Done with Steiner, Now Where to Begin?

I finally made it up the mountain, and would like to start to tell the tale.

But I’m winded, and not sure where to begin.

I know I should begin at the beginning, but I will begin at the end. This morning came to the end of a slow jaunt up and through George Steiner’s Real Presences (slow, I am convinced, is the only way to make this journey. Read this book. Study it, and savor it).

Throughout the journey I suspected something to be true, and now that the journey is done, I can confirm it to be true: this is one of the handful of books one should return to every two or three years.

I can make no attempt to account for the book here. I will be digesting for some time, and will only quote its final two paragraphs.

“There is one particular day in Western history about which neither historical record nor myth nor Scripture make a report. it is a Saturday. And it has become the longest of days. We know of that Good Friday which Christianity holds to have been that of the Cross. But the non-Christian, the atheist, knows of it as well. This is to say that he knows of the injustice, of the interminable suffering, of the waste, of the brute enigma of ending, which so largely make up not only the historical dimension of the human condition, but the everyday fabric of our personal lives. We know, ineluctably, of the pain, of the failure of love, of the solitude which are our history and private fate. We know also about Sunday. To the Christian, that day signifies an intimation, both assured and precarious, both evident and beyond comprehension, of resurrection, of a justice and a love that have conquered death. If we are non-Christians or non-believers, we know of that Sunday in precisely analogous terms. We conceive of it as the day of liberation from inhumanity and servitude. We look to resolutions, be they therapeutic or political, be they social or messianic. The lineaments of that Sunday carry the name of hope (there is no word less deconstructible).

“But ours is the long day’s journey of the Saturday. Between suffering, aloneness, unutterable waste on the one hand and the dream of liberation, of rebirth on the other. In the face of the torture of a child, of the death of love which is Friday, even the greatest art and poetry are almost helpless. in the Utopia of the Sunday, the aesthetic will, presumably, no longer have logic or necessity. The apprehensions and figurations in the play of metaphysical imagining, in the poem and the music, which tell of pain and hope, of the flesh which is said to taste of ash and of the spirit which is said to have the savour of fire, are always Sabbatarian. They have risen out of an immensity of waiting which is that of man. Without them, how could we be patient?”

 

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