Frank Kermode





Frank Kermode


Born
in Douglas, Isle of Man
November 29, 1919

Died
August 17, 2010

Genre


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: 4.09 · 6,561 ratings · 516 reviews · 111 distinct works · Similar authors
The Sense of an Ending: Stu...

3.98 avg rating — 469 ratings — published 1967 — 9 editions
Rate this book
Clear rating
Shakespeare's Language

4.03 avg rating — 266 ratings — published 2000 — 6 editions
Rate this book
Clear rating
The Age of Shakespeare

3.67 avg rating — 164 ratings — published 2004 — 12 editions
Rate this book
Clear rating
The Genesis of Secrecy: On ...

4.16 avg rating — 61 ratings — published 1979 — 2 editions
Rate this book
Clear rating
Romantic Image

3.79 avg rating — 34 ratings — published 1957 — 11 editions
Rate this book
Clear rating
The Oxford Anthology of Eng...

by
4.20 avg rating — 30 ratings — published 1973 — 2 editions
Rate this book
Clear rating
Not Entitled: A Memoir

3.93 avg rating — 28 ratings — published 1995 — 4 editions
Rate this book
Clear rating
The Oxford Anthology of Eng...

4.32 avg rating — 22 ratings — published 1973
Rate this book
Clear rating
The Oxford Anthology of Eng...

4.33 avg rating — 15 ratings — published 1973
Rate this book
Clear rating
Pieces of My Mind: Essays a...

3.71 avg rating — 17 ratings — published 2003 — 5 editions
Rate this book
Clear rating
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

“I hope I have now made it clear why I thought it best, in speaking of the dissonances between fiction and reality in our own time, to concentrate on Sartre. His hesitations, retractations, inconsistencies, all proceed from his consciousness of the problems: how do novelistic differ from existential fictions? How far is it inevitable that a novel give a novel-shaped account of the world? How can one control, and how make profitable, the dissonances between that account and the account given by the mind working independently of the novel?

For Sartre it was ultimately, like most or all problems, one of freedom. For Miss Murdoch it is a problem of love, the power by which we apprehend the opacity of persons to the degree that we will not limit them by forcing them into selfish patterns. Both of them are talking, when they speak of freedom and love, about the imagination. The imagination, we recall, is a form-giving power, an esemplastic power; it may require, to use Simone Weil's words, to be preceded by a 'decreative' act, but it is certainly a maker of orders and concords. We apply it to all forces which satisfy the variety of human needs that are met by apparently gratuitous forms. These forms console; if they mitigate our existential anguish it is because we weakly collaborate with them, as we collaborate with language in order to communicate. Whether or no we are predisposed towards acceptance of them, we learn them as we learn a language. On one view they are 'the heroic children whom time breeds / Against the first idea,' but on another they destroy by falsehood the heroic anguish of our present loneliness. If they appear in shapes preposterously false we will reject them; but they change with us, and every act of reading or writing a novel is a tacit acceptance of them. If they ruin our innocence, we have to remember that the innocent eye sees nothing. If they make us guilty, they enable us, in a manner nothing else can duplicate, to submit, as we must, the show of things to the desires of the mind. I shall end by saying a little more about La Nausée, the book I chose because, although it is a novel, it reflects a philosophy it must, in so far as it possesses novel form, belie. Under one aspect it is what Philip Thody calls 'an extensive illustration' of the world's contingency and the absurdity of the human situation. Mr. Thody adds that it is the novelist's task to 'overcome contingency'; so that if the illustration were too extensive the novel would be a bad one. Sartre himself provides a more inclusive formula when he says that 'the final aim of art is to reclaim the world by revealing it as it is, but as if it had its source in human liberty.' This statement does two things. First, it links the fictions of art with those of living and choosing. Secondly, it means that the humanizing of the world's contingency cannot be achieved without a representation of that contingency. This representation must be such that it induces the proper sense of horror at the utter difference, the utter shapelessness, and the utter inhumanity of what must be humanized. And it has to occur simultaneously with the as if, the act of form, of humanization, which assuages the horror.

This recognition, that form must not regress into myth, and that contingency must be formalized, makes La Nausée something of a model of the conflicts in the modern theory of the novel. How to do justice to a chaotic, viscously contingent reality, and yet redeem it? How to justify the fictive beginnings, crises, ends; the atavism of character, which we cannot prevent from growing, in Yeats's figure, like ash on a burning stick? The novel will end; a full close may be avoided, but there will be a close: a fake fullstop, an 'exhaustion of aspects,' as Ford calls it, an ironic return to the origin, as in Finnegans Wake and Comment c'est. Perhaps the book will end by saying that it has provided the clues for another, in which contingency will be defeated, ...”
Frank Kermode, The Sense of an Ending: Studies in the Theory of Fiction

Topics Mentioning This Author

topics posts views last activity  
The Book Challenge: Inna's 200 in 2010 67 676 Apr 09, 2010 05:52AM  
Goodreads Librari...: Publication date not appearing 3 17 Sep 24, 2015 03:47AM