Transcript: George Steiner on the History of Literacy | Apr 14, 2003

George Steiner stands in front of an audience, behind a lectern. He’s in his seventies, clean-shaven and with short straight gray hair. He wears a gray suit, a white shirt, a burgundy sweater and a patterned tie.

A caption reads "Living Literacies Conference. York University, November 14-16, 2002."

The caption changes to "George Steiner. Author."

He says I WONDER WHETHER IT
IS STRUCK A HOST FOR
THIS CONFERENCE AND
THOSE WITH US THIS
AFTERNOON THAT READING
AND WRITING ARE VERY
BRIEF, VERY FORM IN
HUMAN HISTORY.
MILENA.
PROCEED AND SURROUNDED
WRITTEN WORD AND THE ARTS OF
READING.
HOMER, IS IMMEDIATELY
CLOSE TO FLAUBERT OR BRUCE,
HE IS 20,000 YEARS
REMOVED FROM THE FAR OR
BEGINS OF THE MYTH
LOGICAL MATERIAL THAT HE
DEALS WITH.
AND ENDLESS COMMUNITIES
ON EARTH DO NOT HAVE
WHAT WE CONSIDER
LITERATURE.
THERE IS NO COMMUNITY ON
THIS PLAN THE KNOWN TO
US WHICH DOES NOT HAVE
MIKES.
AND I WILL COME BACK TO
THAT.
MIKES BEING FAR MORE
UNIVERSAL THAN LANGUAGE.
THERE IS
ALSO SECOND GREAT CODE,
MATHEMATICS,
UNTRANSLATABLE AND
UNIVERSAL WHICH I ALSO
COME BACK TO.
THE HISTORICAL PRESTIGE, THE
AUTHORITY,
AND I AM
SIMPLY TRANSLATING
LATIN.
THE "AUTHORITY," IT MAY WELL PROVE TO
HAVE HAD A RELATIVELY
BRIEF RUN IN THE HISTORY
OF THE SPECIES.
FROM SAY THE EARLY PROTO
CHINESE INSCRIPTION AND
THE PLAY TABLETS, TO THE
NACENT AGE OF THE
ELECTRONIC.
A BLINK OF THE EYE, IN
THE BIOLOGICAL AND
SOCIAL HISTORY OF MAN.
THE OR BEGINS OF
CLASSICAL LITERACY ARE
VERY SPECIFIC.
WE THOSE ARE PRIESTHOOD.
AND POWER, OF WHAT
MAX WEBER CALLED THE
ARISTOCRACY OF THE INTELLECT.
OR WHAT Q WE CAN ALSO
CALL A CLERISY.
LES CLERCS.
THE CAPACITY READ AND TO
WRITE WAS IN THE HANDS
OF A GRADUALLY EXPANDING
ELITE.
REMEMBER, THAT SOCRATES
ONLY TWICE CONSULT A
WRITTEN TEXT IN THE
WHOLE OF GREAT CORP US
THERE ARE ONLY TWO
MOMENTS WHEN HE ASKED
FOR A SCROLL TO BE
BROUGHT TO VERY FIRE A
CITATION.
JESUS PROBABLY DID NOT
KNOW HOW TO WRITE.
THE PERRY COPE OF THE
WOMAN TAKING ADULT TREE
IN THAT VERY MYSTERIOUS
PASSAGE ABOUT TRACING
SOME WORDS IN THE DUST
AND IMMEDIATELY FACING
THEM IS ACCORDING TO THE
SCHOLARSHIP A VERY MUCH
LATER INSERTION.
ANOTHER MAN PUBLISHED.
HENCE, I HAVE BEEN... I
HAVE PRIVILEGE RECENTLY
OF BEING HARVARD
UNIVERSITY PROFESSORS
AND THAT'S ONE OF
THE GREAT HARVARD
JOKES.
BUT, GROUP OF RABBIS, ON
THE ROAD JESUS COMING BY
UNDER THE CROSS AND THE
YOUNG RABBI BURST INTO
TEARS.
AND SAYS OH, GOD THE PITY OF IT.
AND HE SAID WHAT IS THE
PITY OF IT?
HE SAYS BUT MASTER
MASTER, WHAT A TEACHER HE
WAS.
DIDN'T PUBLISH.

The audience laughs.

George says AND THAT TERRIBLY COLD
JOKE AT HARVARD,
CONTAINS A
VERY DEEP TRUTH.
INDEED HE AND SOCRATES
DID NOT PUBLISH.
MORE OVER EVEN DURING
THE GOLDEN AGE WHAT IS
CALLED MASS LITERACY, A
VERY BRIEF AGE, THE
DEGREE OF ACTUAL
CAPACITY AND USAGE
REMAINED EXCEEDINGLY
DIFFICULT TO ASSESS.
WE NOW HAVE THE
DOCUMENTS THEY HAVE ONLY
FAIRLY RECENTLY BEEN
STUDIED OF THE
EXAMINATIONS UNDERGONE
BY CON SCRIPT IN 1914 IN
FRANCE.
AT THE HEIGHT OF THAT
BLEAK TIME WHICH WAS
MEANT TO HAVE CREATED A
LITERATE NATURE IN FACT,
OVER 70 PERCENT OF CONSCRIPTS
FROM RURAL AREAS AND NOT
ONLY FROM RURAL AREAS,
FROM LESS PRIVILEGED
URBAN AREAS ALSO,
COULD ONLY READ A FEW
WORDS, IF AT ALL.
THE FRENCH ARMY INSTITUTED
RUSH PROGRAM OF
ELEMENTARY LITERACY.
THAT'S 1914.
WELL DECISIONS
THROUGHOUT NORTH AMERICA
TO TODAY, MEET IN ADS
AND IN THE PRESS NEVER
TO USE THE DEPENDENT
LOSSES BECAUSE TO MOST,
HUMAN BEINGS THEY ARE.
LITTER YACHT SOCIETIES
REMAIN VERY, VERY FEW.
THERE IS NO SERIOUS BOOK
STORE.
AS DISTINCT FROM KIOSK.
NOT ONE.
AND I LOVE THE STORY IN
1938 ABSOLUTELY
DOCUMENTED ONE OF THE
LAST EXAMINES FOR THE
THE GOVERNMENT KNOWS
THAT THE CANDIDATE IS
YOUNG DUKE OF ALBA AND
HE SAYS TO EXAMINERS, NO
NONSENSE.
NO NONSENSE.
YES, YES.
HE COMES IN AND THE TREMBLING
EXAMINERS ASK
YOU HAVE READ DON, LONG
SILENCE.
WHY SHOULD I?
IF YOUR DUKE OF ALBA
YOU DO NOT NEED TO READ
THAT OR ANYTHING ELSE.
THE POINT I AM TRYING TO
MAKE IS THAT WHAT IS IT
OFTEN CONFIDENTLY
ASSERTED AS BEING
LITERACY, WAS NOTHING OF
THE KIND.
IT WAS COMPLEX, OFTEN
FRAGMENTED.
OFTEN LOCAL.
WHY SHOULD I READ?
CLASSICAL LITERACY, WHAT
ARROGANT WORD.
WHAT MAGNIFICENTLY
PROUD AND ARROGANT WORD
THAT IS.
AND A NUMBER OF
FUNDAMENTALIST
ASSUMPTIONS AND
EXPECTATIONS WHICH WE
RARELY PAUSE TO EXAMINE.
THERE SACREDNESS OF THE
FOUNDATIONAL TEXT.
OF THE TEXT.
ITSELF USUALLY REVEALED,
DICTATED, DICTATED, AS
ON MOUNT SIGH ANY OR IN
PUT MOST TO JOHN.
AND WHEN I WAS AMONG MY
SOUTH AFRICAN STUDENTS,
IN THE VERY GRIM
MOMENT OF APARTHEID
ONE NIGHT THE HONOUR OF
WITH ANC LEADERS THE
REALLY MILITANT LEADERS
THE POLICE IN ITS CARS
WERE LINED UP IN FRONT
OF THE HOUSE.
THEY KNEW EXACTLY WHO
WAS COMING.
BUT THEY DIDN'T MOVE.
IT WAS A PECULIAR
TWILIGHT OF PERMITTED
EXCEPTIONS TO THE RULE AND
IN HER HOME, WAS IN A
SENSE TABOO.
AND AS MY MAIN VIRTUE IN
LIFE IS A LACK OF THE
TACK, I DECIDED TO ASK
ONE OF THE GREAT LEADERS
ONE OF THE LIEUTENANTS,
LOOK HELP ME.
EVEN MONTH WORST HOMES
OF OUR OKAY COULD YOU
PAYING THEY WERE VERY
GOOD AT THIS, BELIEVE
ME... FROM TIME TO TIME
ONE KILLED ONE OF THE
BASTARD.
AND ACTUALLY GOT THEM.
YOU ARE 13 TO 1 IN JOHANNESBURG.
13 TO ONE.
IT IS DEMOGRAPHIC
BALANCE.
WITHOUT WEAPONS ALL YOU
NEED TO DO ON STREET IS
CLOSE IN ON THE STREET.
AROUND A WHITE PERSON.
WHAT IS IT?
THAT KEEPS YOU FROM ACT?
AND THE ANSWER WAS ONE
OF THE TURNING POINTS IN
ANY LIFE.
ONE OF THE LEADERS SAID,
YOU JEWS YOU HAVE YOUR
TALMUD, YOUR MIDRASH, YOUR MISHNAH.
COMMUNIST AMONG US WHO
ARE FEW WE HAVE THE
CAPITAL.
CHRISTIANS HAVE THEIR
GOSPEL.
AND MUSLIMS AMONG US
HAVE KORAN.
WE HAVE NOTHING.
AFRICA HAS NOT PRODUCED
A BOOK.
IT WAS ENORMOUS ANSWER.
THINK OF IT.
WE DO NOT HAVE A SINGLE
FOUNDATION OR CLASSIC.
BY WHICH WE COULD COME
TO RALLY AROUND AND
IMAGE OF OURSELVES.
AND IT NEEDS A LOT OF
THINKING.
TO GRASP THE FULL POWER
AND DEPTH AND SCRUPLE
OF THAT ANSWER.
WE HAVE NO BOOK....
THE COMPLEX STYLE OF
LETTER VIA SPIRIT WHICH
UNDERLIES OUR TRADITION,
FOR EVEN AT ITS MOST
SECULAR THE WORK OF THE
CLERGY OF THE SCHOLAR
DERIVES FROM TRADITION
OF SCRIPTURE AND
INSCRIPTION THE TWO
WORDS OF COURSE ARE COGNATES.
UNDERWRITTEN MAY I
REMIND YOU OF QUITE WHAT
WORD UNDERWRITTEN MEANS,
UNDERWRITTEN, REINSURED
BY THE LOGICAL.
WHAT DOES HE SAYS?
ON COMPLETING HIS
INVESTIGATIONS IF I
COULD I WOULD DEDICATE
THIS BOOK TO GOD.
THE MAGNUM OPUS IN
WESTERN TRADITION, THE
LEAVE, OR... WHICH IT
SUM PLEA CALLS ITSELF
BOOK, THE BIBLE.
AND CERTAIN TRADITIONS
FOR EXAMPLE, THE NOTION
OF THE SECULAR
AUTHORSHIP OF READING
FOR PLEASURE COMES VERY
LATE INDEED, IT COMES
ONLY WITH MATERNITY AND
IT LEAVES GREATEST OF
ALL JEWISH WRITERS
RADICALLY UNCOMFORTABLE.
THE ARTS OF MEMORY, ARE
CORRELATIVE
WITH THOSE OF ALL HIGHER
LITERACY.
THEY CONTINUE THE BRIDGE
BETWEEN THE ORAL AND THE
WRITTEN.
PLATO FEARS WRITING YOU
REMEMBER THAT.
PRECISELY BECAUSE IT
WILL ENFEEBLE THE MUSCLES
OF MEMORY.
LEND THE CENTRAL CRUCIAL
IRREPLACEABLE ROLE OF
THE LEARNING BY HEART.
OF LEARNING BY HEART.
WHAT YOU LOVE YOU START
LEARNING BY HEART.
AND WE STARTED IN THE
FRENCH LYCEE.
TINY CHILDREN IN THOSE
RIDICULOUS BLUE SMOCKS.
FIVE LINES AND TEN LINES,
AND 20.
LEARNING LEAR’S NONSENSE RHYMES BY HEART.
FOR WHAT YOU LOVE, YOU
WILL WANT TO HAVE INSIDE
OF YOU.
WE LEARNED BY ROUTE WE
LEARNED RHYMES BY HEART.
OH, CHILDREN, LEARN TO
TELL THE TWO APART.
AND NEVER SAY THAT ALL
I WROTE AND I LOVE WROTE
ONLY FOR LOVE OF ART.
THESE ARE LINES OF
ROBERT GRAVES ACCOMPANY
ME DAY AND NIGHT.
BUT THERE ARE SO MANY
OTHERS.
THEY CAN'T TAKE IT FROM
YOU, CAN THEY?
WHAT YOU HAVE BY HEART
THE BASTARD CANNOT TOUCH
THEY CANNOT TAKE IT FROM
YOU.
THERE WAS A RUSSIAN
WOMAN TEACHER OF ENGLISH
ROMANTIC LITERATURE AT
THE UNIVERSITY OF KAZAKHSTAN.
IT WAS THE BREZHNEV YEARS, RELATIVELY LESS
HELLISH YEARS THAN STALIN, BUT STILL
HELL OF COURSE. AND
FOR SOME TRUMPED UP
CHARGE SHE WAS IN PRISON
WITH NO LIGHT.
NO LIGHT FOR THREE YEARS
IN SOLITARY.
NOW, IN RUSSIA, FOR
REASONS THAT I AM NOT
WHOLLY COMPETENT TO
JUDGE, BYRON’S DON JUAN HAS
ABSOLUTELY HUGE
PRESENCE.
IT IS REGARDED MAYBE
JUSTLY AS ONE OF THE
TRANSCENDENT ACHIEVEMENTS
THIS YOUNG WOMAN
KNEW THE LINES BY
HEART.
AND IN THE DARK, SHE
DICTATED TO HERSELF
A RUSSIAN VERSION
TRANSLATION.
SHE LOST HER SIGHT.
BUT WHEN SHY EMERGED SHE
DICTATED HER TRANSLATION
WHICH IS NOW THE CLASSIC
ONE RUSSIA.
THERE NOTHING YOU CAN DO
TO HUMAN BEING LIKE
THAT.
NO STATE CAN TOUCH IT.
NO DESPAIR CAN TOUCH IT.
WHAT YOU DON'T KNOW BY
HEART, YOU REALLY HAVE
NOT LOVED DEEPLY ENOUGH.
THE POETRY YOU
REMEMBER SURVIVES, WHEN
THAT AFTER THE
DEFENDANTS THE POET TEN
PEOPLE OR AS TEN PEOPLE
PEOPLE NO MORE LEARNING
ONE OF THE POEMS.
THAT WAS ENOUGH THERE
WERE NO COPIES.
BUT THE KGB COULD DO
NOTHING.
AS LONG AS TEN PEOPLE
KNOW A POEM, IT WILL
LIVE....
BEN JOHNSON HAD
WONDERFUL WORD FOR IT
WHICH WE HAVE LOST TO
INGEST TO INTERNALIZE
IN YOUR
SPIRIT.
A TEXT.
A CULTURE DECAYS IN
PRECISE PROPORTION TO
ITS NEGLECT OR
SUPPRESSION OF MEMORIZATION.
AGAIN, IN THE WRITERS
CONGRESS OF 37 IN
BLACKNESS OF THE BLACKNESS,
BORIS PASTERNAK WAS TOLD IF YOU SPEAK
WE ARREST YOU IF YOU
DON'T WE ARREST YOU.
IT IS SIGN OF CONTEMPT.
THREE DAY CONGRESS, YOU
REMEMBER HE WAS VERY
TALL, VERY BEAUTIFUL.
STOOD OUT IN
CROWD.
AND THE THIRD MORNING,
HIS FRIENDS SAID ‘BORIS,
SAY
SOMETHING. THEY ARE GOING
ARREST YOU BUT SAY
SOMETHING GIVE US SOME
THING TO REMEMBER TO
LIVE BY WHEN THE MOMENT
GAME HE GOT UP AND SPOKE
A NUMBER AND IT TOOK 20
SECONDS MAYBE 30 YOU
KNOW 20 SECONDS IS AN ETERNITY.
AND 2000 PEOPLE ROSE
HOLDING THEIR HANDS.
AND BEGAN RECITING THE
SHAKESPEARE SONNET OF
THAT NUMBER OF WHICH THE
TRANSLATION IS RUSSIAN
CLASSIC.
AND WHEN I SUMMON UP
MEMORIES OF THINGS PAST
AND SPOKE IT OUT LOUD,
AND THEY DIDN'T DARE
TOUCH HIM.
THAT CULTURE WAS NEVER
IN ULTIMATE DANGER.
OURS IS EVERY DAY.
THERE IS IMMENSE
DIFFERENCE WHEN SUMMON
UP REMEMBRANCE OF THINGS
PAST.
MORE OVER THE CLASSIC
ACT OF READING OF
LITERACY PRESUMED ON
THREE POSSIBILITIES,
SILENCE, THE
AVAILABILITY OF SILENCE
WHEN TODAY SILENCE HAS
BECOME MOST EXPENSIVE
LUXURY WHEN EVEN IN THE
NEW EXPENSIVE APARTMENTS
THE WALLS ARE SO THIN
WHEN THE FEAR OF SILENCE
IS SUCH THAT YOU CANNOT
STEP INTO AN ELEVATOR IN
NEW YORK WITHOUT THE
MUSIC TURNING ON.
AND THEY EXPLAIN TO YOU
PEOPLE YOU ARE
FRIGHTENED OF SILENCE
AND A FRIGHTENED TO
BE ALONE.
IT HAS BECOME ALMOST
UNOBTAINABLE.
CHILDREN ARE AFRAID OF
IT.
WE LIVE IN AN ENVELOPE OF
CONSTANT NOISE.
PRIVACY, RELATED TO IT,
NOT TO BE AFRAID TO BE
ALONE ON THE CONTRARY TO
COVETED TO SEEK IT OUT,
NOT EVEN TO KNOW WHAT
THAT NONSENSE PHRASE
PEER PRESSURE IS.
THERE IS NO PRESSURE.
EXCEPT OF THAT ONE'S
OWN INTEGRITY.
AND CONCENTRATION.
THE LITTLE SAYING WHICH
HE GOES OVER AND OVER
AGAIN, CONCENTRATION, IS THE
NATURAL PIETY OF THE SOUL.
(SPEAKS FRENCH)
TO BE ABLE TO
CONCENTRATE TOTALLY.
YOU CANNOT READ IT A
DIFFICULT TEXT WITHOUT
TOTAL CONCENTRATION.
THE LATEST ESTIMATE AND
PLEASE I BEG YOU THIS IS
NOT AN ANTI-AMERICAN REMARK
I HATE THAT KIND OF
CHEAPNESS.
SIMPLY MAKES US MORE
HONEST ABOUT MANY OF ITS
DISASTER THAN WE ARE IN
EUROPE.
THE LATEST STATISTICS
THAT OVER 80 PERCENT OF AMERICAN
ADOLESCENTS CANNOT READ.
IN SILENCE WITHOUT SOME
KIND OF MUSIC IN THE
BACKGROUND.
AND SOME THING QUITE
TERRIFYING CALLED THE FLICKER
EFFECT AT THE EDGE OF
THEIR VISION, THE
TELEVISION.
WHAT THIS DOES TO CORE
TEXT WE HAVE NOT EVEN
BEGUN TO UNDERSTAND.
EACH WOULD NEAT
EXTENSIVE PSYCHOLOGICAL
EXAMINATION.
AND WE DON'T YET HAVE
HISTORY OF NOISE.
ONE OF THE MOST
IMPORTANT BOOKS
REMAINING TO BE WRITTEN.
THE CURRENT EXPERIENCE
OF SOLITUDE, AS PUNITIVE
AND TRAUMATIC OF THE
SHORTENING OF THE
ATTENTION SPAN AMONG THE
YOUNG AND ADULT.
THESE FOUNDATIONS OF THE
CLASSIC ACT OF LITERACY,
IT WOULD BE
SENTIMENT NONSENSE TO
THINK WE NOT OFFICIALLY
RECREATE THEM.
THEY HAD INTUITIVE.
GALILEO I QUOTE HIM
NATURE SPEAKS MATHEMATICS.
SINCE GALILEO AND
NEWTON, THAT SPEECH HAS
BECOME THE EVER
EXPANDING I HAD COME OF
A SCIENTIFIC AND
TECHNOLOGICAL HANDLING
OF THE WORLD.
IT IS A LINGUA FRANCA OF
THE REALITY PRINCIPAL.
VERBAL AND WRITTEN
LANGUAGES COVER LESS AND
LESS, OF AN
EVOLVING EXPERIENCE.
NO ASPECTS, NO SINGLE
FACET OF OUR LIVES
INWARD AND OUTWARD WILL
BE UNCHANGED BY THE
THREE HORIZONS NOW
LOOMING AND I OWE THIS
OF COURSE NOT TO ANY
COMPETENCE ON MY PART
BUT I HAVE HAD THE
PRIVILEGE OF LIVING
AMONG THE GREAT
SCIENTIST.
LOVELY MOST RECENTLY,
HEIDEGGER
USED TO SAY IF YOU ARE
REALLY STUPID YOU TELL A
STORY.
AND I CONFESS TO THAT
GUILT.

The audience laughs.

George says RECENTLY WE HAD
DELIGHTFUL AMERICAN
GUEST AT THE HIGH TABLE
OF MY COLLEGE TRULY
DELIGHTFUL.
AND HE HAD BEEN FOR HOLIDAY IN
SCANDINAVIA.
AND IN THE NICEST WAY
HE WAS SAYING TO US, I
HOPE ALL YOU DO THAT.
IT IS FRIENDLIEST NICEST
PLACE ON EARTH AND HE
TURNS TO VERY SHY GRAY
HAIRED COLLEAGUE OF MINE
SITTING NEXT TO HIM, HAVE YOU BEEN
TO STOCKHOLM.
AND MY COLLEAGUE KEEPING
HIS HEAD DOWN SAYS,
ONCE.
AND THE GUEST DIDN'T
UNDERSTAND.
AND WE WERE SO SHY FOR
THE GUEST THAT WE
RAPIDLY COVERED IT WITH
CONVERSATION.
WE DIDN'T WANT HIM TO BE
EMBARRASSED.
AND MY COLLEAGUE HAD NOT
MEANT TO BE CLEVER
ARROGANT GOD KNOWS.
HE WAS SIMPLY BEING
ACCURATE OF COURSE WHEN
YOU SAY ‘ONCE’ IN CAMBRIDGE TO THE
QUESTION ‘HAVE YOU BEEN TO
STOCKHOLM’ YOU CAME FOR THE NOBEL OF
COURSE.
AND THAT IS WHAT I
CALLED THE ARISTOCRACY OF THE
MIND THAT'S
WHAT I WANT TO LIVE AMONG.
AND HAVE BEEN SO LUCKY
TO BE ABLE TO DO.
WHAT OF THE THREE
HORIZONS WHICH MY COLLEAGUES
ARE TRYING TO
GIVE ME?
A LAYMAN'S STUPID, THE
CREATION OF THE LIFE
IN VITRO.
SELF REPLICATING
MOLECULES, WHICH THEY
PUT AT TEN YEARS AWAY
AND I THINK THAT MAY BE
CONSERVATIVE.
THE THEORY OF EVERYTHING
WHICH IS A TECHNICAL
EXPRESSION.
THE THEORY OF
EVERYTHING AS HOPKINS AND
HIS COLLEAGUES
DEVELOPED TOGETHER OR
BEGINS OF THE UNIVERSE
AND OF TIME IS TECHNICAL
EXPRESSION.
WE TRANSLATE IT MORE OR
LESS METAPHORICALLY
AND THE NEURO-CHEMISTRY
OF CONSCIOUSNESS.
THAT THE WORD I, IS
AN ARRANGEMENT OF BLOOD
SUGAR.
AND THIS IS BY NO MEANS
FANTASTIC OR REMOTE
BECAUSE, WE HAVE NO
THEORY OF ASPIRIN.
NO ONE KNOWS WHY ASPIRIN
WORKS AND DOES WHAT IT
DOES.
WHEN YOU TAKE IT.
WE HAVE NO THEORY AS TO
THE FACT THAT THERE ARE
MANY HUMAN BEINGS FOR
WHOM EVEN ONE DRINK CAN
HAVE AN EXTREMELY SEVERE
CONSEQUENCES.
A DROP OF ALCOHOL IN THE
CORTEX SO, THE NOTION
THAT CONSCIOUSNESS MAY
BE A MATTER OF NEURO-CHEMISTRY IS ALREADY
IMAGINABLE EVEN TO THE
LAYMAN.
THESE ARE WHAT THEY CALL,
THE THREE HOLY
GRAILS.
VERY CURIOUS BORROWING
WHICH AT THE
MOMENT, CONCENTRATE THE
MOST ACTIVE AND
ADVENTUROUS MINDS
AMONG US.
AND ANY SERIOUS GRASP OF WHAT IS
INVOLVED, REQUIRES A
NUMERACY OF
INCREASINGLY
SOPHISTICATED ORDER.
IT IS NUMERACY RATHER
THAN LITERACY, WHICH
WILL ENABLE THE MAJORITY
OF THE HUMAN BEINGS TO
COPE WITH THEIR ALTERING
WORLD.
THE JOY OF THEIR WORLD.
I HOPE MANY OF YOU
REMEMBER THE PASSAGE IN
CELLINI’S AUTOBIOGRAPHY WHEN HE IS GOING TO
FINDS OUT WHETHER THE
GREAT STATUE OF PERSEUS HAS BURST
OR IS ALL RIGHT WITHIN
THE CASEMENT WITHIN THE
HARD CASEMENT, THE
MELTING WAX BEING
KNOCKED AWAY TO REVEAL
IT.
NOT ONLY CELLINI, BUT ALSO THE
FLORENTINE
HISTORIANS SAY SEVERAL
THOUSANDS PEOPLE WERE
CROWDING IN THE STREETS
THAT NIGHT HOPING TO SEE
IT.
HOPING TO FIND OUT.
I GUESS 1,000 OR MORE
PEOPLE WERE CROWDING IN
THE STREETS OF LITTLE
CAMBRIDGE THE NIGHT
PROFESSOR WILES ANNOUNCED
THAT HE HAD WOULD REVEAL
THE SOLUTION TO FERMAT’S LAST THEOREM.
AFTER 370 YEARS.
A SOLUTION ARRIVED AT
NOT BY ANY FOR GOD'S
SAKES COMPUTER
ELECTRONIC NONSENSE, A
PENCIL AND PAPER.
AND SEVEN YEARS, OF
UNRELENTING THOUGHT.
PEOPLE CROWDING THE
STREET.
WITH LITTLE HOLE IN
INSTITUTE FORMAT WHERE
IT WAS TO BE REVEALED
CAN TAKE 80 PEOPLE.
SO REST WERE IN THE
STREET.
AND AMONG THOSE 80 I
WAS TOLD TWO COULD
FOLLOW THE
DEMONSTRATION.
DIDN'T MATTER.
MY COMMON ROOM THAT
NIGHT, SANG LIKE A BEE
HIVE CAN I PUT IT IN NO
LESS NAIVE OF A WAY.
AND I SAID, CAN YOU
HELP?
AND THEY SAID LOOK
STEINER, THERE WERE FOUR
ROADS OF APPROACH AND
HE CHOSE THE MOST
BEAUTIFUL.
AND I SAID, RIGHT TO
HELP ME.
BEAUTY, TRUTH.
AND THEY SAID, NO.
WE ARE USING BEAUTY, NOT
IN METAPHORIC SENSE BUT
IN CONCRETE AND
NORMAL... CONCRETE
SPECIFIC SENSE.
AND AGAIN, IT WOULD BE
GREAT BORE I SAID CAN
YOU HELP ME.
GREAT SCIENTIST ARE
GENEROUS NOT LIKE WE
HUMANS.
THEY ARE REALLY VERY
NICE.
AND SO THEY TRIED... AND
FINALLY ONE OF THEM SAID
TO ME DON'T GET ANGRY TO
TAKE 25 --20 YEARS, 20
YEARS, TO GET YOU TO THE
EDGE OF ELLIPTICAL THEORY.
WHERE THE EDGE BEGINS.
SO THAT COULD YOU KNOW
WHAT PROFESSOR WILDER HAS
DONE.
AND THE BEAUTY OF IT
ALL.
AND SO I IN ACTION OF
ABSOLUTE DESPAIR I SAID
THAT'S ALL RIGHT.
AND PROFESSOR – OF
HARVARD SAID TO ME, BEFORE
YOU’RE ALLOWED TO LOOK AT A
PAGE OF CABALA IT IS 25
YEARS OF PREPARATION.
AND THEY WERE ENORMOUSLY
GOOD ABOUT THAT.
AND I FELT AN ACHE, A PHYSICAL ACHE.
THE BEAUTY OF IT.
TOTALLY INACCESSIBLE TO ME.
PHYSICAL ACHE.
LITERATURE HAS SCARCELY
GOWN DO MANY MINIMAL
HOMEWORK.
HENCE ITS... AND DOMESTICITY,
HENCE A
BELIEF THAT AN ADULT TREE
IN LONG ISLAND IS
INTERESTING SUBJECT.
IT HAS SCARCELY BEGUN TO BE
SERIOUS.
THERE HAVE BEEN
A SMALL NUMBER OF VERY
GREAT WRITERS WHO HAVE
NOT BEEN LAZY.
IN FACT, THEY TRIED TO
FIND OUT WHAT THE WORLD
IS NOW ABOUT.
THOMAS MANN WHO WORKED TWO
YEARS WITH A TUTOR WE
KNOW WHO HE WAS BEFORE
DOING THE CHAPTERS ON
ASTROPHYSICS IN FELIX KRULL.
ROBERT MUSIL WHO WAS OF
COURSE A TRAINED
MATHEMATICIAN AND
ENGINEER.
PERHAPS PYNCHON AND THE
MASTERS OF SCIENCE FICTION.
WHOM WE TEND NOT TO
TAKES SERIOUSLY.
BUT WHOSE VISION HAS
BEEN CLAIRVOYANT AND
TERRIFYINGLY PROPHETIC.
VERY FEW EXCEPTIONS.
IN ESSENCE, THE NOVEL
INHABITS 19TH CENTURY COSMOLOGY
AND THIS CAN LAST A LONG
TIME WE TEND TO FORGET
THAT THE HEROIC VERSE
EPIC CONTINUED FOR MANY
CENTURIES UNTIL IT CAME
TO ITS DISMAL END.
I HAVE TOTALLY OUTLIVED
THE MYTHOLOGICAL
STRUCTURES WHICH HAD
GENERATED ITS VALIDITY.
THE SECOND ELEMENT OF
THE SUBVERSION OF
ANY CLASSIC LITERACY IS
EVEN MORE RADICAL.
AND VERY DIFFICULT TO
DEFINE.
AND I MAY HAVE THIS
TOTALLY WRONG.
IN THE WEST, THE STATUS
OF DEATH IS UNDERGOING A
SEACHANGE.
WE ARE IN THE MIST OF
WHAT MAY BE THE DEEPEST
REACHING TECTONIC PLATE SHOCK IN
WESTERN HISTORY.
FROM 1914 ONWARD, ON
THE FIRST DAY IN 1916,
AND ESTIMATED 45,000
PEOPLE DIED ON THAT
FIRST DAY.
IN 1914 ONWARD THE NEW
WORLD OF MASS DEATHS.
DEATHS ON WHOLLY
UNPRECEDENTED SCALE.
THE NEW WORLD OF CLONING,
OF GENETIC
MANIPULATION OF
TRANSPLANT, OF WHAT...
CALLED THE ABOLITION OF
THE SELF.
IS NOW TAKING ON
BIOLOGICAL POTENTIALITY.
DEATHS WHERE WILL BE
THY STING?
THIS IS AN IMMENSELY
PERPLEXING, FASCINATING
MUTATION OF
CONSCIOUSNESS.
AND I CAN ONLY ALLUDE TO
IT.
BUT IT BEARS DIRECTLY
ON OUR SUBJECT.
WESTERN LITERACY HAS BEEN
ONE OF THE STRATEGIES
ONE OF THE MASTER
STRATEGIES... WESTERN...
CONTRA DEATH, AGAINST
DEATH.
IT HAS HARBOURED INTIMATIONS
OF IMMORALITY. ASPIRATIONS TO
IMMORTALITY.
FROM ITS ORIGINS ON.
MAGNIFICENTLY PINNED
OURSELVES TO THINK OF
SAYING THAT.
HE IS QUITE NEAR TO US.
PINNED OURSELVES.
THE CITY FOR WHICH I AM
WRITING THIS ODE WILL
PERISH.
AND THE LANGUAGE IN
WHICH I AM WRITING IT
MAY PERISH.
BUT MY POETRY WILL LIVE
FOREVER.
HORACE WILL TRANSLATE IT
INTO WHAT EVERY CHILD
STILL HAD TO LEARN IN MY
TIME.
TOUGHER THAN BRASS,
STRONGER THAN MARBLE.
THESE LINES WILL LIVE.
AND THAT VERY VERY STALINIST POET
BUT A FINE POET, PUTS IT IN A SINGLE
PHRASE, THE HARSH DESIRE
TO LAST.
AND THAT IS MECHANISM OF
ALL ATTEMPT AT GREAT
LITERATURE.
TODAY ALREADY A CERTAIN
EMBARRASSMENT ATTACHES
TO THIS COMMANDING
MOTION.
IF YOU WANT TO BE FUNNY
IN FRANCE, YOU CITE THE
TITLE GIVEN TO
THEMSELVES BY MEMBERS OF
THE FRENCH ACADEMY, ‘LES
IMMORTELS,"
THIS FILLS EVERYBODY
EXCEPT THE
GENTLEMEN IN QUESTION
WITH EMBARRASSMENT.
ART IS FLIRTING WITH THE ALEATORY AND WITH
SELF DESTRUCT.
M. BAUDRILLARD MOVINGLY EVOKED THE
CAVERNS OF LASCAUX.
I COULD SAY ALTAMIRA, THIS CAME TO AN END
ON SPECIFIC DATE,
VERY, VERY RARE THAT A GREAT MOVEMENT IN
HISTORY HAS A CALENDAR
DATE IT CAME ON A LATE
AFTERNOON, IN THE
COURTYARD OF THE MUSEUM
OF THE MODERN ART IN NEW
YORK.
TINGUELY, IN FRONT OF A
LARGE CROWD, HAVING SET
UP SPLENDID METAL AND
PARTIALLY... BUT VERY
DIFFERENT.
STRUCTURE OF MEANING.
SET FIRE TO IT.
AND AS IT COLLAPSED, HE
SAID QUITE CLEARLY, I
DON'T WANT TO LAST.
AND PERHAPS, WITH THAT
CAME TO AN END THAT
WHICH ALTAMIRA AND LASCAUX HAD BEGUN BY
SAYING I WANT TO LAST.
TINGUELY DOES NOT WANT TO
LAST.
IT IS COLLECTIVE.
IT IS ANONYMOUS.
IT IS a HAPPENING.
IT IS A MOMENT.
BECAUSE THE DESIRE TO
LAST IS NOT AT A CENTRAL
LEVEL THAT A VERY
NATURAL AND OFTEN
VULNERABLE ARTISTIC
VANITY IT IS THAT OF A
LINK WITH TRANSCENDING
BELIEF NOW NO LONGER
AVAILABLE.
IT IS IN THIS LIGHT BOTH
UNCERTAIN AND BLINDING,
IT IS IN THE LIGHT OF
THESE CHANGES THAT WE
MUST TRY TOGETHER AND
REDEFINE THE WORD
LITERACY.
EVEN THOUGH IN ONLY THE
MOST PROVISIONAL AND
TENTATIVE WAY, AND
ANYTHING ELSE WOULD BE
UTTER ARROGANCE.
THE SATURATION OF DAILY
LIVES AND BY ELECTRONIC
MEANS OF COMMUNICATION,
OF INFORMATION STORAGE
AND RETRIEVAL OF
LEARNING METHODS, WILL
INEVITABLY COMPORT
INCREASING FAMILIARITY
WITH THE NEAR MATHEMATICAL AND LOGICALLY
FORMED LANGUAGES AND
SENSIBILITY.
NEVER FORGET THAT YOUR
COMPUTER WHEREVER IT IS
IN THE WORLD IS SPEAKING
VICTORIAN ENGLISH ITS
STRUCTURE IS THAT OF BOOLEAN ALGEBRA
NOT THE
ONLY ALGEBRA AVAILABLE.
IT COULD HAVE BEEN BASED
ON INDIAN.
VERY DIFFERENT.
IT HAPPENS TO BE BASED
UPON BULLION ALGEBRA
THAT.
AND THE DEVELOPMENT OF BULLION
ALGEBRA.
IT IS SPEAKING KIND OF ESPERANTO
WITH DEEP ROOTS IN 19TH
CENTURY ENGLISH
CONFIDENCE IN LOGIC.
INCREASINGLY ORALITY,
WRITING AND READING AS
WE HAVE KNOWN THEM WILL
TAKE ON HIGHLY
SPECIALIZED FUNCTIONS.
AS DID READING AND
WRITING THROUGHOUT THE
ANCIENT AND MEDIEVAL
WORLD NOTHING NEW IN
THIS.
WE HARBOUR THE ILLUSION
THAT OUR LITERACY WAS THE
INEVITABLE NATURAL FORM.
IT WAS NOT.
THERE MAY AGAIN BE WHAT
THE RABBI AKIBA AFTER THE
DESTRUCTION OF THE TEMPLE CALLED
HOUSES OF READING.
FOR PEOPLE WHO ACTUALLY
KNOW HOW TO SIT IN
SILENCE AND READ A SERIOUS
TEXT.
WITHOUT SECONDARY
SOURCES OF ANY KIND, MY
COLLEAGUE IN GENEVA, JOHN STAROBINSKI,
NEVER HAD A BOOK OF
CRITICISM ON ANY DESK.
HE READ THE TEXT.
HE READ IT AT FOUR
LEVELS WHICH I’VE BEEN TRYING
TO DO.
IN A 25-YEAR SEMINAR I
TOOK 25 YEARS
PEOPLE REPLACED EACH
OTHER.
IT WAS ALWAYS THE SAME
SEMINAR.
I SAID WE WILL START
WITH THE DICTIONARY.
AND THE INFINITE POETRY OF
THE POETICS ARE LOOKING
UPWARD.
KNOWING OR TRYING TO
KNOW THE HISTORY.
SECONDLY, WE WILL
PROCEED SOME THING VERY,
VERY DIFFICULT, GRAMMAR.
GRAMMAR HAPPENS TO BE
THE MUSIC OF THE MIND.
AND OF SORT.
I CAN'T TAKE SERIOUSLY
SOMEBODY WHO WAFFLES TO
ME.
ABOUT MILTON'S
GREATNESS.
AND CAN'T EXPLAIN TO ME
WHY THERE ARE FOUR GERUNDS
BEGINNING OF LYCIDAS.
PROBABLY DOES NOT WHAT A
GERUND IS.
MILTON DID.
HE WAS A SUPREME
MUSICIAN OF SYNTAX.
IT WAS NO ACCIDENT
IT IS NO LATIN SHOW OFF.
IMAGINE, THE MUSIC
STUDENT, WHO WOULD DARE
SAY TO THE TEACHER NO,
NO.
NO SCALES.
I HAVE DEEP FEELING
ABOUT CHOPIN.
THIS IS WHAT WE IN
LETTERS HAVE DONE.
WE HAVE SOLD OUT TO
TRASH.
WE ASK LESS AND LESS OF
OUR STUDENTS.
WE NEITHER ASK THE
ANCIENT LANGUAGES, WITHOUT WHICH I
DID NOT TAKE STUDENTS IN COMPARATIVE
LITERATURE.
IT IS CRIMINAL TO THINK
YOU CAN TALK ABOUT
EUROPEAN LITERATURE
WITHOUT SOME ATTEMPT TO
KNOW WHAT GREEK AND
LATIN ARE DOING AND HOW
THEY LIVE IN THEM.
AND WHEN I AM TOLD HOW
FOR GOD SAKES CAN YOU
ASK THAT, WHEN YOU PASS
FROM THE FIRST YEAR
WHICH IS AN APPRENTICE YEAR,
PROVISIONAL.
TENTATIVE, TO THE SECOND
AND THE HARVARD MEDICAL
SCHOOL, YOU CAN ONLY GO
ON TO THE SECOND YEAR IF
YOU TAKE THE
PHARMACOLOGY EXAM.
WHICH COMPORTS LEARNING
BY HEART SOME 1200, 1200
FORMULAS MANY OF THEM
INTRICATE.
AND IT IS SAME STORY
EVERY YEAR.
FIRST WEEK I COMMIT
SUICIDE.
I’LL QUIT MEDICINE.
AND SLOWLY, SLOWLY, THESE
PERFECTLY WONDERFUL
YOUNG HUMAN BEINGS
REALIZE THEY CAN DO IT.
THE POWERS MEMORY ARE
INFINITE.
THE MUSCLES OF MEMORY
ONCE YOU WAKE THEM AND
EXERCISE THEM, AND THEY
TAKE THE EXAM.
AND IT IS NOT A TRIVIAL OR
SADISTIC DEMAND IF YOU GET THE
WRONG FORMULA THE
PATIENT DIES.
SO, IT IS ABOUT
SOMETHING.
IT IS ABOUT SOMETHING
VERY REAL AND VERY
IMPORTANT.
AND WE IN THE ARTS ASK
LESS AND LESS AND HOW
DEEPLY WE SHOULD BE
ASHAMED.
BECAUSE SPINOZA SAID ALL
THINGS EXCELLENT ARE
DIFFICULT.
AND ANYWAY YOU HONOUR A
HUMAN BEING, IS TO ASK
OF HIM AN EFFORT.
AND THAT'S HOW YOU HONOUR
A HUMAN BEING.
AND THE HOPELESS
POPULARIZATION AND DOWN
MARKETING OF OUR CRAFT
WE DON'T HONOUR THE
STUDENT WE CONDESCEND
HIM AND THAT IS
HIDEOUS, HIDEOUS
CONTEMPT.
YOU HONOUR HIM.
BY WHAT YOU ASK AND
DEMAND.
THERE WILL AGAIN BE
PROBABLY FORMS OF THE
SCRIPT --AND IF THE DEAR
OLD LOMBARDS HAD PASSED 11
KILOMETERS, THAT'S
NOTHING.
11 KILOMETERS NEARER TO
SAINT GAL THAN THEY DID WHEN
THEY POURED DOWN THE
ALPS AND SET IT ON
FIRE AS THEY DID
EVERY OTHER MONASTERY.
WE WOULD NOT HAVE OUR
HORACE, OUR VIRGIL, OUR CATULLUS, OUR OVID.
ONE MONASTERY HUNG BY A THREAD,
AND DEMANDS COPYING THE
TEXT.
COPYING DAY AND NIGHT.
AND SAVING FOR US WHAT
WAS UNTIL VERY RECENTLY,
THE LITERACY THE
ALPHABET OF
CIVILIZATION.
NUMERACY WILL MOVE
CLOSELY TO CENTRES OF
COMPETENCE.
AND WE HAVE BEEN
DESPERATELY SLOW AND
UNIMAGINATIVE ABOUT
TEACHING MATHEMATCS.
ABOUT INTRODUCING WHAT
REGINA WOLF CALLED THE
CALMER READ.
THAT BE THE OTHER GREAT
UNIVERSAL LANGUAGE.
PLEASE LET'S HAVE NO
NONSENSE ABOUT ANGLO
AMERICAN BEING THE PLANETARY
LANGUAGE.
WHEN I WAS AT THE
INSTITUTE IN PRINCETON
AS YOUNG MAN, ONE WAS
ALLOWED BY GRACE OF OPPENHEIMER
TO SIT IN SOME TIMES ON
THE SEMINARS, EVEN
IF COULD YOU NOT
UNDERSTAND THEM.
I HAVE WATCHED
AT THE BOARD, SOME OF
THE PRINCES OF THE
WORLD JAPANESE, RUSSIAN
AND AMERICAN, WORKING
TOGETHER AT TOP SPEED
WITHOUT SHARING A WORD
OF EACH OTHER'S
LANGUAGE.
LEIBNITZ’S GREAT DREAM.
AND MATHEMATICS WITH ITS
DIALECT.
ITS WIT ITS SADNESS ITS
GRANDEUR.
BELONGING TO THE HOLD
WORLD EVERY ONE CAN
SPEAK TO THE MAN NEXT TO
HIM AS THEY WORK
TOGETHER.
AND QUITE THE MOST EERIE
THE MOST WONDERFUL
MOMENT WHAT WAS WHEN
THEY LAUGHED.
EITHER I GATHER BECAUSE IT
HAD GONE WRONG, OR
BECAUSE THERE IS A WIT
WHICH WE CAN'T FATHOM AS
THERE IS IN MANY HAYDN
STUDIES.
MANY HAYDN CADENZAS AS YOU KNOW
ARE FUNNY.
AND ARE MEANT TO BE FUNNY.
MUSIC AND MATHEMATICS.
THE TWO CODES OF
UNIVERSE.
ALL I’M DOING VERY HEAVILY IS
QUOTING PLATO OF COURSE.
WE HAVE NOT TRIED TO
UNDERSTAND HOW TO TEACH.
PLEASE, GIVE ME CHILDREN
FROM ANY BACKGROUND
AND I WILL PUT ON THE BLACKBOARD ONE, TWO HE
THREE FOUR FIVE, SIX
SEVEN EIGHT.
AND ON AN EASEL, THE EVEN
NUMBERS.
TWO, FOUR, SIX EIGHT,
TEN.
AND I WILL ASK THE CHILD
HOW CAN THERE BE AS MANY
EVEN NUMBERS AS THERE
ARE NUMBERS.
AND I WILL TRY TO HAVE
THE NERVE TO LET THE
SILENCE SETTLE.
BECAUSE IT IS OUT OF THE
THE SILENCE.
THAT THERE MAY COME VERY
SLOWLY, TENTATIVELY GOD
KNOWS, THE SPARK OF THE
QUESTION OF THE WONDER OF EXASPERATION
WHICH WILL LEAD BELIEVE
OR NOT, TO THAT WORD THE
WORD ISN’T IMPORTANT BUT IT
WILL LEAD TO THE NOTION
WHICH DESCARTES SAYS IS A PROOF
OF GOD IN US.
THE NOTION OF THE INFINITE.
BECAUSE ONLY THAT NOTION
CAN HELP YOU UNDERSTAND
WHY THESE TWO THEORIES
ARE HOMOLOGICAL: ONE TO ONE
TO ONE. AND THERE WILL BE IN THAT ROOM
CHILDREN FOR WHOM A FIRE
WILL START.
AND IT NEED NEVER GO
OUT.
IF THEY ARE PROPERLY
TAUGHT AND LOVED.
IF THEY ARE NOT
CONDESCENDING TO THEM.
AND THEY DON'T NEED TO
KNOW THAT --TRANSFINITE
CARDINAL NUMBERS
ARE A DAM DIFFICULT
CONCEPT FAR BEYOND ME.
THEY DON'T NEED TO KNOW
THAT.
THAT'S HOW HIS
DEMONSTRATION STARTS.
AND WE CAN START THERE
AND STOP AT MUCH EARLIER
MOMENT WITH THE SHEER
JOY OF IT.
THE SHEER ANIMAL AND JOY
OF UNDERSTANDING SOMETHING
INFINITELY DEEP.
AND THERE ARE BRIDGES,
OH, YES.
AND THERE ARE BRIDGES.
TWO FIELDS, WHICH SHOULD
BE PART OF THE VERY
EARLY SCHOOL TRAINING.
ARCHITECTURE AND MUSIC.
GOETHE SAID WHEN GOING TO TEMPLE OF
SAGESTA IN
SICILY UP ON THE
MOUNTAIN, NOW I KNOW
THAT THE GODS HAVE VISITED
MAN.
IT IS PERHAPS THE MOST
PERFECT ONE.
AND HENRY ADAMS SAID
WHEN HE WROTE HIS BOOK
ON CHARTRES, NOW I KNOW THAT
MAN'S ASPIRATIONS CAN
REACH TO GOD.
AND I HOPE MANY OF YOU
LIKE MYSELF HAVE BEEN TO
BILBAO TO SEE THE
GUGGENHEIM. IT WILL STAND...
IT WILL STAND WITH
CHARTRES. AND IT IS SOARS INTO
INFINITY.
I CAN'T PUT IT ANY OTHER
WAY.
THE LIGHT TRAVELS ALONG
THE WARS RESHAPING AND
AT EVERY HOUR THERE IS
SUN, CIRCLES, AND THERE
ARE AREAS OF THE SILENCE
IN IT.
WHICH HAVE AN INDESCRIBABLE POWER AND
BEAUTY.
AND AT EVERY MOMENT IT
IS COUNTER INTUITIVE.
HE HAS PUT THE HEAVY ON
TOP AND THE LIGHT BELOW
IT.
AND WHEN YOU READ MISTER
GHERY’S
NOTES AND I HOPE YOU
WILL, HE SAYS, CAREFUL I
DID NOT DO IT.
HE NAMES THE PROGRAM AND
CALIFORNIA THE COMPUTER
PROGRAM, WHICH FAR
BEYOND THE PRESENT
POSSIBILITY OF THE HUMAN
CORTEX, CAN FIGURE OUT
WHAT CRITICAL
CURVES ARE POSSIBLE FOR
WALLS OF TITANIUM, AND
CAN TELL HIM HOW THE
LIGHT WILL MOVE AND IN
DIFFERENT MONTHS OF THE
YEAR.
AND DIFFERENT HOURS OF
THE DAY.
AND HE WILL TELL HIM
APPARENTLY OF FAST TAN
DIDN'T COMPLEX THINGS.
WHAT HAPPENED TO SIGHT
LINES AND NOISE.
WHEN YOU HAVE LOT OF
PEOPLE IN THE MUSEUM
WHEN YOU HAVE A FEW
PEOPLE IN THE MUSEUM.
WHEN THEY COME FROM ONE
HOLE TO THE OTHER.
AND ENTIRELY BEYOND OUR
PRESENT COMPUTATIONAL
MENTAL ABILITY.
BUT OPEN TO THE
COMPUTER.
AND OF COURSE ONE WANTS
TO SAYS SIR YOU ASKED
THE RIGHT QUESTIONS.
AND THAT IS ACHIEVEMENT.
BUT IT IS ALREADY
SOMETHING VERY DIFFERENT
FROM THE ARCHITECTS OF CHARTRES
AND SAGESTA.
AND TO COME SOMEWHAT
NEAR IT, TO TEACH
CHILDREN AND OURSELVES,
WHAT PLATO KNEW BY
HEART THE WAY IN
WHICH
ARCHITECTURE AND MATHEMATICS NOT VERY
ADVANCED, ACCESSIBLE
TO ALL US, PLAY TOGETHER.
WITH SPACE AND VOLUME
AND LIGHT AND SOUND.
IT IS ONE POSSIBLE
PROGRAM THE OTHER OF
COURSE IS MUSIC.
FROM VLADIVOSTOK TO
TIERRA DEL FUEGO THE WALKMAN
THEY ARE LISTENING TO
THE SAME HIT.
AS THEY WALKED DOWN THE
STREET.
LEVI STRAUSS DEFINED IT, ‘SUPREME
MYSTERY OF THE HUMAN SCIENCES.
THE INVENTION OF THE
MELODY.’
YES INDEED, YES
INDEED.
AND MUSIC IS A TOTALLY
UNIVERSAL LANGUAGE,
CHILDREN ARE GOOD AT IT.
AND RESPONSIVE TO IT.
AND IT, TOO, AND I QUOTE
BOULEZ, SO MUCH OF MY MUSIC
NOW, CAN ONLY BE FULLY
UNDERSTOOD BY THOSE WHO
CAN READ AN ALGEBRAIC ALGORITHM.
END OF QUOTE.
AGAIN, JOY, WONDER.
THE FUN OF IT.
MARVELLOUS FUN OF IT.
SO MUCH OF WHICH HAS
GONE OUT OF TRADITIONAL
FORMS OF HUMANISTIC TEACHING.
THESE ARE NOT IN ANY
WAY, UTOPIAN OR SCIENCE FICTION
CHANCELLORS. THEY CAN BE
SHOWN TO WORK, YES, THEY
DEMAND A STALINIST SOLUTION.
THAT YOU PAY YOUR
TEACHERS IN SCHOOL YOUR
TEACHERS OF MATHEMATICS AND
LANGUAGE AS MUCH AS A
UNIVERSITY PROFESSOR.
AND SEE TO IT THAT
SOCIETY HONOURS THEM
CORRESPONDINGLY.
WE ARE NOW ENGLAND HAVE
A DEATH TRAP SITUATION.
CAMBRIDGE IS WITH M.
I.T. WITHSTAND FORD WITH
HARVARD STILL.
THE VERY, VERY GOOD GO
ON TO RESEARCH AND THE
EXCELLENT GO IMMEDIATELY
FOR VAST SALARIES INTO
PUBLIC ACCOUNTING AND
BANKING.
IMMEDIATELY.
SALARIES WHICH EVEN AT
THE START OUTSTRIP WHAT
PROFESSOR CAN HOPE FOR
AT THE END OF HIS LIFE.
AND THE VERY BAD GO TO
TEACH MATHEMATICS.
IT IS NIGHTMARE.
IT IS NIGHTMARE.
WE HAVE... YOU KNOW WE
CLASSIFY A FIRST OR
SECOND OR A THIRD.
AND THOSE WHO GET THIRDS
WILL TEACH MATHS.
SO YOU HAVE A SELF
REPRODUCING CYCLE.
IN THE MOST CRUCIAL OF
MOMENT, THAT OF THE
CHILD.
BUT IT CAN BE SOLVED.
I AM SORRY.
THE STALINIST SOLUTION WORKED.
FOR MANY YEARS, RUSSIAN
PRIMARY SECONDARY SCHOOL
TRAINING IN MATHEMATICS OR SCIENCES AND
LANGUAGE WAS GREATEST
THE TOP IN THE WORLD.
THE QUESTION OF HONOURING,
OF HONOURING THE TEACHER
AMONG US.
OF MAKING IT THE MOST
REWARDING AND NOT THE
MOST PUNISHING OF CAREERS.
THIS DOES NOT MEAN FOR A
MOMENT THAT WE WILL NOT
CONTINUE TO LOVE
LITERATURE.
THAT WE WILL NOT
CONTINUE IN A FEW OF OUR
CASES TO TRY AND LEARN
IT BY HEART.
A LITTLE BIT EVERY
DAY, A LITTLE BIT
EVERY MORNING.
AND I CAN TELL YOU THAT
TRYING TO LEARN IT BY
HEART IS HELL.
I KNOW PEOPLE WHO CAN DO
IT.
BEAUTIFULLY BUT IT IS
VERY, VERY DIFFICULT YOU
HAVE TO HEAR THE MUSIC
IN THE PROSE.
YOU HAVE TO LET YOUR
MEMORY PICK UP THE SYNCOPATION.
BUT EVEN THEN IT IS VERY,
VERY DIFFICULT.
BUT TO TRY EVEN IF YOU
FAIL, TO KNOW THAT THEY
BOTH RIGHT AND TOTALLY
WRONG.
WHEN HE SAYS, SCIENCE
ONLY HAVE ANSWERS, AND
THE ARTS ONLY QUESTIONS.
AND IT IS BOTH RIGHT AND
WRONG.
SO WONDERFULLY PROVOCATIVE CHALLENGE.
THE QUESTION POSED TO US
BY GREAT LITERATURE ARE
INDEED A CURRENT ONE BUT
THEY WILL CHANGE.
AND TO PERSIST IN ASKING
THEM, WITHOUT THE
SCRUPLE OF AWARENESS AND WHAT IS
HAPPENING TO OUR INTELLECTUAL WORLD
IS I THINK A BLIND
ARROGANCE FOR WHICH WE
ALREADY ARE PAYING VERY
HIGH PRICE.
GOD KNOWS STATISTICS
MUST NOT BE TAKEN
VERBATIM.
NEVERTHELESS, WHEN UNESCO,
IN LAST YEAR'S SURVEY
AND EDUCATION CLAIMS,
THAT SOME 82 PERCENT OF THOSE
AT THE HIGHEST OF END OF
THE CURVE OF
INTELLIGENCE, 82 PERCENT ARE
NOW INTO SCIENCE, IT’S
SOMETHING TO THINK ABOUT.
IF YOU AND I HAD LIVED
IN QUATTROCENTO, FLORENCE WOULD WE NOT
LIKE FROM THE TIME TO
TIME HAVE BREAKFAST WITH
THE PAINTERS?
OUR ISOLATION FROM WHAT
IS AT THE MOMENT THE MOMENT
CONSEQUENTIAL IN SOME
WAYS THE MOST
THREATENING, OF CHANGES
IN THE WORLD OF THE MIND,
OF NERVES OF HEART, JUST
THINK THAT THERE IS NO
BRANCH OF LAW OF
PSYCHOLOGY OF
TRADITIONAL AESTHETICS WHICH WILL
NOT BE GRASPED BY THE
THROAT BY THE CREATION
OF LIFE IN VITRO .
THERE ARE BRIDGES THERE
ARE EFFORTS TO BE
UNDERTAKEN ABOVE ALL AND
THERE ARE JOYS ENORMOUS
JOYS TO EXPERIENCE.
DO HONOUR TO YOUR
STUDENTS.
DO HONOUR TO YOUR
STUDENTS.
AND I HAVE THE
INCREDIBLE LUCK TO BE AT THE
UNIVERSITY OF CHICAGO
IN HUTCHINS ONE DAY.
AND HE HAD A RULE THAT
EVEN FRESHMAN WERE
ALLOWED TO SIT AGAINST
THE WALL IN A GRADUATE
SEMINAR ON CONDITION
THAT THEY DID NOT OPEN
THEIR LITTLE MOUTHS BUT
THEY COULD SIT IN.
AND I HAD HEARD OF
COURSE OF LEO STRAUSS.
AND HE ANNOUNCED SEMINAR,
PLATO AND THE CITY.
AND I SAT AGAINST THE
WALL.
AND LITTLE FORMIDABLE
MAN WALKED IN AND SAID,
I NEVER FORGOTTEN A
SECOND OF THAT MOMENT.
IN THIS SEMINAR, THE
NAME OF WILL NOT BE
MENTIONED.
AND I DID NOT CATCH THE
NAME.
I WAS NERVOUS AND... AND
I WENT UP TO A GRADUATE
STUDENT AFTERWARDS,
A VERY NICE ONE THANK
GOD.
AND I SAID LOOK, CAN YOU
HELP ME.
I WILL WRITE IT DOWN FOR
YOU.
MARTIN HEIDEGGER.
SO I RUSHED TO THE
LIBRARY ON THE MIDWAY,
AND GOT SEIN UND ZEIT.
AND I COULD NOT
UNDERSTAND THE FIRST
SENTENCE.
TOTALLY HELPLESS.
AND I KEPT TRYING AND
TRYING AND I KEPT IT
OPEN IN FRONT OF ME.
AND I FELT NOT DEFEATED
NOT MOCKED, NOT
CONDESCENDED TO, BUT
INFINITELY HONOURED BY
THE PROVOCATION. PROVOCARE.
WHAT SHOULD A TEACH BE A
PERSON WITH A CALLING
PROVOCARE.
A PROVOCATION IS WHAT
TEACHING IS.
TO CALL YOU OUT.
A GOOD ANGLO SAXON EXPRESSION.
I SHOULD CALL YOU OUT.
HAVE AT YOU SIR
BEYOND ART.
PROVOCATION.
AND PERHAPS, AFTER
MONTHS OF WHAT A FEW
SENTENCES BEGAN OPENING
UP.
YOU MUST ALWAYS PITCH
ABOVE THE HEAD.
OF YOUR STUDENTS.
UNTIL HIS FINGERS ACHE
WITH REACHING.
AND I THINK IT IS THE
MOST EXCITING PROCESS IN
THE WORLD.
AND WHAT DID I.A. RICHARDS
SAY, THE TWO MOST
COMPLEX AND QUOTING
DIRECTLY THE TWO MOST
COMPLEX PROCESSES ON
THIS PLANET, ARE THE
MATHEMATICS OF A STRING
QUARTET AND THE
TRANSLATION OF A CHINESE PHILOSOPHIC
SENTENCE.
MAYBE RIGHT.
THEY ARE WORTH
PURSUING.
IT WILL BE A FASCINATING
WORLD.
A FASCINATING WORLD.
IN CERTAIN RESPECTS, HOLY
FAMILIAR TO PLATO, WHEN
HE WRITES OVER THE DOORS
OF THE ACADEMY LET NO
ONE ENTER HERE WHO
IS NOT GEOMETER.
THAT'S PLATO.
HOLY FAMILIAR TO PLATO.
HOLY FAMILIAR TO PYTHAGORAS,
WITH HIS HOPE THAT MUSIC
WOULD OPEN DOORS TO
COSMOLOGY AND TO THE
PROBLEM OF THE INNER HARMONY
OF THE HUMAN BEING.
AND OTHERS OF COURSE WE
HAVE HEARD PRESENTED
THIS AFTERNOON.
AND OTHERS IT WILL BE A
POST HUMANITY, WHICH I
AM NOT ALTOGETHER SORRY
I WILL NOT LIVE TO SEE.
I THANK YOU.

[APPLAUSE].

Watch: George Steiner on the History of Literacy