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the Complete Review
the complete review - dialogue

     

A Long Saturday

by
George Steiner
with Laure Adler


general information | review summaries | our review | links | about the authors

To purchase A Long Saturday



Title: A Long Saturday
Authors: George Steiner and Laure Adler
Genre: Dialogue
Written: 2014 (Eng. 2017)
Length: 118 pages
Original in: French
Availability: A Long Saturday - US
A Long Saturday - UK
A Long Saturday - Canada
Un long samedi - Canada
Un long samedi - France
Ein langer Samstag - Deutschland
La passione per l'assoluto - Italia
Un largo sábado - España
  • Conversations
  • French title: Un long samedi
  • Translated by Teresa Lavender Fagan

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Our Assessment:

B : good little introduction to Steiner, and his life and passions

See our review for fuller assessment.




Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
L'actualité . 22/12/2014 Jacques Godbout


  From the Reviews:
  • "Dans un Québec inquiet de ses assises, les George Steiner de ce monde nous rappellent la richesse des cultures cosmopolites. Il faut voir ces entretiens avec Laure Adler comme une introduction utile à l’ensemble de son œuvre." - Jacques Godbout, L'actualité (Fr

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       A Long Saturday is a slim book of conversations Laure Adler had with George Steiner. Each of its five sections focuses on a different subject but, as is to be expected from Steiner, they are all far-ranging, and there is of course considerable overlap. Already over eighty, there's a bit of mortal melancholy to Steiner's musings -- a recognition that, as he says, he doesn't have that much longer, a slight wistfulness about paths not taken (such as not having learned Hebrew), and concern about mental decay.
       The first conversation is a quick overview of his background and early stations, which included The Economist ("I could have been number two, certainly; that was their plan, but I would never have been the chief") and the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton -- which showed him that, in contrast to the extreme "moral rigor" of the scientific enterprise:

From that time, and then at Cambridge, I have the impression that there is an alarming amount of bluffing in the humanities.
       Multilingual, Steiner enthuses about the worlds opened by knowing other languages -- and how limiting Anglo-American monolinguism is. Knowing languages is essential, he suggests:
Ancient Greek, in translation ? Let's not go there.
       Interestingly, for such a book-obsessed man -- and writer -- he admits:
I realize that over the years I've greatly overestimated the presence of the book in human life.
       Not its importance, mind you -- he remains very much a book man -- but its presence, where he has a point. As he notes, historically: "Written literature is very rare in this world". And while he's right, to some extent, that: "Being literate is a fragile condition", and shouldn't be taken for granted, it's surely also worth noting that worldwide literacy is at all-time highs, and far, far more widespread than even just a century ago. (As to how deep that literacy goes -- i.e. how much literature is being read -- that, of course is quite a different issue.)
       All that said, he's perhaps not entirely realistic in his contemporary assessment, as when he claims:
In Italy, a country I adore, between Milan in the north and Bari in the south, there are only kiosks, no serious bookstores. No one reads in Italy. In rural Spain and Portugal they read very little. Wherever Catholicism has reigned, reading has not been encouraged.
       (While somewhat encouraging to see someone bash a religion other than Islam for not fostering a reading culture, and whatever grains of truth there are to it, the generalization is surely as exaggerated -- and ultimately wrong -- as it is with regards to Islam.)
       Coming from a scholar so well-versed in the classical, it is heartening to hear that even at his advanced age he does not look merely to the past. No reclusive scholar, he has traveled and taught widely -- and emphasizes: "I believe strongly in the advantages of encountering the new". Admirably, even now, he says:
I constantly read the newest works and try to pave the way for them.
       (Dealing with contemporary computer and internet technology, however, seems a step too far for him to take.)
       Steiner compares his role to that of the mailman -- "like the one in the wonderful film Il postino", bringing the right 'mail' to the right mailbox. He seems to have done well in this regard.
       (It's amusing to see him use the example of: "the wonderful film Il postino". Elsewhere he notes that he never really delved into the film-world, finding films -- unlike theater, music, or literature -- to wear out upon repeated viewing; but of course the 1994 film, Il postino, is based on a novel, the 1985 novel The Postman ('Ardiente paciencia') by Antonio Skármeta (though of course, ironically, Skármeta's novel is, in fact a novelization of his own 1983 film, Ardiente paciencia ...).)
       A whole section of A Long Saturday deals with 'Reflections on Judaism', and Jewish identity, as well as the horrors of Nazism naturally figure prominently, as they greatly Steiner's life. A non-believer, Steiner nevertheless identifies with much of the culture, albeit not that focused solely on religion (and its politics); he sees himself as: "A European Jew, if you like", presumably meaning also his and his parents' generations of assimilated European intellectuals. He amusingly hems and haws about whether he would have ever wanted to move to Israel, clearly torn (and perhaps a bit relieved to be able to say that neither age nor health allow him to consider doing so any longer). He remains also so much a thought-person that he can only very limitedly condemn, for example, Heidegger -- "a titan of philosophy". The thought-work wins out, not excusing Heidegger's support for the Nazis, but his (private-)Nazism also not something that can render the philosophy itself noxious and untouchable. Similarly, he holds (most of) Céline's writing in the highest regard.
       Occasionally, on some subjects, Steiner does seem to have blinders on -- "Up to now, we know of not one Jewish school where there has been an incident involving pedophilia" suggests some very selective news-gathering -- but, sadly, his overall grim assessment seems even truer today than just a few years ago, when he spoke these words:
On the contrary, the world is becoming more and more sadistic, more and more provincial, nationalistic, chauvinistic. [...] We are living in a society of ever increasing kitsch, vulgarity, and brutality.
       For all that dark assessment, there's also a true joie de vivre on display here. Steiner's passions -- family, literature, music, in particular -- shine easily, strongly through, and outshine all the ugly darkness.
       At not much over a hundred pages, the conversations can only cover so much. Yet A Long Saturday offers a fine introduction to the man, and to his passions, and is certainly worth quick perusal, by both those familiar with him and his work, and those new to it.

- M.A.Orthofer, 5 April 2017

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Links:

A Long Saturday: Reviews: George Steiner: Other works by George Steiner under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Authors:

       George Steiner, born in 1929, is one of the foremost intellectuals of our time. A professor at Cambridge and Geneva, he is the author of numerous books.

       French journalist Laure Adler was born in 1950.

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© 2017 the complete review

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