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In Bluebeard's Castle: Some Notes Towards the Redefinition of Culture (T. S. Eliot Memorial Lectures) Revised ed. Edition

5.0 out of 5 stars 6 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0300017106
ISBN-10: 0300017103
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Editorial Reviews

About the Author

George Steiner is Professor of English and Comparative Literature at the University of Geneva. His books include The Death of Tragedy, Language in Silence, In Bluebeard's Castle, and On Difficulty and Other Essays.
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Product Details

  • Series: T. S. Eliot Memorial Lectures
  • Paperback: 154 pages
  • Publisher: Yale University Press; Revised ed. edition (September 10, 1974)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0300017103
  • ISBN-13: 978-0300017106
  • Product Dimensions: 5 x 0.4 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #450,928 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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By A Customer on July 15, 2003
Format: Paperback
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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Format: Paperback
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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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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