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Real Presences Paperback – April 23, 1991

ISBN-13: 978-0226772349 ISBN-10: 0226772349 Edition: 1st

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 246 pages
  • Publisher: University Of Chicago Press; 1 edition (April 23, 1991)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0226772349
  • ISBN-13: 978-0226772349
  • Product Dimensions: 8 x 5.3 x 0.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #364,357 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Steiner asserts moral and metaphysical issues are the basis of all art and that our experience of meaning in music, painting and literature presupposes the existence of God as a "necessary possibility." "Dense, difficult, rewarding, this passionately argued essay ranges fluently over aesthetics, linguistics, philosophy, post-structuralism, the range of Western culture," said PW.
Copyright 1991 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal

In this dense, prolix book, critic, linguist, novelist, polymath Steiner holds that in the creation of art (especially music), and in its experiencing, there is a fundamental encounter with a "real presence" and that, in fact, it is this transcendent reality that grounds all genuine art and human communication. He does not so much argue this in the traditional manner as give a "transcendental argument" a la Kant: since so much literature and so many literary figures attest to the thesis, it must be true. Because of its lack of discursive argument, this difficult book will be dissatisfying to philosophers and largely impenetrable to the general reader. But sophisticated readers looking for highly learned literary criticism will find much here to ponder.
- Leon H. Brody, U.S. Office of Personnel Management Lib., Washington, D.C.
Copyright 1989 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

75 of 77 people found the following review helpful By George P. Shadroui on August 9, 2001
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This small but complicated book is an effort to explore the deepest questions confronting human creativity. Steiner begins by seeking to remove artistic expression from the domain of science and scientific impulses that are so evident in post-modern criticism. He concedes that language is under attack -- and from many different directions. The 20th century brought us many intellectual movements that sought to divorce us from the word -- psychology, which sought truth in dreams and fantasies; linguistic theory that sought to isolate signs from meaning; deconstructionism, which suggests that language, being so imprecise a tool of communication, is therefore not useful in an exploration for truth. Authors themselves, so this argument goes, cease to matter. Then there is the deterioration of language, so stock with cliches and predictable usage that rob it of its power and vitality. Of course, all of these claims are interesting, some even contain some truth, but Steiner contends that somewhere between nihilism and the dogmatic notion that texts are sacred and final (not open to disagreement and discussion), there is a common sense middle ground.
Human experience is complex and it can unfold in many ways, at different levels. Music is a common thread in human emotional life -- it is part of artistic expression. Words, while not always well used, still have the power to move us -- enabling us to give directions, buy groceries, build bridges or express feelings of deep love or loss. The masters of language and art shake us at our core, force us to examine more deeply our humanity, and reshape our reality even as we are unaware of their formative power.
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33 of 35 people found the following review helpful By benjamin on December 31, 2005
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On rare occasions does one truly *encounter* a book whose graceful eloquence both witnesses to the beauty of the human mind and to the beauty of human communication. To affirm both is to affirm the possibility - or, perhaps better, the probability - of a transcendent point of reference beyond our own humanity. Real Presences "proposes that any coherent understanding of what language is and how language performs, that nay coherent account of the capacity of human speech to communicate meaning and feeling is, in the fainal analysis, underwritten by the assumption of God's presence" (3).

To read this book by Steiner really is something of an event. It tours metaphysics, particularly through in its Catholic incarnation (and the title of the book is very much along these very Catholic lines - although whether or not Steiner is Catholic I do not know), as well as art. As he affirms early on, asking what music is can also be understood as a way of asking what humanity is. The book begins with the essay "A Secondary City" (which certainly evokes St. Augustine), moves on to "The Broken Contract" (with its intimations of Enlightenment political philosophy), and ends with "Presences" (an affirmation of the wager for God's existence as the ground in which we walk).

This is a polemic against nihilism, particularly in its guise of deconstruction, which has nothing to say about death and is incapable of affirming the possibility of determinative meaning. Thus "art for art's sake" is pure narcissism and pure suicide - and it seems to me that the target of such "art for art's sake" are those theorists who write for the sake of writing, rather than for the sake of communicating.
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47 of 55 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on November 29, 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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16 of 18 people found the following review helpful By Bernard Michael O'Hanlon on September 11, 2011
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When a violinist complained that a passage taxed his skill, Beethoven roared back: "do you think I am worried about a lousy fiddle when the Spirit is speaking to me?"

Be it doctrinaire or otherwise, it is startling how many of the great composers - those "sages standing in God's holy fire", ascribed to some sort of belief in the Almighty: Mozart, Bruckner, Beethoven, Haydn, Schumann, Wagner(yes), Bax, Liszt, Tchaikovsky and a certain gentleman called Johann Sebastian Bach. Ambiguity is to found in the likes of Schubert, Vaughan Williams, Mahler and Brahms. The only composer who was staunchly an atheist belongs to the lower ranks: Delius. Many such composers were conscious of their vocation (what a word to use in this context): Leopold Mozart described his son as the "miracle that God had allowed to be born in Salzburg" and his words were later re-echoed by the progeny; when accosted by his legion of critics, Bruckner retorted: "They want me to write differently. Certainly I could but I must not. God has chosen me from thousands and given me, of all people, this talent. It is to Him that I must give account. How then would I stand there before Almighty God if I followed the others and not Him?"

I am always surprised that in discussions as to God's existence, their testimony is not drawn upon more often - not so much for what they might say (which would be incoherent in certain instances) but for their output. What does the Bruckner Eighth say about the cosmos and our place therein ? Surely the beginning of the Beethoven Ninth is more insightful on the events that occurred some 14.3 billion years ago than any theory by a propeller head? What troth is evident in the last movement of the Waldstein or its counterpart in Opus 101? And what of the darkness?
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