Thursday, August 19, 2010

Death: Frank Kermode (1919 - 2010).

Flood, Alison: Celebrated Critic Frank Kermode Dies Aged 90 Guardian August 18, 2010:
Prominent in literary criticism since the 1950s, Kermode held "virtually every endowed chair worth having in the British Isles", according to his former colleague John Sutherland, from King Edward VII professor of English literature at Cambridge to Lord Northcliffe professor of modern English literature at University College London and professor of poetry at Harvard, along with honorary doctorates from universities around the world. He was knighted in 1991, the first literary critic to be so honoured since William Empson.

A renowned Shakespearean, publishing Shakespeare's Language in 2001, Kermode's books range from works on Spenser and Donne and the memoir Not Entitled to last year's Concerning E. M. Forster.

His publisher, Alan Samson, at Weidenfeld & Nicolson said Kermode would probably be most remembered for The Sense of An Ending, his collection of lectures on the relationship of fiction to concepts of apocalyptic chaos and crisis, first published in 1967, as well as for Romantic Image, a study of the Romantic movement up until WB Yeats. . . .

He fundamentally changed the study of English literature in the 1960s by introducing French theory by post-structuralists such as Roland Barthes and Michel Foucault, and post-Freudians such as Jacques Lacan, into what Sutherland described as "the torpid bloodstream of British academic discourse". Speaking to Sutherland in 2006, Kermode admitted that the move had "attracted quite a lot of opprobrium".

Although he later moved away from theory, he told Sutherland that the time considering it was not wasted. "One of the great benefits of seriously reading English is you're forced to read a lot of other things," he said. "You may not have a very deep acquaintance with Hegel but you need to know something about Hegel. Or Hobbes, or Aristotle, or Roland Barthes. We're all smatterers in a way, I suppose. But a certain amount of civilisation depends on intelligent smattering." . . .
Mullan, John: Sir Frank Kermode Obituary Guardian August 18, 2010:
When Frank Kermode's elegant, melancholy, often very funny autobiography, Not Entitled, was published in 1995, many reviewers commented on the irony of its title and its tone. Its author was an academic who had gained every honour in his field, who had occupied several of the most illustrious chairs of English literature and, rarest of achievements for a literary critic, even been knighted. Yet Kermode, who has died aged 90, presented himself in his memoir as a slightly bemused outsider, unworthy of most of his successes, drifting into appointments and undertakings, guided mostly by accident.

This self-image, however artful, was true to the man, and the ironic, self-deprecating voice of Not Entitled was his voice. What he called there his "permanent condition of mild alienation" was temperamental – a distance from things that made him, in person, a wry observer of academic follies. The separateness was also, as he saw it, something to do with his upbringing. . . .
Sir Frank Kermode Telegraph August 18, 2010:
Sir Frank Kermode, who died on August 17 aged 90, was the most eminent critic of English literature since FR Leavis; his teaching career culminated in the senior English professorship at Cambridge University, a post he surrendered in 1982 in the aftermath of a widely reported doctrinal rift within the faculty. . . .

The Sense of an Ending gave notice of Kermode's increasing tolerance of modern literary criticism and of its interest less in the content of a work than in its form and structure. From 1967 to 1974 he taught at University College, London, a period that witnessed the birth of new literary theories, notably structuralism and deconstruction. These held that readers should no longer study a text with a view to discerning an objective meaning, since in the modern world texts might have an infinite number of equally valid meanings, each of equal cultural weight, each peculiar to the reader.

Although Kermode was later capable of castigating the gibberish written by many proponents of these ideas, he was always open-minded, and in the late 1960s was an important supporter of the further investigation of these new theories. In a celebrated coup, he arranged for the structuralist Roland Barthes to lecture at UCL. . . .

When he was offered the Regius Professorship in 1974, he hesitated to accept, as he was happy in London and had been warned about the atmosphere at Cambridge. Once there, he found a badly-organised faculty which was ill-disposed to change. Kermode later said that the happiest of his eight years at Cambridge was the one he spent as a visiting professor at Harvard.

The row that brought about his resignation in 1982 was presented in the press as a conflict in teaching methods between the traditionalists and the modernists, among whose ranks was Kermode. In reality, the dispute revolved around a junior lecturer, the structuralist Colin MacCabe, whose promotion the traditionalists had tried to block. Kermode's support was not so much for a dogma as for a talented colleague he thought had been unjustly treated; but his arguments did not carry the day. Shortly afterwards he resigned his post and fled Cambridge for a post in New York. . . .
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