George Steiner Appointed Norton Professor of Poetry

George Steiner, an internationally renowned scholar and literary critic , has been appointed the 2001-2002 Charles Eliot Norton Professor of Poetry, the University announced this week.

"It's not something one turns down," Steiner said from his home in England yesterday. "When one looks at a list of my predecessors, one feels very humbled and awed. It's a fantastic list."

Steiner, who said he was offered the position about a month ago, will deliver a series of six lecture at Harvard in the fall focusing on meaning and language, which have been some of the central concerns of his work.

The Norton lectureship, established in 1925, honors Harvard's first professor of fine arts. The Norton Chair is concerned with "all poetic expression" in areas such as music, language, fine arts, architecture and literature.

The position is one of the most prestigious lectureships in the nation. Past recipients have included Leonard Bernstein '39, e.e. cummings '15, T.S. Eliot '10, Robert Frost, Harold Bloom, Lionel Trilling, Jorge Luis Borges and Aaron Copeland. The most recent Norton Professor was musicologist Joseph W. Kerman, who lectured in 1997-1998.

The search committee for this year's professorship, chaired by Professor Peter Sacks, described Steiner as "one of the most eminent intellectuals of his generation," and "one of the world's great comparatists."

The professorship is only one of many awards Steiner has received for his work, including Guggenheim and Fulbright Fellowships and the Truman Capote Lifetime Achievement Award. He is also a Fellow of the British Academy and the recipient of France's Legion d'honneur.

Much of Steiner's work deals with the use of language, and during his career he has made important contributions to fields beyond his specialty of literature, ranging from religion to history to philosophy. His work often addresses questions of culture aesthetics, literature and society.

He is the author of such influential works as After Babel: Aspects of Language and Translation, The Death of Tragedy, The Language of Silence: Essays on Language, Literature, and the Inhuman, and Tolstoy or Dostoevsky. He has also published many essays and reviews in prominent publications in Europe and the United States, and his fiction has been highly praised.

Born in Paris in 1929, Steiner emigrated to the United States with his family in 1940. Steiner, who went on to earn degrees from the University of Chicago, where he received his B.A. in 1948, Harvard University (M.A. 1950) and Oxford University (Ph.D. 1955), is currently an Extraordinary Fellow of Churchill College at the University of Cambridge.

As the Norton Professor, Steiner will deliver six lectures this fall, dealing with many of the same concerns about meaning and language that his body of work reflects.

"My whole life I have tried to work at the borderline of literature and philosophy, where they touch," Steiner said. "It's a question of language, really."

Steiner will have the chance to meet with his Harvard hosts later this spring, when he comes to Boston to deliver a lecture at the Boston Public Library on May 5. He is also publishing a new book this April, entitled Grammars of Creation, to be published by Yale University Press.

--Staff writer P. Patty Li can be reached at ppli@fas.harvard.edu.