Tuesday, October 26, 2010

On extraordinary coincidences

Regular readers will recall my admiration for the Canadian philosopher George Grant, a remarkable thinker who is too little known. His thought is difficult to pigeonhole, stemming from a deep engagement with Plato, with Friedrich Nietzsche, and with the Christian theological tradition. I find his analysis of modernity and the significance of technology to be profound and convincing, and I am particularly struck by his distinctive voice: his writing is erudite, with a certain rolling, magisterial character, but at the same time one gets the sense of an distinct personality, one that is humble, inquisitive and perhaps slightly naïve. He can say much in few words; I wish I could write as well.

The Grant canon is not large: there are three books based on public lecture series (Philosophy in the Mass Age, Time as History, and English-Speaking Justice), two essay collections (Technology and Justice and Technology and Empire), as well as the famous Lament for a Nation - a ninety-page, game-changing analysis of Canada's relationship to the United States, and the future of Canadian sovereignty. Those new to Grant will probably want to read the famous Lament first, which is fine, but the book would probably make more sense having previously read Philosophy in the Mass Age, which lays the groundwork for Grant's basic philosophical approach. None of the books are longer than two hundred pages, so you can test the waters without making a substantial time commitment.

The missing piece of Grantiana, though, and one I keep an eye out for in used bookstores, is George Grant in Process, a 1978 collection of essays on Grant's work, interspersed with interviews and brief pieces by Grant himself. Having no luck finding it, I finally bought a used copy from Amazon, only to open the book and find on the inside cover the label "Ex Libris Malcolm Muggeridge".

A dedication on the title page identifies it as a gift to Muggeridge and his wife from their son John, and pencil markings elsewhere state that the book was purchased in a 1991 estate sale following the sale of the Muggeridge home. I can hardly imagine how the book found its way into the catalogue of an Amazon used bookseller twenty years later, but I'm delighted to have found it.

This raises interesting questions: was Muggeridge an admirer of George Grant? (One would hardly buy one's parents a book of essays about a Canadian philosophy professor unless they had some previous interest in his work.) It is certainly within the realm of possibility that the two could have read each other, and perhaps even corresponded (the two men died within a couple of years of each other). Published biographies of both writers exist, and a volume of Grant's letters is available from University of Toronto Press - it would be interesting to follow up on this connection.

In the meantime, I will be looking for a book to read by Muggeridge, a writer I have heard about but rarely actually read.

Muggeridge's copy of George Grant in Process joins my extensive collection of Books Previously Owned by Interesting People (the sole previous member being a copy of Music Ho! from the library of Clifford von Kuster).


cnb said...

I love it when that happens. I wish it would happen to me.

I have a used copy of Wade Rowland's book Ockham's Razor that was previously owned by Pamela Wallin, the former media personality who now sits in the Canadian Senate. Your find certainly bests mine.

What books is Muggeridge best known for? I have his little book on Mother Teresa, but I don't know much more about him.

Osbert Parsley said...

Heh. When I saw you'd posted here, I was hoping that you'd be able to tell me something about Malcolm Muggeridge - I really know very little. I don't own any of his full-length books, although now I'm thinking I should make the investment.

I've heard good things about his autobiography, Chronicles of Wasted Time, and he has an interesting-looking book called A Third Testament that discusses the writings of (*deep breath*) Augustine, Blake, Pascal, Tolstoy, Kierkegaard, and Dostoevsky. I think his best-known book, though, is probably the one you have about Mother Teresa.

In any case - I'm interested to explore his writings, but given the number of unread books I have on hand, it could take quite a while. . .

Kevin said...

Ugh. The list keeps growing and growing. I hope someone will invent age reversal pills soon.

Nice finds.