Writer, scholar, and critic George Steiner has been named the 2001-02 Charles Eliot Norton Professor of Poetry at Harvard. He will deliver the Norton Lectures at the University next fall and plans to examine “the act of teaching, from the Platonic Socrates to Wittgenstein and Ionesco.” Currently an Extraordinary Fellow of Churchill College at the University of Cambridge, Steiner is an internationally renowned scholar of Western culture, language, and intellectual history.
In recommending Steiner’s selection as Norton Professor, the Harvard search committee called him “one of the most eminent intellectuals of his generation.” The committee said: “With his truly remarkable fluency in many languages, and his deep learning in the literatures and philosophies of various cultures, Steiner is one of the world’s greatest comparatists. But his achievement as a theorist, a passionate partisan of literature and aesthetics, an illuminator of the postwar culture of Europe and America, has been rich with conceptual fertility – reflections on tragedy, on silence, on metaphysics – and with a trenchant sense of the history of the 20th century.”
Born in Paris in 1929 to parents of Austrian and Bohemian heritage, Steiner moved to the United States with his family in 1940. He was educated at the universities of Paris, Chicago, Harvard, Oxford, and Cambridge. He is the author of a dozen books of fiction and non-fiction and of numerous magazine and newspaper articles. He was until 1997 a senior reviewer for the New Yorker and also reviews for the Times Literary Supplement and other American and European journals. His books include “No Passion Spent”; “In Bluebeard’ s Castle: Some Notes Towards the Redefinition of Culture”; “Antigones: How the Antigone Legend Has Endured in Western Literature, Art, and Thought”; “Tolstoy or Dostoevsky: An Essay in the Old Criticism”; and “The Death of Tragedy.” In his most recent book, “Errata: An Examined Life” (1998), Steiner describes incidents from his own life that were the geneses of many of his thoughts and pursuits.
Writing in The (London) Observer, novelist A.S. Byatt described George Steiner as “many-tongued, proudly intellectual, and deeply serious.”
Steiner’s distinguished academic career includes visiting professorships at Yale, New York University, the University of Geneva, and Oxford University. He is an honorary member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, a corresponding member of the German Academy, and an honorary fellow of Balliol College Oxford. He is a recipient of France’s Legion d’honneur and of the King Albert Medal of the Royal Belgian Academy. He received the Truman Capote Lifetime Achievement Award in 1998 and in the same year was named a Fellow of the British Academy.
The Charles Eliot Norton Professorship of Poetry was established in 1925 in memory of Harvard’s first Professor of Fine Arts, who taught the subject from 1874 to 1898. Under the original terms of the gift from Charles Chauncey Stillman, Class of 1898, the chair has embraced “all poetic expression” in language, music, fine arts, and architecture.
The Norton Chair is one of the nation’s most illustrious lectureships, with past incumbents such as Luciano Berio, Leonard Bernstein, Harold Bloom, Jorge Luis Borges, John Cage, James Cahill, Carlos Chávez, Aaron Copland, E. E. Cummings, Umberto Eco, T. S. Eliot, Robert Frost, Dame Helen Gardner, Paul Hindemith, Roger Sessions, Leo Steinberg, Frank Stella, Igor Stravinsky, Lionel Trilling, and Thornton Wilder. The most recent recipient of the chair was musicologist Joseph W. Kernan, who served as Norton Professor in 1997-98.