'Proofs', the longest story here, looks to be George Steiner's farewell tribute on the passing of Communism; hardly a tribute, but rather more magnanimous than the run of postmortems and obituaries elicited by the event. The main character, an Italian somewhat old-fashionedly referred to as the Professore, is a convinced long-time Communist, by métier a fanatical proof-reader. The Communist, or European Communist, viewpoint is presented forcefully (if predictably): what does Western democracy have to offer but girlie magazines, lacquer for toenails, deodorants? Yes, the Professore admits, we Communists got it wrong, even hideously wrong, 'but the big error, the overestimate of man from which the mistake came, is the single most noble motion of the human spirit in our awful history ... Every beggar is a prince of possibility.' (Or, 'a man's reach should exceed his grasp ...') Father Carlo - the Professore's friend and debating partner, claims that the atrocities committed by the Church, on the other hand, were carried out by those who laboured to save souls: they saw themselves as God's agents - or, 'this hurts me more than it hurts you' - whereas the victims of Communism were butchered 'so that gangsters and hangmen and bureaucrats could fatten'.
LRB 9 April 1992 | PDF Download