“Bullshit, Profesore. The old Party-line blood-libel on human nature and on America. About which… you and I know very little. To me it sounds like the society which says to every man and woman: ‘Be what you want to be. Be yourself. The world was not made only for geniuses and neurotics, for the obsessed and the inspired. It was made for you and you and you. If you choose to try and be an artist or a thinker or a scholar, that’s fine. We will neither inhibit you nor put you on a pedestal. If you prefer to be a couch-potato, an auto-mechanic, a break-dancer, mile-runner, a broker, if you prefer to be a truck-driver or even a drifter, that’s fine too. Perhaps even better. Because it so happens that ideological passions and ascetic illumination, that dogma and sacrifice, have not brought only light and aid to this approximate world of ours. [America] is not saying, ‘Do not better yourself.’ It is saying: ‘Go after… what fires your soul… Move up the ladder, if you can… because the desire to live decently, to give your family a comfortable home, to send your children to schools better than those you attended yourself… is not some capitalist vice, but a universal desire.’ …America is just about the first nation and society to encourage common, fallible, frightened humanity to feel at home in its skin.”
I had never read George Steiner, because I had always assumed him to be one of those idiot lefties, like Shaw or Saramago, for whom the writing of fiction is not an attempt to create something worth reading, some new character or motive or image that has not existed before, an object of some aesthetic value that might give pleasure or intellectual stimulus to others, and satisfaction to the creator, but an exercise is repeating beneath a ham-fisted veil the things they think that, if we hear them often enough, we might start to believe.
It turns out I was wrong. Maybe I had him mixed up with someone else. In any case he is actually a genuine writer, in that he writes because he has something to say, and he knows how to say it. I read ‘Proof and Three Parables’, an admittedly pretentious title for a small collection of short stories, each of which takes an idea, in itself worth expressing, and writes a story around it. This matters, because ideas, clever images, are not themselves stories, and more people know how to come up with a clever image than know how to use it in a story, or any other medium.
Steiner does, and I am delighted to prove myself wrong. I’ll be digging up some more of his stuff.
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