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This report is taken from PN Review 150, Volume 29 Number 4, March - April 2003.

The Problem with Steiner Marius Kociejowski

I go to see the man who calls himself Arcangelo Riffis and, again, we discuss the problem of Steiner, Steiner who of late has made himself something of a presence in our lives. A great fictional character can seem to be, at times, more real than actual people. If one really is foolish enough to say what comprises great literature, and my friend both is and does, then surely one of its aspects is that its characters are endlessly discussible. And the more discussible, the greater their presence. As for Steiner, our Steiner, it's as if he has wandered from the set of La Dolce Vita into the darkened room where, every Sunday afternoon, from precisely one to three-thirty, Arcangelo Riffis and I shift in our unease. My friend was in Rome in 1959 when the film was being made and is possessive of it to the degree there are things in it that apparently only he sees. The poet Iris Tree, for example, is meant to be the poet H.D., whereas, I inform him, Iris Tree is most formidably Iris Tree. This is the man, I remind myself, who on occasion hears a nightingale outside his window, in London, where there have been none for decades, not even in Berkeley Square. We fight over that bird until we go blue in the face. I am at a disadvantage, though, as I'm never there at the hour when `it' comes. Steiner sits in the corner, says nothing at all, ...

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