Grammars of Creation by George Steiner

...deterministic swirls of goo...From a deterministic viewpoint, the individual is not the single source wellspring of knowledge and progressive thinking that we often praise him for. Thought leadership is

4 years ago

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...deterministic swirls of goo...

From a deterministic viewpoint, the individual is not the single source wellspring of knowledge and progressive thinking that we often praise him for. Thought leadership is the aggregate of all things societal, with the swirls of influences all contributing to an apex of opinion and psychology. Great thinkers, the giants of our common humanity are the fossil record of humanity's psyche at various points in our lineage as a species on this planet.

George Steiner defines Grammar as, "The articulate organization of perception, reflection, and experience, the nerve structure of consciousness when it communicates with itself and with others."

Readers will pull vast amounts of information from this title if they spend the time to discover the hidden gems within. We diligently dissect various aspects of the book with weighted emphasis on posthumous references, interpretations, and citations.

In part, because these historical schemas define our history and partly because we don't want to alienate the readership with excessive deterministic abstractions, we consistently refer to the individual authorship as the lens through which we capture our cultural and historical "history". However incomplete, the summation of our Giants and regurgitation of our history is more than the summation of the individual. The individual is artificially personified by the summation of our ever-changing group schema.

Plato's ship has already sailed.

We see that Steiner's bias is heavily influenced by a Platonic word view. Hardly considered a bias when we are all sailing westward on this ship. Socrates is the captain and Plato is our faithful journalist and dramatist.

Now picture a ship sailing the seas of consciousness. This isn't an ordinary ship. This ship is THE deterministic vessel and contains all the thoughts, perceptions world views that determine George Steiner's book and authorship in Grammars of Creation.

Over half (53.37%) the referenced academic or cultural influencers were mentioned ten or more times and come directly from the book's Index. Thank you, George or more than likely the publisher for this.

The top ten most cited Giants are:

  1. Plato (384 BCE)
  2. Dante (1265 - 1321)
  3. Shakespeare (1565 - 1616)
  4. Heidegger (1889 - 1976)
  5. Hegel (1770 - 1831)
  6. Virgil (70 BC - 19 BC)
  7. Wittgenstein (1889 - 1951)
  8. Descartes (1596 - 1650)
  9. Kafka (1883 - 1924)
  10. Proust (1871 - 1922)

Re-ordered from oldest to newest and weighted within a Socratic-centric perspective (10 on a scale of 1-10), the remaining nine Giants compare as follows...

  1. Virgil - 3.7
  2. Dante - 8.9
  3. Descartes - 3.2
  4. Shakespeare - 8.9
  5. Hegel - 3.7
  6. Proust - 2.6
  7. Kafka - 3.2
  8. Wittgenstein - 3.2
  9. Heidegger - 5.3
    Total = 42.7 or a 4.27 S&P multiplier. More on this later.

Extracting any conclusions from this data would be highly speculative and not worth considering. The ratios, however, are very interesting and provide some insight into the book and Steiner as an author.

From a deterministic standpoint, it would be ideal if we could pull out patterns in the data emulating fractals found in nature as in Ken Ono's 2011 discovery of the first finite formula to calculate the infinitely repeating partition superstructure. If we postulate that our psychology and subsequent actions are a summation of all influences, past, and present we need more data. It is a force, a massive force worth acknowledging but perhaps unattainable?

Back to Plato
Plato is from the classical period in Greece and, well let's face it, forms much of the consciousness that we all, as societies experience today. Without Socratic followers, without Aristotle's teachings and formulation of influence within the earshot of Alexander the Great, the infectious nature of Western thought would not have come into being in quite the same way.

Plato's life and death begin approximately 425 years BCE with more than three hundred years before the coalescence of influences we attribute to Virgil. The landscape in Virgil's lifetime is one of strife and political change. The fall of the Roman Republic and subsequent transition into the Roman Empire resonates throughout much of Virgil's work. From the Eclogues to the Georgics and even the epic Aeneid we see {blah, blah}

Virgil - approximately 70 references

Contextualizing the indelible footprint of Virgil is not an easy task. Far from a footnote or soup├žon, Virgil's influence is only slight in comparison to the mainstream currents of a post-Socratic society. However, if you combine the 15 instances of Homer with the 23 of Virgil you do indeed have a powerful force that predates Socrates. The flaw with this statement is that Virgil was born and died after Socrates, Plato, Aristotle and Alexander the Great. Just seeing if you were paying attention.

It's important to point out that the references to Virgil are cumulative but also combinatory. Virgil was not only a post-socratic poet also Dante's guide Through Hell and Halfway House.

The self-deconstruction of the Aeneid comes only from within the author. Is the creative process culturally chauvenistic? Do earlier iterations somehow become illegitimate with the nouveau? The constructs of Tinguely's kinetic art embody the same praxis of destruction only romanticized two thousand years later. "It would be best not to be", is a chilling yet axiomatic statement, especially if your personal ontology posits the premise that we are fragile language animals living on a hostile planet. Nietzschean nihilism?

Dante @ 89%

Touted as the greatest poet ever, by Steiner himself and tied for the second spot we have Dante. For every ten (10) references to Plato, and Socrates combined, we have 8.9 references to Dante. The influence of Dante and Shakespeare is undeniable. the journey of understanding from the narrator in the Commedia, Steiner shows us a pattern in Dante's writing. The influences of Virgil are "phased" out.

Descartes @ 32%

One third of every reference to Plato and Socrates is Cartesian.

Shakespeare @ 89%

Also in the second spot at 89%, we have William Shakespeare.

Hegel @ 37%

Proust @ 26%

Kafka @ 32%

Wittgenstein @ 32%

Heidegger @ 53%


Steiner pushes this line of humanitarian demarcation back to WWI and the idea that self-identified sapiens do not have the ability to comprehend the cascading consequences of such a destructive and murderous society.

Perhaps the dropping of the atomic bomb on Japanese urban populations was the turning point for our new world order? This atomic turning point in history was the launching pad for post-colonial corporation interests to introduce and continually expand their extractionism ideals and social structures or "business models." Facing this skeleton is a closet that looks more like a coffin of contemporary culture that we may never be able to break out of. If western culture was the defender against the Germans, we were, in fact, the last aggressor standing but what has this done to our conscious?


Steiner points out that forty years after Auschwitz, the Khmer Rouge, under the leadership of revolutionary Pol Pot, buries alive an estimated hundred thousand innocent human beings.

Steiner's perception of ever-increasing violence and chaos in society is contrasted with Steven Pinker's 2011 book; The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined.

Reducing Grammars of Creation to a singular message or polemic would be missing the aesthetic of Steiner's creation.

Daniel Sanderson

Published 4 years ago