(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

George Steiner 1929–

French-born American critic, editor, poet, short story writer, and novelist.

Steiner is important as both a literary and social critic. One of his basic interests is in the relation of literature to life. In Tolstoy or Dostoevsky, for instance, Steiner analyzed the work of the two writers in the context of the political realities of their time and their cultural, literary, and spiritual heritage.

The essays in Steiner's Language and Silence attempt to establish what Steiner termed "a philosophy of language." Believing that language is the expression of the human condition, Steiner pursued the disturbing question of whether or not literature can survive the "barbarism" of the modern world. In his view, the savage acts of modern societies gravely threaten the future of literature. The liberal ideal of literature as "morally redemptive" shatters in the knowledge of the atrocities of the Holocaust and the writer, in Steiner's view, must choose between speaking the language of an oppressive, dehumanizing world, and silence.

Several of Steiner's later books develop ideas introduced in Language and Silence. Extraterritorial proposes the idea that new modes of communication must be found. In this work, Steiner asserted that literary criticism will find new life in linguistic studies, multilingualism, and the adaptation of a scientific approach to the study of literature.

(See also Contemporary Authors, Vols. 73-76.)