Saturday, November 08, 2008

From Real Presences

An extract from George Steiner's Real Presences:

"The usages and values predominant in the consumer societies of the West today are the opposite to those in the imaginary community of the immediate. It is the secondary and the parasitic which overwhelm. Literate humanity is solicited daily by millions of words, printed, broadcast, screened, about books which it will never open, music it will not hear, works of art it will never set eyes on. A perpetual hum of aesthetic commentary, of on-the-minute judgements, of pre-packaged pontifications, crowds the air. Presumably, the greater part of art-talk or literary reportage, of music reviews or ballet criticisms, is skimmed rather than read, heard but not listened to. None the less, the effect is antithetical to that visceral, personal encounter and appropriation designated by Ben Johnson. There is little ingestion; it is the digest that prevails.

At the level of critical-academic interpretation and evaluation, the volume of secondary discourse defies inventory. Not even the computer and electronic data bank are able to cope. No bibliographies are up to date. The mass of books and critical essays, of scholarly articles, of acta and dissertations produced each day in Europe and the United States, has the blind weight of a tidal wave. In the humanities- a general rubric which I will take to encompass literature, music, the arts together with the totality of hermeneutic and normative argument which they occasion.....enumeration verges on the grotesque".

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