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This interview is taken from PN Review 78, Volume 17 Number 4, March - April 1991.

George Steiner in conversation Nicolas Tredell

CHURCHILL COLLEGE, CAMBRIDGE 20 JULY 1990

Nicolas Tredell: In your books, you've given some glimpses of your early life - of the 'polyglot matrix', as you call it in After Babel (1975, p. 116), in which you were raised, of the influence of your father, of your schooling at lycées in Paris and New York, of the growing threat of Fascism. Could you give us an outline of your early cultural development?

George Steiner: Yes. The first and central point is that it was physically very safe and privileged in Paris. Psychologically, my father had no doubt at all, from the late twenties on, that the catastrophe was coming, and among my earliest memories are those of Hitler's voice on the radio being picked up by my parents with a sense of absolute and terrible certainty. So I was educated under the pressure of trying to get ready to move. My father saying, on a Monday you start packing your steamer trunk and on a Tuesday your hand baggage, stuck with me even before I quite understood it. And the polyglot matrix gave a kind of wonderful sense of not being afraid of being caught in any one place. Very systematically, my father suggested to me that the more languages you knew, the more you learned of other cultures and other ways, the more you might have a chance of acting, of making a contribution, without necessarily being where you were as a child. I'd like to stress that this, far from introducing any particular ...


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