In his 1989 study Real Presences the well-known philosopher and literary scholar George Steiner argues that there is a crisis in philosophy, art and literature. The contract between word and world has been broken, whereby we can no longer make any assertions about human beings and the world. Communication thus becomes problematic. The (post)modern world has become nihilistic. Steiner provides a theological explanation for what in his view is a serious crisis in (post)modern art and in Western culture in general: he blames this crisis for the loss of transcendence through the “death of God”.
This paper will show that Steiner, on the basis of his metaphysical view of transcendence ends up with the dilemma of having to choose between transcendence or immanence/nihilism. This dilemma is unnecessary to the extent that it suggests that transcendence is identical with metaphysical transcendence. If we reject this identification, then the alternative for Steiner’s metaphysical transcendence is not only immanence, viewed as nihilism but can also be another form of transcendence. And this casts another light on the crisis Steiner has indicated in culture.