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Book Reviews Kermode, Criticism, Interpretation Margaret Tudeau-Clayton and Martin Warner, eds. Addressing Frank Kermode: Essays in Criticism and Interpretation. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1991. viii + 218pp. $29.95 IN MARCH OF 1989 A CONFERENCE "addressing" Frank Kermode was held at the University of Warwick. This volume of essays continues the personal address to Kermode as living critic and the critical address (in the pun acknowledged, indeed favored, by the editors and contributors ) to the "body of texts that carry his signature." This postmodern way of designating Kermode's critical work is quite out of keeping with the tenor of the individual essays, which proceed, rightly enough, as if Kermode were not a mere figment of authorship but a man actually responsible for the books and essays he writes. This is a small, and perhaps ungenerous quibble with a volume that is sensibly arranged to reflect Kermode's impressive achievement as a critic and interpreter of literature from the Renaissance to modern times. Roughly half of the book is devoted to "Essays in Criticism" that collectively survey and evaluate Kermode's major work from Romantic Image (now over thirty years old, but still immensely suggestive, as these essays attest) through The Sense of an Ending, The Genesis of Secrecy and Forms of Attention. Although some of the essays are drawn from works already in progress, the volume does not seem makeshift or hastily composed by a consortium of Kermode acolytes. Kermode emerges, as we shall see in a moment, as the focus, not the excuse, for re-addressing and reposing the literary questions that have absorbed him for forty-odd years: questions primarily concerned with the value as well as meaning of literary history; the nature and purpose of human fiction-making; the genesis of secrecy and the institutional control of meaning; the value of literature as a mode of experience and as an object of professional inquiry, devotion, and, in the best and most enduring instances, love. The second half of the book, "Essays in Interpretation," constitutes more of a medley. The essays range widely in topic and in period, from Dominic Baker-Smith's scrupulous study of the way narrative devices in More's Utopia direct the reader to question "the location of the ideal 61 ELT 36 : 1 1993 order within ordinary experience" to Richard Poirier's complex picture, The Pater of Joyce and Eliot." Poirier's essay reminds us of how Kermode has helped change the view of modernism promulgated by Eliot, who disavowed any Paterian or fin-desiècle ancestry in his literary genealogy. Then there are essays like Alistair Fowler's intricate, supple and amusing essay on decipherment in Conan Doyle's detective fiction to remind us of how Kermode helped open up the academy to neglected or disparaged forms. Fowler's essay is indebted not only to Kermode's analysis of detective fiction, but to his argument that we attend to it seriously as a form which specializes and refines the "hermeneutic activity" present, in less clear and urgent guises, in most fiction. Kermode's interest in the rhetorical properties of the sentence explains the inclusion here of John Hollander's virtuoso piece, "Of 'of: The Romance of a Preposition," whose pleasures are too witty and learned to be catalogued here. Of a different order altogether is Lisa Jardine's brief for reading Othello against the textual evidence of defamation suits brought in Ecclesiastical Courts during the early modern period. The "exemplary practice" of Kermode's Renaissance Essays (1971) inspires Jardine's account of how history, scholarship and criticism can cooperate in providing us with "a coherent account of renaissance textuality" that foregrounds, rather than effaces, the dynamics of historical agency. I have considered the "The Essays in Interpretation" first and out of sequence because they demonstrate the extent to which Kermode inspires , rather than inhibits, the interpretation of literary culture as it manifests itself in works of high art and/or popular appeal from early to late modernism. Such extensive and salutary influence justifies the respectful but searching attention Part One gives to delineating what Kermode calls, after Stevens, "the presiding personality" of the works that carry his name. The personality...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1559-2715
Print ISSN
0013-8339
Pages
pp. 61-65
Launched on MUSE
2010-05-21
Open Access
No
Archive Status
Archived
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