George Steiner, The Idea of Europe

The Idea of Europe: An EssayThe Idea of Europe: An Essay by George Steiner

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

The Goodreads description calls this a “remarkable short book,” but maybe it should say “remarkably short.” As other reviewers have pointed out, Steiner has said much the same elsewhere, and less invidiously at that, so my criticisms of In Bluebeard’s Castle go for The Idea of Europe as well. Steiner’s European exceptionalism or even supremacism could be contested on many grounds, not all of them political: for instance, his assimilation of poetry to speculative thought stands out to me as particularly egregious. Steiner argues that pure theory, as expressed in mathematics and speculative philosophy, distinguishes European civilization among all others; even if this were true, his insistence that poetry is at one with speculative thought—the basis of his objection to Shakespeare—is warrantless. The poets themselves have often enough insisted otherwise, testifying from Dante to Pound to influences, by way of the Troubadours, of Catharism and other sensibilities from outside Steiner’s beloved Athens and Jerusalem matrix. But for all that, I think Steiner is learned and eloquent enough that I look forward to pursuing the nuances of this argument in his Poetry of Thought, which looks to be a more substantial book than this.

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