PRINT December 1989

Lucio Pozzi

By George Steiner, Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1989, 236 pp.

As one who is sick and tired of the epidemic of mechanistic explanationitis raging through our culture, I welcomed George Steiner’s Real Presences. It represents an attempt to synthesize the chances a renewed attention to emotions and transcendence might have in regenerating our thinking today.

I beamed at Steiner’s description of our culture as secondary and parasitic. I agreed with his calling our communication “rotten with lifeless clichés [and] meaningless jargon,” and with his referring to the “contrived obscurantism and specious pretensions to technicality” of the post-Structuralist and deconstructive epigones of Jacques Derrida (whom he in fact respects) as a symptom of our cultural disease.

In search of an alternative to the dominance of secular positivist methods of “proof and verification” in the arts—a realm where there can be none—Steiner engages in a “revaluation of . . . ‘outmoded,’ nonsystematic, counter theoretical intuitions,” well aware that he might find himself cursed as reactionary. But as an artist, I liked his intercession for love, intuition, the inexplicable, and the unfathomable as the forces that lend meaning to the arts.

Then comes the trouble. On page 207, having brilliantly argued for the artistic impulse as a kind of counter-creation, an envying of God, he concludes that since women create life when they produce children, it might be that they feel less compelled to create art. And a few pages later, having vouched for the primacy of silence over the noise of production, he attributes mythical power to the bombastic formal exercises of Anselm Kiefer and dumps as opportunistic, for example, the early Zen gestures of Carl Andre.

George Steiner’s writing is never dogmatic—his ideas always proposed as possibilities rather than imposed as truth. So L have leeway to take his thoughts and leave out some of his conclusions.

—Lucio Pozzi