Here’s the rest of the Steiner quote… He’s not suggesting a break with literacy; elsewhere he champions it (and laments its passing) – he’s pointing to literature’s (art’s) imperative to project to its own decay, its mortality. In this sense it is resists Yeat’s yen for the indestructible golden birds (I mean, he has a yen for lots of things, but – the ideal is one of them)? A permanent ideal is as risky in art as it is in politics… Aristotle (contingent on evidence) is a better friend of the arts than Plato for this reason?
Soulographie – built in a ring so it is continually giving itself away; ring broken to a spiral so that the series spins out of itself rather than completing? The heart-crushing difficulty of producing is a reminder of a value/values? The currency of trust and good will are valued (on a scale alternative to because they die; they’re human?
Only mortality itself can reach into death? In studying genocide we hunt and hunt for a sleeve of safety that will guarantee our integrity as we push into darkness. But in safety (in the ideal, in the unalloyed, from objectivity) we are only pushing the dark aside, without genuine contact? Knowing only by simile…
If we can’t get it wrong – tragically, basely wrong – then we aren’t in freedom in a moral milieu. We are moralistic.
“Unlike Matthew Arnold and unlike Dr. Leavis, I find myself unable to assert confidently that the humanities humanize. Indeed, I would go further: it is at least conceivable that the focusing of consciousness on a written text, which is the substance of our training and pursuit, diminishes the sharpness and readiness of our actual moral response. Because we are trained to give psychological and moral credence to the imaginary, to the character in a play or a novel, to the condition of spirit we gather from a poem, we may find it more difficult to identify with the real world, to take the world of actual experience to heart – ‘to heart’ is a suggestive phrase. The capacity for imaginative reflex, for moral risk in any human being is not limitless; on the contrary, it can be rapidly absorbed by fictions, and thus the cry of the poem may come to sound louder, more urgent, more real than the cry in the street outside. The death in the novel there may be a covert, betraying link between the cultivation of aesthetic response and the potential of personal inhumanity. What then are we doing when we study and teach literature?”