Sunday, March 13, 2011

Devoted Proofreader

Proofs and Three Parables
Proofs and Three Parables 
by George Steiner

"Absurdly, a touch of fear stung him, and the momentary, deranged conviction that a deserted universe, like a house unlocked after the removal vans had gone, would sink into oblivion if he failed to carry out his present purpose."(p 72)

George Steiner, an eminent critic whose fictions include "Anno Domini" and The Portage to San Cristobal of A. H., has called his fiction "allegories for argument" or "scripts for thought." In Proofs he centers his story on an Italian proofreader so devoted to his craft that "if the winds blew a piece" of wastepaper "towards his feet, he would pick it up, smooth it, read closely and make any correction needed." Then: "He would deposit it in the garbage receptacle, feeling obscurely rewarded and saddened. Any witness to this rite would have thought him deranged." But there are signs of problems with his eyes, pains, and he goes to an opthamologist: "Had you come to me in good time, it would have been worth operating on the left eye. To remove those cataracts. To implant a lens. As matters stand now . . ."

The proofreader is in a Marxist study group, but each evening he sees the news of the crumbling of the Communist edifice throughout Eastern Europe and Russia - the doubts begin. Into the story is added an eloquent debate that the proofreader carries on with Carlo, a priest and friend from his study group, over the relative merits of Communism, capitalism and Christianity. In this discussion neither side seems to fare well but the proofreader, in spite of the news and debate, will not give up his belief in Marxism. This suggests that the blindness is two-fold -- a Dante-esque prescription for a man who devoted his life to getting texts right. In a fiction written with as meticulous and spare a style as the protagonist proofreader himself exhibits we have a thoroughly Steineresque commentary on the twentieth century, the power of belief and the nature of the humane.

View all my reviews


parrish lantern said...

This again sounds interesting & will definitely search this out, but as I've said before I'm a Steiner fan, one of my favourite books being After Babel, have you read Alberto Manguel, Steiner called him the Casanova of reading.

James said...

I have read some of Alberto Manguel's books. I enjoyed his A Reading Diary and Into the Looking-Glass World. I also have dipped into A History of Reading and have several others on my to read list.