Old English poetic compounds.
E. G. STANLEY Pembroke College, Oxford
The Clarendon Press has published George Steiner's inaugural lecture as Lord Weidenfeld Visiting Professor of European Comparative Literature; it was delivered on 11 October in Oxford and is entitled What is Comparative Literature? [pp. 19; [pounds]4.50]. His first answer is 'all literature'; comparison, the awareness of resemblances and differences is central to our responses and always has been. As they did in Alexandria so they did in Nether Stowey, and Weltliteratur was a coinage of Goethe. But it is in our own time that the subject has become professionalized. Steiner speaks of this as a 'characteristically American scenario' but also instances the contributions made by Russian and East European scholars.
Inevitably he has much to say about translation, throwing out ideas on such matters as the revelations about language made by successive translations of major works - the hundred or so into English of Homer, for example - and the puzzling fact that minor writers may cross linguistic and cultural frontiers which are barred to some of the greatest.
The aims which he sets out are intimidatingly large, especially in relation to the domain of Neo-Latin and to the role of language and the tradition of a language in relation to philosophy; 'What pressures', he asks, 'did his native Spanish, his acquired Dutch and Hebrew exercise on Spinoza's choice and construction of a marmo-really timeless Latin, of a Latin that infers the Greek of Euclid?'
Steiner ends with reflections on the sad state of the world and especially the decay of European concord in those matters with which he is concerned, but with appropriate thanks to the generosity which has established his chair so that 'Duns Scotus and Erasmus are invited back'.
DOUGLAS HEWITT Pembroke College, Oxford
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|Publication:||Notes and Queries|
|Date:||Dec 1, 1995|
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