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Toppling the monument

George Steiner is probably the most eminent literary critic writing in English. James Wood, a young pretender to his throne, launches a blistering attack on the critic's work

By James Wood   December 1996

George Steiner’s prose is a remarkable substance; it is the sweat of a statue that wishes to be a monument. Readers of his essays in The New Yorker will be familiar with that prose’s laborious imprecisions and melodramas; the platoon-like massing of its adjectives, its cathedral hush around the great works. Nabokov once complained that one of Steiner’s essays was “built on solid abstractions and opaque generalisations”; but things are worse than that, as this new book of essays shows.

George Steiner has a fear of exhibiting even rhetorical ignorance, and this is accompanied by a superstitious worship of “greatness.”…

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