George Steiner (Francis George Steiner) Biography
(1929– ), (Francis George Steiner), Tolstoy or Dostoevsky, Language and Silence
American critic, born in Paris of Austrian-Jewish parents; from 1940, when his family fled France, he grew up in America. He was educated at the University of Chicago, Harvard, and Balliol College, Oxford. In 1961 he became a fellow of Churchill College, Cambridge, and was appointed Professor of English and Comparative Literature at the University of Geneva in 1974. Much of Steiner's writing is deeply informed by loss of faith in the civilizing power of liberal humanism as a result of modern history's barbaric record of major wars, ruthless totalitarianism, and, most notably, the Nazis' treatment of the Jewish people. His view of literature as inseparable from its broader cultural contexts was clear from Tolstoy or Dostoevsky (1959), his first major publication, which challenged the claims of the New Criticism that social and historical factors are not relevant to literary analysis. Language and Silence (1967) examined the effects of science and mass communications on language and literature, concluding that silence may be the only supportable option for a writer confronted with the twentieth century's moral abnegation. After Babel: Aspects of Language and Translation (1975), widely regarded as his most important work, surveys a remarkable range of literary and linguistic theory in proposing that the intrinsic differences between languages and cultures are of greater significance than their apparent similarities. His other works include Real Presences (1989), in which he argues that meaning in literature and the other arts is ultimately of a moral and metaphysical nature. His best-known work of fiction is The Portage to San Cristobal of A. H. (1979), in which Adolf Hitler, an aged fugitive in South America, speaks in defence of his actions; it was adapted for the stage by Christopher Hampton in 1982.