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This review is taken from PN Review 156, Volume 30 Number 4, March - April 2004.

THE PROFESSOR OF DESIRE GEORGE STEINER, Lessons of the Masters: The Charles Eliot Norton Lectures 2002-2003 (Harvard University Press) £13.50

George Steiner's topic in his latest book is a vital one, and rather less nebulous than those of Real Presences (1989) and Grammars of Creation (2001). It is the ethics and the erotics of teaching, as embodied - and here that verb should be allowed its full carnal weight - in the relationships between Masters (the gendered term is emphatically Steiner's) and disciples (who may be male or female). Steiner identifies three structures of relation: the Master may destroy the disciple; the disciple may destroy the Master; or there may be a positive relationship `of exchange, of an eros of reciprocal trust and, indeed, love'. He exemplifies these structures through a rich range of instances, both fictional and biographical, from Socrates and Alcibiades to Heidegger and Arendt.

Steiner acknowledges that his survey is `almost absurdly selective', but there is one announced exclusion that seems highly questionable: that of Shakespeare. Steiner claims that `the theme ... of Masters and disciples, left Shakespeare indifferent' and that it figures significantly, but not centrally, only in The Tempest, in the relationships between Prospero, Caliban and Miranda. There are certainly other relationships in Shakespeare, however, that could be fruitfully considered in the perspective Steiner proposes. One notable example would be Prince Hal and Falstaff in Henry IV 1 and 2. Hal is both a true and false disciple, affirming in his first soliloquy his cognisance of Falstaff and his louche companions (`I know you all'), but continuing to learn from and through ...


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