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.


Intriguing news about J.D. Salinger’s books

We learn today that J.D. Salinger’s son and widow are working hard to publish the books he wrote during the last fifty years of his life. As became painfully apparent when Harper Lee agreed to allow Go Set a Watchman to see the light of day, publishing so many years after the event can be a perilous business, so let’s hope that Salinger fans won’t be disappointed. (In fact, what the publication of Go Set a Watchman revealed, above all else, was the importance of a good editor. The person who pulled To Kill a Mockingbird out of Go Set a Watchman deserves a Nobel Prize.)

However, it might be different with J.D. Salinger if only because he was such a restless writer. He was in search of something, or someone, he never quite found in his published works. I would be surprised to discover that the restlessness ever came to an end but the journey, the quest, could well throw up some fascinating surprises.

Ronald Knox on the current crisis

Of course, Ronald Knox didn’t have a view on the current crisis. Nevertheless, what he said in a series of sermons to schoolgirls during World War II (later published in The Creed in Slow Motion) was extremely prescient:

“What holds up the conversion of England, I always think, is not so much the wickedness of a few Catholics, as the dreadful ordinariness of most Catholics. There is a temptation for us, simply because we belong to a holy Church, just to sit back and be passengers, and say, ‘I’m not going to bother about being anything above the average; I leave the Church to do the holiness for me.’ But we have got to match the Church, you and I, to wear her colours. And when we say, ‘I believe in the holy Catholic Church,’ we mean, among other things, ‘I believe holiness is a good thing; that holiness would be a good thing for me.'”