Frank Kermode





Frank Kermode

Author profile


born
in Douglas, Isle of Man
November 29, 1919

died
August 17, 2010

gender
male

genre


About this author

Sir John Frank Kermode was a highly regarded British literary critic best known for his seminal critical work The Sense of an Ending: Studies in the Theory of Fiction, published in 1967 (revised 2003).


Average rating: 4.10 · 5,265 ratings · 409 reviews · 102 distinct works · Similar authors
The Sense of an Ending: Stu...
3.94 of 5 stars 3.94 avg rating — 355 ratings — published 1967 — 9 editions
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Shakespeare's Language
4.04 of 5 stars 4.04 avg rating — 201 ratings — published 2000 — 6 editions
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The Age of Shakespeare
3.67 of 5 stars 3.67 avg rating — 128 ratings — published 2004 — 11 editions
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The Genesis of Secrecy: On ...
4.04 of 5 stars 4.04 avg rating — 46 ratings — published 1979 — 2 editions
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The Oxford Anthology of Eng...
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4.08 of 5 stars 4.08 avg rating — 24 ratings — published 1973 — 2 editions
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Romantic Image
3.8 of 5 stars 3.80 avg rating — 25 ratings — published 1957 — 10 editions
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Not Entitled: A Memoir
3.87 of 5 stars 3.87 avg rating — 23 ratings — published 1995 — 4 editions
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The Oxford Anthology of Eng...
4.24 of 5 stars 4.24 avg rating — 17 ratings — published 1973
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The Oxford Anthology of Eng...
4.6 of 5 stars 4.60 avg rating — 10 ratings — published 1973
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The Classic: Literary Image...
3.29 of 5 stars 3.29 avg rating — 14 ratings3 editions
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More books by Frank Kermode…
“It is ourselves we encounter whenever we invent fictions.”
Frank Kermode, The Sense of an Ending: Studies in the Theory of Fiction

“You sometimes hear people say, with a certain pride in their clerical resistance to the myth, that the nineteenth century really ended not in 1900 but in 1914. But there are different ways of measuring an epoch. 1914 has obvious qualifications; but if you wanted to defend the neater, more mythical date, you could do very well. In 1900 Nietzsche died; Freud published The Interpretation of Dreams; 1900 was the date of Husserl Logic, and of Russell's Critical Exposition of the Philosophy of Leibniz. With an exquisite sense of timing Planck published his quantum hypothesis in the very last days of the century, December 1900. Thus, within a few months, were published works which transformed or transvalued spirituality, the relation of language to knowing, and the very locus of human uncertainty, henceforth to be thought of not as an imperfection of the human apparatus but part of the nature of things, a condition of what we may know. 1900, like 1400 and 1600 and 1000, has the look of a year that ends a saeculum. The mood of fin de siècle is confronted by a harsh historical finis saeculi. There is something satisfying about it, some confirmation of the rightness of the patterns we impose. But as Focillon observed, the anxiety reflected by the fin de siècle is perpetual, and people don't wait for centuries to end before they express it. Any date can be justified on some calculation or other.

And of course we have it now, the sense of an ending. It has not diminished, and is as endemic to what we call modernism as apocalyptic utopianism is to political revolution. When we live in the mood of end-dominated crisis, certain now-familiar patterns of assumption become evident. Yeats will help me to illustrate them.

For Yeats, an age would end in 1927; the year passed without apocalypse, as end-years do; but this is hardly material. 'When I was writing A Vision,' he said, 'I had constantly the word "terror" impressed upon me, and once the old Stoic prophecy of earthquake, fire and flood at the end of an age, but this I did not take literally.' Yeats is certainly an apocalyptic poet, but he does not take it literally, and this, I think, is characteristic of the attitude not only of modern poets but of the modern literary public to the apocalyptic elements. All the same, like us, he believed them in some fashion, and associated apocalypse with war. At the turning point of time he filled his poems with images of decadence, and praised war because he saw in it, ignorantly we may think, the means of renewal. 'The danger is that there will be no war.... Love war because of its horror, that belief may be changed, civilization renewed.' He saw his time as a time of transition, the last moment before a new annunciation, a new gyre. There was horror to come: 'thunder of feet, tumult of images.' But out of a desolate reality would come renewal. In short, we can find in Yeats all the elements of the apocalyptic paradigm that concern us.”
Frank Kermode, The Sense of an Ending: Studies in the Theory of Fiction

“What Kant took to be the necessary schemata of reality,' says a modern Freudian, 'are really only the necessary schemata of repression.' And an experimental psychologist adds that 'a sense of time can only exist where there is submission to reality.' To see everything as out of mere succession is to behave like a man drugged or insane. Literature and history, as we know them, are not like that; they must submit, be repressed. It is characteristic of the stage we are now at, I think, that the question of how far this submission ought to go--or, to put it the other way, how far one may cultivate fictional patterns or paradigms--is one which is debated, under various forms, by existentialist philosophers, by novelists and anti-novelists, by all who condemn the myths of historiography. It is a debate of fundamental interest, I think, and I shall discuss it in my fifth talk.

Certainly, it seems, there must, even when we have achieved a modern degree of clerical scepticism, be some submission to the fictive patterns. For one thing, a systematic submission of this kind is almost another way of describing what we call 'form.' 'An inter-connexion of parts all mutually implied'; a duration (rather than a space) organizing the moment in terms of the end, giving meaning to the interval between tick and tock because we humanly do not want it to be an indeterminate interval between the tick of birth and the tock of death. That is a way of speaking in temporal terms of literary form. One thinks again of the Bible: of a beginning and an end (denied by the physicist Aristotle to the world) but humanly acceptable (and allowed by him to plots). Revelation, which epitomizes the Bible, puts our fate into a book, and calls it the book of life, which is the holy city. Revelation answers the command, 'write the things which thou hast seen, and the things which are, and the things which shall be hereafter'--'what is past and passing and to come'--and the command to make these things interdependent. Our novels do likewise. Biology and cultural adaptation require it; the End is a fact of life and a fact of the imagination, working out from the middle, the human crisis. As the theologians say, we 'live from the End,' even if the world should be endless. We need ends and kairoi and the pleroma, even now when the history of the world has so terribly and so untidily expanded its endless successiveness. We re-create the horizons we have abolished, the structures that have collapsed; and we do so in terms of the old patterns, adapting them to our new worlds. Ends, for example, become a matter of images, figures for what does not exist except humanly. Our stories must recognize mere successiveness but not be merely successive; Ulysses, for example, may be said to unite the irreducible chronos of Dublin with the irreducible kairoi of Homer. In the middest, we look for a fullness of time, for beginning, middle, and end in concord.

For concord or consonance really is the root of the matter, even in a world which thinks it can only be a fiction. The theologians revive typology, and are followed by the literary critics. We seek to repeat the performance of the New Testament, a book which rewrites and requites another book and achieves harmony with it rather than questioning its truth. One of the seminal remarks of modern literary thought was Eliot's observation that in the timeless order of literature this process is continued. Thus we secularize the principle which recurs from the New Testament through Alexandrian allegory and Renaissance Neo-Platonism to our own time. We achieve our secular concords of past and present and future, modifying the past and allowing for the future without falsifying our own moment of crisis. We need, and provide, fictions of concord.”
Frank Kermode, The Sense of an Ending: Studies in the Theory of Fiction

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