Quotable: George Steiner

The last couple paragraphs of his brilliant, The Poetry of Thought:

“The radical break with the western historical past would be that of ephemerality. It would entail the deliberate acceptance of the momentary and the transient. There would be no avowed aspirations to immortality. These would be left to the French Academicians. Lines of verse claiming to outlast bronze would be entombed in the archives. Citation would become an esoteric practice and arrogance. The self-destruct, the effacing sweep of death would not only be accepted but somehow enfolded within aesthetic and intellectual phenomena. Sense would be made play: homo ludens. Thus semantics would converge with those mutations in the status of death and personal identity to which I have referred. On the horizon lies the prospect that biochemical, neurological discoveries will demonstrate that the inventive, cognitive processes of the human psyche have their ultimately material source. That even the greatest metaphysical conjecture or poetic find are complex forms of molecular chemistry.

“This is not a vision in which an obsolescent, often technophobic consciousness such as mine can take comfort. It comes after “the humanities” which so bleakly failed us in the long night of the twentieth century. Yet it may be a formidable adventure. And somewhere a rebellious singer, a philosophical inebriate with solitude will say “No.” A syllable charged with the promise of creation.”

George Steiner, The Poetry of Thought, 216-217

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