Real Presences Kindle Edition
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“This passionately argued essay ranges fluently over aesthetics, linguistics, philosophy, post-structuralism, the range of Western culture.” —Publishers Weekly
“Sophisticated readers looking for highly learned literary criticism will find much here to ponder.” —Library Journal
“A real tour de force . . . All the virtues of the author’s astounding intelligence and compelling rhetoric are evident from the first sentence onward.” —The Journal of Religion
About the Author
- ASIN : B00BZILXF2
- Publisher : Open Road Media (April 16, 2013)
- Publication date : April 16, 2013
- Language : English
- File size : 1413 KB
- Text-to-Speech : Enabled
- Screen Reader : Supported
- Enhanced typesetting : Enabled
- X-Ray : Not Enabled
- Word Wise : Enabled
- Print length : 248 pages
- Lending : Enabled
- Best Sellers Rank: #662,795 in Kindle Store (See Top 100 in Kindle Store)
- Customer Reviews:
Top reviews from the United States
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He is arguing against a set of alternatives (in psychology and linguistics, e.g.), but principally against the nihilism of deconstruction. He believes that communication, particularly aesthetic communication, is grounded in transcendence, while prevailing orthodoxies argue just the opposite, viz. the absence of transcendence and the triumph of an often reductive materialism. Since he contrasts the example of music (especially) to a set of arguments that are often rigorously verbal, we can see the implicit rhetorical challenge which he has created for himself.
He will argue for ‘real presences’ in the face of postmodern challenges, while fully cognizant of the force of those challenges. Inevitably, being Steiner, he will make a powerful argument but ultimately he will be thrown back on the towering examples of those who share his vision. He quotes, e.g., Yeats: “No man can create as did Shakespeare, Homer, Sophocles, who does not believe with all his blood and nerve, that man’s soul is immortal.”
The nub of the problem, in part, is that the ‘real presence’, by its very nature, is ineffable, but, in its existence and importance, palpable. He quotes Sir Thomas Browne to the effect that “we are men and we know not how; there is something in us that can be without us, nor cannot tell how it entered into us.”
In preparing creative work we are recapitulating the work of the Creator. He quotes Picasso to this effect, cites Joyce’s fingernail-paring creator and, interestingly, suggests that the famous ‘rival poet’ of Shakespeare’s sonnets might well, in effect, be God. In a very gutsy move he argues that the preeminence of male creators might be attributable to the fact that women, in giving birth, participate in an act of creation so grand and miraculous that writing plays or creating sonatas will always be, for them, a secondary activity.
As always with George Steiner, the book is dazzling in its learning and in its insights. This is, however, a rough go for those who are not already immersed in the book’s issues. It is very sophisticated and very densely argued. In contrasting the agony of a post-holocaust humanity with the possibilities for hope that remain, one might begin with his book, In Bluebeard’s Castle, which consists of a series of (more accessible) lectures.
For the reader of Real Presences the truth of this assessment is evident in the first ten pages of Steiner’s book—each saturated with references to a vast array of artistic creations. Consequently, if you are not a “person of letters,” virtually none of these references will carry the full visceral response that Steiner must feel and hope to convey by his words.
Compared to the almost excessive citing of these references, Steiner’s thesis seems rather straightforward: the arts arise from and provide access to a realm of meaning and being, of “real presence,” that neither science nor any other fully articulated medium cannot hope to convey. Ultimately, Steiner is arguing for the possibility of touching transcendent reality through the arts. “To summarize: it is, I believe, poetry, art and music which relate us most directly to that in being of which is not ours” (p.226) Only within the last few pages of the book does Steiner spell out this thesis directly and pose the question that seems to underlie the whole thrust of the book, “Is there or is there not God? Is there or is there not meaning to being?” (p. 220)
Steiner views our current civilization as living in the “Saturday” of human existence—between the Good Friday of the Crucifixion and the celebrations of Easter Sunday marking the resurrection of life from the throes of death. Will we learn to access the transcendent through an appreciation of the irreducible reality of the arts? Or, will our digital age embrace the loss of living-life that inevitably accompanies the reduction of the irreducible to fully articulated systems meaning and being?
Surely by now, twenty-eight years since the publication of Real Presences,” Steiner’s question has its answer. We are increasingly “Saturday people” seemingly without any hope of a resurrection to real life—life lived within and from a transcendent dimension of reality, one that binds us intimately not only to each other beyond all sense of separation, but to the infinite and all-inclusive expanse of Being, the only reality from which our lives can find any true meaning.
I gave this book “four stars,” not as a commentary on the artistic coherence of Steiner’s thesis, but simply because most readers will not want to wade through the rich and subtle currents of his argument to grasp how the arts might allow us to touch and be touched by the transcendent.
Please read the book through without so much stopping to analyze each word. Get the gist the first time through or the first and second times, and then go through word for word. You need to get the overall picture, concept, "vibe," and then you can drill deep. It isn't as daunting as you fear. Read, read, read, and then you will find you do get the idea, you get it. If you go word by word FIRST, you will stop short of the end.
Top reviews from other countries
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. Attacking the prevalence of secondary literature over creative art, and similarly arguing against deconstruction, which denies any ultimate meaning behind our words, Steiner's case becomes a wager (in the manner of Pascal). "This essay argues a wager on transcendence. It argues that there is in the art-act and its reception, that there is in the experience of meaningful form , a presumption of presence." (p 214). Steiner is well aware that his position is an unfashionable one. But as he insists:- "It is I believe poetry, art and music which relate us most directly to that in being which is not ours." (p 226).
Immensely difficult; richly rewarding.