"Genius loci, the spirit of place, which, like an unbidden bolt of recognition, transforms a landscape, a street corner into 'inscape,' into a reorientation of awareness. Snow was blowing and drifting in a white fog. The rural road simply vanished. My wife, whose sagacity of heart, radiant good sense and unspoken perceptions are incomparable, drove parallel with what we could make out of fence posts. At moments even these blanked out in a white tumult. Suddenly the February blizzard cleared. A cold brilliance washed the air. We edged the car across the fields back to a paved road and into woods. A gently tortuous descent led from the plateau. On either side, like scarred walls, towered the cliffs painted time and time again by Courbet in this corner of the Franche-Comté. A breach opened in the larch, pale birch and black pine. Zara and I stopped breathless. Below us, in the perfectly rounded cusp of the hills, traversed by a stream whose crystal voices reached us even far above, lay a hamlet. Its rust-coloured and snow-blown roofs, squat church-tower and two small chateaux -- the one ramshackled and Second Empire, the other a pure marvel of a seventeenth-eighteenth century logis and circular donjon -- composed a compact, earth-bound yet also mirage-like ensemble. We were struck mute with wonder. The church tower rang its hour as we crossed the low stone bridge, its querulous chime somehow answered by the toss of silver-white and green-ochre (Courbet's palette) of water across lustrous stones. I knew at once that there would be for me no greater perfection anywhere, that I had stumbled on home."
George Steiner, Errata (1997)
Apparently, Errata is not a typical book by Steiner; it's the closest he comes to memoir and autobiography. Within this book, even this chapter doesn't seem typical because here he stops being a critic or professor, and edges toward pure writing, some of which is very beautiful. I recently finished "The Death of Tragedy" -- which came out of his doctoral thesis -- and am now halfway through this one, written quite late in his long and still-continuing life. Steiner can be maddening, as all brilliant people sometimes are, and he is also flamboyant -- a criticism that was penned on one of his first papers at university. But he shares a concern for philosophy, the art and creativity, and the classics -- for humanism in general -- and writes about those things very well indeed.
I've been amused that since writing the title of this post, this morning, I've had Anton Bruckner's "Locus iste" ("This place") stuck in my head. Steiner would probably approve, though that one's a bit of a stretch, even for him!