The Death of Tragedy
The Death of Tragedy
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You’ll find many interesting charity shops as you saunter down Byres Road in the trendy west end of Glasgow – and the window display in this one piqued my interest, not because of the very retro-looking scarfs on the mannequin bust, but more to do with their quirky decor of using the ripped up pages of academic books and high-brow novels pasted on the walls.


Well, this is University-land after all, so they have to find some way to make use of all the useless study books left behind by students – and this probably beats the Nazi method instead of burning books. The Death of Tragedy is by George Steiner, who regarded himself as being the God of critics, and this book was seen as his antidote to Frederick Nietzsche’s The Birth of Tragedy, for all those looking to expand on their existential growth.


But Steiner is a critic whose reputation is the subject of considerable controversy, chiefly over the question of whether he knows as much as he leads his readers to believe he does. And as a kid, I am afraid I was duped by my local librarian to an early – way, way too early – introduction to this pompous prat. In the aftermath of the 1972 Fischer-Spassky World Chess Championship match, he wrote a book  called The Sporting Scene: White Knights of Reykjavik. So imaging my unbridled joy when, as an innocent 11-year-old, my local librarian told me she’d kept this new book for me, rather than putting it on the shelves.


I ran all the way home clutching it in my hands…only to discover there was a somewhat sparsity of chess moves in it, but instead lots of pious philosophical babble about the match. And brazenly, Steiner managed to give the impression that he knew more about chess than any person who’s ever lived, and that Fischer and Spassky would have been hard pressed to beat him.


This started a lifelong avoidance of anything written by George Steiner – and I even managed to give The Death of Tragedy a deft body-swerve when it was on the reading list for a past Open University course I was on. But  finding one of his titles being used as wallpaper just served to show me that you can find a use for his books after all!


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