, Christian, Greek, and Latin) is illuminating and attractively undogmatic. He writes as a man sharing ideas, and his original notions, though scarcely cheerful, have the bracing effect that first-rate thinking always has." -New Yorker "In Bluebeard's Castle is a brief and brilliant book. An intellectual tour de force, it is also a book that should generate a profound excitement and promote a profound the great culturalists of the past. Steiner uses a dense and plural learning to assess his topic: his book has the outstanding quality of being not simply a reflection on culture, but an embodiment of certain contemporary resources within it. The result is one of the most important books I have read for a very long time."-New Society

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Product Details

  • Series: T. S. Eliot Memorial Lectures
  • Paperback: 154 pages
  • Publisher: Yale University Press (September 10, 1974)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0300017103
  • ISBN-13: 978-0300017106
  • Product Dimensions: 7.9 x 5.1 x 0.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #436,437 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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48 of 48 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Optimal Steiner July 15, 2003
By A Customer
While reading this book I constantly had to remind myself that it was written in 1970-71, so prescient and prophetic were Steiner's insights. As a study of Western culture, an investigation into where--and what--we are historically and globally, it remains absolutely critical reading. Steiner read right what continue to be the major issues of our time: the generalized suspicions about the irrelevance of "high" culture when projected against 20th century political atrocities; the role of literacy in a progressively visual culture; the increasingly pervasive roles of various forms of music; the emerging pre-eminence of "facts," of a scientific mind-set and of scientific knowledge in general; the ethical and intellectual risks posed by the scientific unknowns--to name but a few themes in this dense, richly thought-out essay.
This is a thin book, unlike "No Passion Spent"; rigorously and earnestly investigatory, unlike "Errata." Ironically I came to this book last, but it is by far the most satisfying. In the former, only one essay, "Archives of Eden," touches on the large cultural questions examined here, and then more in the form of a rant; in the latter, what had by then become Steiner's familiar terrain seemed only to have been re-rehearsed, with no substantive new insights.
But here is Steiner at his least pretentious (he does have a tendency to flaunt his polylingual capacities), at his most profound and probing. It isn't easy reading and isn't intended to be. It has the earmark of a formidable mind investigating its time and space for its own sake, more out of its own curiosity and impulse to understand as of any desire to impress, or advance its host professionally.
Here is Steiner at the same amplitude as an Elias Canetti or a William Irwin Thompson--an encyclopedic generalist discussing broad cultural questions with command, eloquence and erudition.
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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
Even though this book is 40 years old, it is one of the supreme masterpieces as an attempt to understand the crisis of the contemporary era. Steiner is a literary critic and academic, but he is also a polymath and can evoke, with phenomenal depth, an astonishing array of disciplines, from history and language to mathematics, music, and computer technology. Perhaps the most amazing thing is that the book is barely 100 pages, but it so dense in logic and expression that it is best to read it aloud to oneself. I read this in 1979 and remembered it vividly, as a touchstone in all my intellectual endeavors, sometimes as an inspiration to explore new areas, sometimes as the essential framework to put anything/everything I read in context. It is that good. Upon re-reading, I am again in awe at Steiner's erudition and talent for expression, though I also see some gaps. This is the work of a genius.

There are many levels on which this book can be read. On the historical level, Steiner addresses the period that started with the Enlightenment and its culmination in the French Revolution and then Napoleon's rise and fall. It was a time, Steiner says, when the pace of life, even the perception of the passage of time, was accelerated. To oversimplify, the old order based on both religious certitudes and a monarchical/aristocratic hierarchy was being overthrown by two trends: 1) the installation of democratic institutions that swept away the old structures of privilege and 2) the industrial revolution and its enabling mechanisms, communications and transportation technologies.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Compulsory read to start understanding our times ? March 30, 2010
An extremely interesting essay by one of the -supposedly- greatest minds of the XXth century, trying to analyze the western world's culture and education system through modern history, with the events of the second world war as a turning
point - with no possible way back - : how the rise of science and the "fall" of God (to briefly summarize it) during the past centuries led to the Shoah, how culture has evolved since then (the book was written in the 70s) compared to what it was before and finally how Steiner think we should proceed forward to avoid repeating mistakes of the past and handle the somewhat scary potential of the future of science. All of it wrapped in exceptional wisdom and culture while very didactic even for neophytes like myself, tainted with a light pessimism, but a pessimism that looks towards the light. Pretty damn good.
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5.0 out of 5 stars One of Steiner's Finest Books March 4, 2014
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This is a very important, complex, short volume. It is subtitled “Some Notes Toward the Redefinition of Culture.” The subtitle echoes Eliot’s “Notes Towards the Definition of Culture,” Steiner’s book being the Eliot Memorial Lectures for 1970. The title refers to a one-act Bartók opera based on a folk tale. Bluebeard has taken a wife, Judith, and they have arrived at his castle. The darkened castle includes 7 doors. Judith wants to open them and let in the light; Bluebeard dissuades her. Finally, he agrees to permit her to open the doors. One door leads to a torture chamber, another to a lake of tears, one to a beautiful garden, and so on. There is blood everywhere. Judith wishes to open the final, seventh door and, after attempting to persuade her otherwise, Bluebeard allows her to do so. She fears that beyond the door are the bodies of Bluebeard’s previous wives.

She opens the door and the three wives are all there, alive and bedecked with jewelry. Bluebeard falls at their feet, praising them, and asks Judith to accept the jewelry that he offers and his love for her as his fourth wife. She does, but she is weighed down by the jewelry. When she joins the first three wives the door closes behind her and the castle is again plunged into darkness. Thus, the book positions us in a frightening, dark locus with doors that might hold hideous secrets . . . in other words in the seventh decade of the 20th century, with the holocaust in our immediate past, the decline of culture an everyday reality, the future uncertain and ominous. Still, like Judith, we want to open the final door. Steiner eases it open and allows us to briefly see beyond.

There are four lectures. Some involve vast cultural speculation.
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