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George Steiner

Extraordinary Fellow, Churchill College, Cambridge-Professor of English & Compar. Lit. Univ. Geneva

George Steiner (1929–), literary critic, was born on 23rd April 1929 in Paris to Jewish Viennese parents. His family moved to the United States in 1940. He studied at the Universities of Paris, Chicago, Harvard, Oxford and Cambridge, and he was on the editorial staff at The Economist in London during the 1950s before being appointed a Fellow at Princeton University’s Institute for Advanced Study in 1956, at age 27.

He received the Truman Capote Lifetime Achievement Award for Literature in 1998 and in the same year was elected Fellow of the British Academy. He is an honorary member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, an honorary fellow of Balliol College Oxford, was awarded the Chevalier de la Légion d'Honneur by the French Government and the King Albert Medal by the Royal Belgian Academy, and has held visiting professorships at Yale, New York University, the University of Geneva and Oxford University.

Steiner has taught at Cambridge, his current home, since 1961 and was Professor of English and Comparative Literature at the University of Geneva between 1974 and 1994. He is currently Weidenfeld Professor of Comparative Literature at the University of Oxford, and Extraordinary Fellow of Churchill College at Cambridge University. He was named Charles Eliot Norton Professor of Poetry at Harvard University for 2001-02 and delivered the prestigious Norton Lectures in the fall of 2002.

Steiner’s work as a critic has tended toward exploring, often with great insight, cultural and philosophical issues of enduring interest, in contrast to what some regard as the nihilistic or narrowly political directions taken by much contemporary literary criticism. His work heavily influenced intellectual discourse on popular culture and scholarly popular culture studies.

His non-fiction includes Tolstoy or Dostoevsky (1958), a critical analysis of the two great masters of the Russian novel, The Death of Tragedy (1961), Language and Silence: Essays 1958-1966 (1967), In Bluebeard's Castle: Some Notes Towards the Redefinition of Culture (1971), On Difficulty, and Other Essays (1978), Heidegger (1978, 2nd ed. 1992), Antigones (1984), Real Presences (1989), What Is Comparative Literature? (1995), No Passion Spent: Essays 1978–96 (1996), and Lessons of the Masters (2004). His book on translation, After Babel (1975, 2nd ed. 1992, 3rd ed 1998), was adapted for television in 1977 as The Tongues of Men. He has also written several works of fiction, including The Portage to San Cristobal of AH (1981), which was adapted for the stage by Christopher Hampton, and Proofs and Three Parables (1992). Errata: an Examined Life, a sort of philosophical autobiography, was published in 1997.

Grammars of Creation (2001), drawn from his 1990 Gifford Lectures in Natural Theology at the University of Glasgow, discusses a range of subjects from cosmology to poetry.

  • Brannon Hancock, University of Glasgow