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This article is taken from PN Review 71, Volume 16 Number 3, January - February 1990.

George Steiner's Real Presences: three perspectives Gerald Hammond, Raymond Tallis, and Nicolas Tredell
(i)
George Steiner has been a provocative presence within and well beyond English culture. Coming to Cambridge in 1961, he gave lectures on Marxist, psychoanalytic, structuralist and linguistic approaches to literature, at a time when such things were hardly mentioned in Britain. Colin MacCabe has recalled that Steiner's lectures were 'brilliantly delivered and massively attended' and 'made available to a wide audience in Cambridge continental work which offered an approach to literature and language which differed both from the exhausted tradition of practical criticsm or [Raymond] Williams's energetic project to locate literary and linguistic forms in relation to patterns of economic and political domination' (Theoretical Essays, 1985, pp.20-1). And Steiner's impact was not confined to Cambridge. Language and Silence (1967; second edition, 1985) comprises a dazzling survey of issues and ideas which have increasingly come to count in cultural debate. Official Cambridge, in the shape of the Faculty Board of English Studies, did not, however, make Steiner welcome: their loss. He is now Professor of English and Comparative Literature at the University of Geneva. A fitting site: for lectures given at that University from 1907-11 were later, from notes taken by students, to become the book which, above all others, and almost inadvertently, has revolutionized the study of literature and culture in the later twentieth century: the Cours de linguistique générale of Ferdinand de Saussure.

But if Steiner has tried, in some ways, to be absolument moderne, in other ways his work is haunted by nostalgia for what ...


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