G S Rousseau

Outsiders/Insiders

Outsiders: A Study in Life and Letters

By Hans Mayer (translated by Denis M Sweet)

MIT Press 458pp £24.50 order from our bookshop

It is strange that this remarkable book is not better known among Anglo-American readers. Originally published in 1975 in German as Aussenseiter, it received little attention outside the Germanic-speaking countries. George Steiner wrote a scrappy and brief review of it in the Times Literary Supplement soon after publication, halfheartedly called it ‘a rather breathless survey … lively and humane’ – but Steiner clearly was less impressed by the ‘outsiders’ who populate each and every one of Mayer’s many pages than he was with the idea of the very German Mayer’s ‘omnivorous energy’ and ‘alert social conscience’. The same Steiner who wrote so dispassionately seven years ago about Mayer’s women, Jews and homosexuals, has now adopted a different tone and altered his priorities. ‘The “great book” on homoeroticism, culture and society,’ he urgently pronounced just a few months ago in Salamagundi’s special issue on Homosexuality, speaking in an avuncular voice and mandating large reconsiderations, ‘is, in fact, unwritten. It will have to start by re-thinking the very foundations of the crassly-deterministic and polarized vocabulary which constrains our perception of the whole mind-body question.’ And, Steiner admonished, ‘such re-thinking may be a more difficult process than any Copernican “revolution,”’ warning the ambitious scholar or potential author of such a ‘great book’ that the magnum opus on homoeroticism will also ‘demand a literal breakout of the frozen carapace of our Cartesian and positivist concepts.’

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Donmar Warehouse

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