cover image No Passion Spent: Essays 1978-1995

No Passion Spent: Essays 1978-1995

George Steiner. Yale University Press, $20 (448pp) ISBN 978-0-300-06630-2

Sometimes puzzling, sometimes irritating, but always fascinating, Steiner is at his best when exploring the politics, philosophy and practice of semantics. Several excellent essays, most of which have appeared previously in the New Yorker and Salmagundi, address the complexities of translation, and Steiner uses the translator's method as a subtle metaphor to illuminate the practices of the modern reader. Steiner offers a fresh perspective on the relationships among reader, author and text in an age when literary criticism has been overrun by postmodern thinkers and their structuralist counterparts. He borrows liberally from each camp but allies himself with neither. Less exact in their arguments, but perhaps more compelling in their passion, are essays on the relationship between Judaism and Christianity as seen through the Torah. Steiner draws the reader in with his discussions of the tragic destiny of Judaism (a subject obviously very close to his heart), although many readers will be put off by his charge that Christians must make themselves accountable for their part in the Holocaust. Yet even when Steiner is treading on dangerous ground, as he is in ""The Archives of Eden,"" the reader will find it difficult not to see the logic of his argument. Perhaps the only truly weak parts of this collection come in the book reviews of Peguy, Weil and Husserl. These tend to diffuse rather than tighten the progression of dynamic thought demonstrated elsewhere. (May)