THE WEDNESDAY BOOK: An Impish Liking for Random Details ; VPieces of My Mind: Writings 1958-2002 Frank Kermode Allen Lane, Pounds 25
Rainey, Lawrence, The Independent (London, England)
WHEN FRANK KERMODE published his autobiography seven years ago, he called it Not Entitled, a title textured with multiple ironies. In his illustrious career, Kermode has been Lord Northcliffe Professor of English at University College London, King Edward VII Professor of English Literature at Cambridge, and Charles Eliot Norton Professor of Poetry at Harvard, not to mention having become "Sir Frank" in 1991. Hefty titles for someone "not entitled".
It has been routine to characterise Kermode as "a master critic" or "the greatest literary scholar of his generation". But it was only recently, with Shakespeare's Language, that he became a bestselling author. A much wider public has grown curious about the work of a scholar long esteemed within the academy. Pieces of My Mind responds to that interest.
Kermode has selected the best of his work during "40 years in the wilderness of criticism", as he terms it. The wilderness encompasses an astonishing variety of subjects, all of them scrutinised with unflagging intelligence and grace.
Despite this variety, Kermode has often returned to a central problem: the conflict between the human need to make sense of the world through storytelling, and our propensity to seek meaning in details (linguistic, symbolic, anecdotal) that are indifferent, even hostile, to story. In reading, as in life, we are riven by a desire for connectedness and closure, and a countervailing fascination with the unruly and disturbing detail that demands interpretation.
What should we make of Theoclymenos, who mysteriously appears and reappears in the Odyssey? …