L. J. Helm notes:
“D. Castro, the popularizer of crossfit (or one of his associates -- I don't
recall) describes Anne Thorisdottir (if you heard of her) as "the darling of
crossfit;" surely Speranza is something like that (whatever the Griceian
masculine equivalent might be) for The Grice Club!”
(As always, I re-phrase stuff a bit).
I think that ‘darling’ is actually gender-neutral! (“Thorisdottir” is _not_ --
a nice Icelandic matronymic – I understand “Madison” is a bit of a matronymic
too – but for a totally different reason! "-son" is surely not gender-neutral.)
We are discussing Powers’s review in "The New York Review of Books" of this
French essay (I never use 'book' since I am not referring to the actual
physical object or 'thing') on Faulkner.
(The full text is freely available from hacusa.org).
Powers read, alas, the English translation -- which surely did not help! (But
then, trust "The New York Times Review of Book" to care a hoot about a proper
French essay in proper French -- sad, given the density of Frenchmen who live
But we HOPE that the author of the essay under review (a Frenchman) did read
Faulkner’s stuff in ENGLISH and found it ‘very very difficult’! -- 'Difficult'
enough to merit a dissertation ('Why write a dissertation on Mother Goose?')
Powers's thing es entitled "The big thing on his mind," and we are analysing
various implicata in Powers's review.
“Powers seems *also* to be implying [or 'implicating' if you must] that
Faulkner is more popular in France than in the US.”
True (But then Colette, to judge by Keira Knightley's recent film on her, seems
to be more popular in France than in England! Tid for tat).
Powers’s big implicature -- but one would need to re-read this whole thing --
is what he calls this 'big thing on his mind,’ by which title his review goes.
Powers means Faulkner's 'mind,' not the Frenchman's. I notice that this "big
thing" features in Powers’s explanation of what he finds to be the ‘second
purpose’ of Faulkner’s intentional 'difficulty' -- which does not necessarily
contradicts Grice's conversational category of 'modus' -- "be perspicuous
[sic]." Since an author can be genuinely difficult AND clear (I never met one,
though!). Personally, I do not use the slightly pretentious “big thing on
[one’s] mind” phrase (unless it's "Georgia," of course) since I am hardly what
you would calla common-or-garden Cartesian mentalist!
But back to Franconian Faulknerphiles. Powers notes, in the passage now
extracted by Helm:
“[André] Bleikasten’s ... devotion to Faulkner [begins]
with a happy accident. [Bleikasten] was [needing] a
safely dead writer of important novels in English
for his PhD dissertation. Bleikasten is close to committing
himself to D. H. Lawrence just when Faulkner happens to die
one year after having fallen from a, shall we say, hard-to-control
horse in Virginia."
This is actually clearly stated in the “Foreword” to the dissertation – in
French -- which Powers does NOT quote:
“Dear all, I was all about to write this dissertation, you know, on D. H.
Lawrence, the Nottingham popular novelist of "Chatterley" infame – and then I
find literary fashions seem to be very much elsewhere! As every schoolboy
knows, Faulkner, the renowned American Southern novelist has died, after a very
serious thrombosis-provoking injury caused by his fall from one of his horses,
Toby, a particularly hard-to-control one. News reach as that this happened
after a fatal heart attack (Is ‘fatal’ redundant? It isn't for the Romans!).
The observant reader will observe that, unlike D. H. Lawrence, who died aged
44, Faulkner died aged 64 – and so this dissertation will be longer, but in any
case, I hereby submit it, in French, to the Department of Foreign Languages,
enjoy and give it a pass!”
Helm, who clearly is 'into' the implicature business, notes: “Please note that
Powers may be [*also*] implying [or implicating] that Faulkner’s fall from the
“hard-to-control” horse counts as, to use Powers's unhappy phrase, a “happy
Powers indeed rather inappropriately refers to the reviewed author’s “long
devotion to Faulkner [having begun] with a happy accident.”
But one is never sure about ‘happy.’ In Old English, the word of old Roman
‘beatus,’ or ‘felix,’ was ‘silly.’ ‘Happy,' as per explicature, merely refers
to things that ‘happen’. And yes, accidents just happen to happen (The
implicature chain for 'silly,' incidentally, seems to be as follows: ‘silly’--
happy -- blessed -- pious -- innocent -- harmless -- pitiable -- weak --
feeble in mind, lacking in reason, foolish.
Helm is right in cautiously using ‘MAY.' For surely we need more details of
what kind of ‘accident’ it was with Toby, however 'hard-to-control' he was.
Falling from a horse, as any horse rider should know may be due to
(a) the *rider*’s foolishness.
(b) the *horse*’s foolishness, or
(c) none of the above
– which complicates things in terms of Powers's intended implicature. The fact
that Powers uses ‘hard-to-control, granted, seem to implicate, and rather
blatantly, too, that Powers thinks the burden lies on a rather ‘foolish’
But please note that ‘hard’ to control is quite different from IMPOSSIBLE to
control and Faulkner should be forgiven if he was looking for an *experience*.
Helm rightly notes: “Of course the primary meaning may be milder, albeit still
a bit unkind, namely that it was a happy accident that Faulkner’s death
coincided with Bleikasten’s need for “safely dead writer of important novels in
English for his doctoral thesis.”
I take Helm's "primary meaning" to mean ‘primary implicature.' But then again,
implicatures are hardly primary (Do they have ‘primary schools’ in France, by
the way? Palma should know about this).
Helm is thus referring to a further implicature chain -- so let us revise the
rather convoluted (“difficult”) syntax in Powers’s extract:
“Bleikasten’s long devotion to Faulkner began with a HAPPY [addressee: ‘happy?’
wha?] accident. [Let me explain]. In July 1962, Bleikasten was needing a safely
dead writer of important novels in English for his doctoral thesis. He was
close to committing himself to D. H. Lawrence when Faulkner happened to die
after falling from a hard-to-control horse in Virginia.”
If you think of it, Powers is also implicating (strictly, with implicatures you
do not need to use ‘may’ since an implicature is always a 'cancellable' thing)
that D. H. Lawrence is totally ‘minor’ compared to Faulkner (and not just in
Helm: “One gathers that Powers does not like Faulkner nearly as much as
Bleikasten did, and would not be unhappy if a reader [or addressee] of his
review happens to think that he (Powers, not Bleikasten) does indeed consider
Faulkner’s fall from the horse as constituting, by itself, a happy accident.”
Finally, Powers is also implicating that we need to revisit Aristotle’s rather
silly conceptual analysis of ‘accident’! (“If an ‘accident’ is something that
happens – all accidents are happy – “Metaphysics -- The Middle Book – Geary’s
free translation from the Arabic).
NB: On June 17, 1962, Faulkner suffered a serious injury in a fall from his
horse, which led to thrombosis. He suffered a fatal heart attack on July 6,
1962, at the age of 64 at Wright's Sanatorium in Byhalia, Mississippi.
NB2. ‘silly,’ from Old English gesælig "happy," (related to sæl "happiness"),
from Germanic sæligas (source also of Norse sæll "happy," Saxon salig, Dutch
salich, Old German salig, selig, and Gothic sels.