Connoisseurs of pretentious fatuousness owe a great deal to the literary critic George Steiner. For over thirty years, this self-declared “polymath” has provided them with one of their choicest specimens of pomposity. Rarely has nature united so much preening self-satisfaction with such prodigies of academic double-talk. Mr. Steiner has even gone so far as to bestow titles like After Babel on his books—a label so perfectly descriptive of everything George Steiner stands for that many experts prefer it even to Errata, the deliciously apt title of his recent autobiography. (Sample passage, about his time as an undergraduate at the University of Chicago: “The compaction, the density of encounter at Chicago was formidable. In my twelve months as an undergraduate… .” Only twelve months, George! Mais oui!) For those whose hobbies include collecting stories about Mr. Steiner’s absurdities, it is a great sorrow that Max Beerbohm cannot make a return visit in order to provide us with a caricature of the master at work.

It seemed like a just compensation, then, when it was announced that Mr. Steiner was the winner of the $100,000 Truman Capote Lifetime Achievement Award. The conjunction of George Steiner and Truman Capote—who in his own way was almost as fey as Mr. Steiner is in his—is special. And the fact that the award was established in memory of Newton Arvin—the Smith English professor who fell madly in love with Truman Capote—makes the award as exquisite as sighting a dodo on the manicured lawns of King’s College, Cambridge, one of the very many exalted institutions with which Mr. Steiner has been said to be associated.

This article originally appeared in The New Criterion, Volume 17 Number 5, on page 3
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