Quiet Powers of the Possible

I had a productive time today at Senate House Library, University of London, gathering books for my doctoral work and for a course I am developing for my school students. I brought home Irmeli Valtonen’s The North in the Old English Orosius (for my Year 7s – who else?) as well as Gérard Genette’s Narrative Discourse and Roland Barthes’ Camera Lucida (which I hope will help me elucidate Jérôme Ferrari’s powerful novel, The Sermon on the Fall of Rome for my PhD).

But I also found another book that I am very much looking forward to reading, a book with the wonderful title, Quiet Powers of the Possible (as well as the slightly more daunting subtitle, Interviews in Contemporary French Phenomenology). Our noisy, results-driven age is crying out for the quiet powers of the possible, it seems to me, though whether that was the meaning Heidegger had in mind when he first used the phrase in Being and Time I have yet to discover.

There is a peculiar pleasure to be found in getting one’s hands on unread books (“In phenomenology possibility stands higher than actuality,” Heidegger claimed.) but there is a higher form of pleasure in actually reading them, so I feel duty bound to quote at least a little from Quiet Powers of the Possible, from the last interview of the book, in fact, with the wonderful Jean-Louis Chrétien:

a quotation is like a meteorite, a body radically foreign to the speech that welcomes it and calls for it, gratefully giving to it a fugitive hospitality…. [For this guest] we must prepare a room and get out the clean sheets, for to quote is an honor that we receive, not one that we confer.