A book about great teachers—by George Steiner? One's eyes narrow suspiciously. But no, he is in chastened mood. "Why have I been remunerated," he asks, "for what is my oxygen and raison d'être?" Tactfully he avoids answering that question, evoking instead his weekly seminars at Geneva, where he and his students (now dispersed "on five continents") would study Phaedrus or The Tempest and he would "introduce (falteringly) The Brothers Karamazov." The university teacher, heir of Socrates, Jesus, and Buddha, thus enjoys "touches of grace and hope." Why, he later concedes, "even at a humble level—that of the schoolmaster—to teach, to teach well, is to be accomplice to transcendent possibility": for who knows whether that solemn little boy in the back row might not turn out to be a budding George Steiner?

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