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Nostalgia for the Absolute by George Steiner
Nostalgia for the Absolute by George Steiner. Writer and scholar George Steiner’s Massey Lectures are just as cogent today as when he delivered them in — perhaps even more so. He argues that Western culture’s moral and emotional emptiness stems from the decay of formal religion. He examines the alternate mythologies Marxism, etc. Steiner argues that this sfeiner-nostalgia Writer and scholar George Steiner’s Massey Lectures are just as cogent today as when he delivered them in — perhaps even more so.
Steiner argues that this decay and the failure of the mythologies have created a nostalgia for the absolute that is growing and leading us to a dsl clash between truth and human survival. Ultimately he suggests that we can only reduce the impact of this collision course if we continue, as disinterestedly as possible, to ask questions and seek answers in the face of our increasingly complex world. Paperback64 pages.
Published March 1st by House of Anansi Press first published To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up. To ask other readers questions about Nostalgia for the Absoluteplease sign up.
Be the first to ask a question about Nostalgia for the Absolute. Lists with This Book. Oct 26, Ross rated it really liked it.
Doubling down on the Enlightenment despite truth being potentially harmful? Didn’t leave much to hope for, but Steiner also seems to shrug at the current possibilities. His conclusion reminded me of the first paragraph from Lovecraft’s Call of Cthulhu: We live on a placid island of ignorance in the midst of black seas of infinity, and it was not meant that we should voyage far.
The sciences, each straining in its own direction, have hitherto harmed us little; but some day the piecing together of dissociated knowledge will open up such terrifying vistas of reality, and of our frightful position therein, that we shall either go mad from the revelation or flee from the deadly light into the peace and safety of a new dark age. He also has a ruthless chapter on modern spiritual replacements that will give some laughs if you roll your eyes that direction on occasion.
Jun 14, Scott Woody rated it really liked it. I came on this book through a tweet by Marc Andreesen, where he claimed that it handily explained a lot of modern-day Weltschmerz. The central thesis is controversial but rings true: Scientific rationalism induced the death of Christian religion in Western Europe and the popularity of aliens, communism, eastern religion, Freud, and structural anthropology can be explained as a direct replacement of the role religion used to fill.
In fact, George Steiner goes one step further and calls these movem I came on this book through a tweet by Marc Andreesen, where he claimed that it handily explained a lot of modern-day Weltschmerz. George Steiner doesn’t go into details for why movements with these characteristics resonate so deeply with humanity. Is that really the complete basis set? Is it the right basis set? In my opinion, these criteria seem reasonable and his chosen meta-religions clearly check the above boxes.
His chosen targets are also clearly important world movements, and are worth discussing as pseudo-religions. The bulk of the book is spent proving that each is a meta-religion. Steiner’s critique mainly has to do with the pseudo-scientific claims of these mythologies. Each errantly claims a basis in scientific fact as a bulwark of legitimacy, and this makes these mythologies dangerous and disingenuous.
It’s definitely clear that these movements are important to the world and that their adherents really do believe in the inevitability of their claims the communist March of Progress rings faintly. Steiner’s larger point is to shine a light on these movements, to understand them as surrogates for religion as a absolhto of explaining their popularity especially bolstered with pseudoscience. The conclusion of the book is a quite-depressing investigation of science as savior. His inescapable conclusion is that science has actually driven more people into the arms of pseudoscience through recent-ish discoveries like the inevitable heat-death of the universe and the acknowledgement that scientific geroge might come at the expense of humanity and not in service of it e.
I bought this CBC Massey lecture when it first appeared a couple of millennia ago – It was important for me in that it was only after reading it that I first framed my own deeply-rooted skepticism. I agreed with Steiner up to the point of his discussion of scientific truth. Then I took a zbsoluto piece of paper, stuck it up on the wall of my apartment and wrote, “I don’t believe in anything.
It definitely pointed out the impossibility all systematic philosophy fo I bought this CBC Massey lecture when it first appeared a couple of millennia ago – It definitely pointed out the impossibility all systematic philosophy for me. Jul 03, maran rated it really liked it. May 28, Safat rated it did not like it.
Not an uninteresting book, considering the topics it hovers upon. But incomplete and incoherent.
Nostalgia for the Absolute
Mar 18, David Withun rated it really liked it Shelves: Steiner begins by examining the impact of the “death of God” and the decline of Christianity as well as the emergence of various alternatives to and cel of Christianity in the tseiner-nostalgia world. As he examines these alternatives and replacements, he concludes that each is lacking in fundamental ways and fails to achieve its goal of creating a new system by which man can live and, most importantly for Steiner, each evades the truth steiner-nosgalgia the matter in favor of a new mythology.
The conversation t Steiner begins by examining the impact of the “death of God” and the decline of Christianity as well as the emergence of various alternatives to and replacements of Christianity in the modern world.
The conversation then shifts to a discussion of whether truth and human survival are commensurable and even compatible. Steiner concludes from his discussion that truth is paramount and that man should seek truth even at the risk of his own destruction. While there is much that can be said here, my own thoughts largely fall into two areas: While Steiner does a decent job in his exploration of the question of whether truth and human survival are coterminous and I agree with his assessment that they are not necessarily so, what Steiner fails to address is whether human beings are truth-capable, that is, whether humans actually possess the requisite faculties to ascertain and understand truth.
This question of epistemology is, I believe, a fundamental question and on which, if the answer is negative and I believe that it must be if we adopt any sort of secular anthropologyhas significant ramifications for Steiner’s ideas. I find myself disagreeing with Steiner’s overall conclusion. Steiner himself finds that the disinterested search for abstract truth is a contingent historical phenomenon; deel arose within a certain specific cultural milieu and flourished for certain very specific reasons within that dynamic.
Human survival, both personal and collective, on the other hand, is visceral, biological, and universal. He provides the reader with no adequate reason for believing that truth is of more importance than humanity.
In addition, he seems to leave us with a scenario reminiscent of the famous Zen koan “if a tree falls in the woods and there is no one to hear it, does t make a sound? Again, Steiner fails to address epistemology.
All in all, I enjoyed this book a great deal and I recommend it to anyone interested in the state of thought in the modern world.
Feb 09, Arash Kamangir rated it it was amazing. Feb 15, MichaelK rated it really liked it Shelves: Five lectures on the decline of Christianity, stenier-nostalgia death of God’, and its effects on Western civilization.
Steiner examines three modern mythologies which attempt to fill the gap, the hunger for absolute truth, left by the decline of religion: Marxism, Freudian psychoanalysis, and Levi-Straussian anthropology. A mythology, in Steiner’s sense of the word, has an easily recognizable beginning and development: The mythology presents a total explanation of history and humanity’s place in the cosmos; quite often it claims that the analysis is based on science, though it will tend to be unfalsifiable and so not qualify as a scientific theory.
The mythology has its own vocabulary, its own rituals and legends and imagery. His examination of Marxism is particularly effective, eg. We recognise in the history of Marxism each of the attributes [ Each time and this is the theological scenario a new group of heretics breaks away; and it always says, look, we have the real message of the master; listen to us, the sacred texts have been corrupted, the Gospel is in our keeping; don’t listen to the church at the centre.
How familiar all this is to students of the history of Christianity. Marxism has its legends [ Marxism has its emblems, its symbolic gestures, just like any transcendent religious faith [ Above all, it offers a contract of messianic promise concerning the future.
The fourth lecture examines modern superstitions and irrationality: This lecture is more lighthearted: Steiner is having a good rant about things that clearly piss him off. In the final lecture, he talks about the history of scientific truth – a relatively short history – and how thinkers from the Enlightenment onward hoped that the pursuit of scientific truth would replace religious myths and mysteries.
Alas, the pursuit of scientific truth – subject to falsification, experimental proof, and logical constraints – is not something that can ignites the passions of all hearts. He discusses whether the truth, when discovered, will actually be beneficial to humanity.
I found this lecture a somewhat unsatisfying conclusion, though it does have neat closing paragraph: The truth, I believe, does have a future; whether man does is much less clear.
But I cannot help having a hunch steiner-nostxlgia to which of the two is more important. Magari ci sarebbe voluto moltissimo tempo. A good, short book that seems thoroughly sensible. The gist is that the author argues that the basoluto intellectual movements he calls them mythologies of 20th century stem from a reaction to the spiritual vacuum left in the wake of the rise of scientific rationalism.
I’m not informed enough on any of the topics to say whether the author is successful.