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This article is taken from PN Review 195, Volume 37 Number 1, September - October 2010.

Music, Mathematics and Poetry Ronald A. Sharp

Over the last half century George Steiner has published a wide range of books, essays, and works of fiction that explore the enigma of the human condition by articulating new ways of thinking about major issues, such as good and evil; beauty and truth; the mind and the body; the nature, limitations, and possibilities of language and translation; death, love, creativity, and desire; the past and the future; the universal and the particular; the individual and the communal; freedom and equality.

Steiner’s work has wrestled with these and related matters from an astonishing array of perspectives, always searching for answers to the toughest questions but insisting that formulating the questions is just as important as providing the answers. This emphasis on the need to bring a fierce clarity not only to explaining answers but to formulating, and reformulating, questions, has been a constant note, and it appears again in his most recent work, a fifteen- page piece entitled ‘Tritones’ and published in Salmagundi in America.

In this important new text Steiner provides a summary and synthesis of certain issues that have preoccupied him throughout his career. My essay therefore focuses on this new work and attempts to clarify both the nature of the synthesis ‘Tritones’ proposes and the important new questions and perspectives about these issues that it reveals. In this dramatic conversation among a musician, a mathematician, and a poet, after defending their respective positions on which of the three has the greater claim ...


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