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Why Grant matters
George Grant and a few haunting sentences
By J. S. Porter, Hamilton, Ontario - www.spiritbookword.net
I didn’t know George Grant the way his nephew and former Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff knew him --
“As for my uncle George, my mother’s brother, he was a huge presence in my childhood: gigantic, shambling, disheveled… We disagreed about everything, but I found him irresistible and magnetic. It was hard not to be entranced by someone who sang out loud to operas on the stereo and, after motioning for reverent silence whenever the quintet in Mozart’s Cosi fan tutti was sung, bent his head and listened in tears.” (Michael Ignatieff, ‘True Patriot Love: Four Generations in Search of Canada’).
I didn’t know him the way his student, friend and editor Art Davis knew him --
“Every night we saw Dr. Grant leaving the library with armloads of books piled up to his nose covering a bewildering sweep of politics, religion, science and technology, economics and business, poetry and novels. This wide reading was driven by the same fire we saw in our classes.”
Art’s fascination began while he was a philosophy student at Dalhousie University in the late 1950s.
I don’t know Grant’s work with the balanced insight of poet-scholar George Elliott Clarke. In a review entitled “Vitriolic Quixote” in Canadian Literature (Autumn/Winter 2001), Clarke remarks on Grant’s love of “chivalric words like noble/nobility, excellence, virtue, and great.”
Clarke compliments Grant’s “choice balanced sentences” in essays that “remain fresh, pungent interrogations of ‘our’ assumptions.”
He also enucleates (a favourite Grantian word) Grant’s body of work: “to preserve the wisdom of ‘the ancients’ or ‘the great minds of the past’ (especially Plato) and the revelation of Christ against modernity’s terrific—and terrifying—mania for technique…”
Grant’s great contribution to thought is to see, through Heidegger’s eyes, that technology not only influences reality, it also determines it. It frames reality in such a way that it re-presents to us what is sayable, desirable and achievable.
I “knew” Grant from three brief encounters – in a swimming pool, an office and a lecture hall. I knew him the way a voyeur, an eavesdropper and a casual listener might know someone.
I once watched him tread water in the McMaster University swimming pool for 20 minutes. (He didn’t believe in lengths or working out.) I overheard him bellow out with gusto thoughts on bridge and Wyndham Lewis — the way I would imagine Orson Welles holding court. I listened to him lecture on the Vietnam War in 1969. I don’t remember the content, but the delivery was unforgettable, such was the breathlessness and urgency of his remarks.
And, I know him, the way most of us know the writing dead — by his legacy of words.
There are particular sentences in Grant’s writings that continue to resonate for me, continue to haunt me. They come from the Addendum to “Two Theological Languages,” written in 1988 the year of his death:
“The great things of our existing are given us, not made by us and finally not to be understood as arbitrary accidents. Our making takes place within an ultimate givenness.”
Since reading this, I’ve consciously thought of my own givens, both personal and collective — my family and friends, my dogs, the weather, light, dark, water, wind, etc.
And I’ve continued to witness the power of the given in the lives of the next generation.
My five year old grandson Kaizen, for instance, is at home in the technological world. That’s good. But my worry has been that he may become closed off from the natural world.
My wife and I recently had occasion to walk with him in the woods in North Toronto. We came upon a horse farm. Kaizen ran to the fence to see the horses. He stared into one particular black horse’s eyes for a long time and it looked as if the horse stared back at him. He was reluctant to leave the horse.
I came away from this experience with the conviction that children are still open to the given, and one of the great givens in life is the animal, our fellow creatures on this sun-sustained planet. I thought of Grant’s magnificent sentences, and silently thanked him.
For more on Grant, please see Hamilton Arts and Letters for an issue (six.1 Spring/Summer 2013) devoted to his life and work. The issue includes Dennis Lee’s brilliant essay, “Grant’s Impasse: Beholdenness and the Silence of Reason.” [LINK below]
DIRECT LINK TO DENNIS LEE'S ESSAY: http://samizdatpress.typepad.com/spring_summer_2013_hamilt/cover-hamilton-arts-letters-spring-summer-2013.html
by J. S. Porter, Hamilton, ON
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