Puzzles and Epiphanies: Essays and Reviews, 1958-1961

Puzzles and Epiphanies: Essays and Reviews, 1958-1961

Puzzles and Epiphanies: Essays and Reviews, 1958-1961

Puzzles and Epiphanies: Essays and Reviews, 1958-1961

Excerpt

I forget just where I first read Frank Kermode. But I do remember, as one remembers a first meeting, the pleasure of coming upon a new talent. Had he been a novelist, he might have been greeted with the fanfare that capitalizes on the cult of the creative and sends the reputation of poets, playwrights, and novelists zooming up and down like that of celebrities. Perhaps fortunately, the going mystique of art excludes critics, scientists, philosophers, who are all taken for granted, like the entourage in a royal procession. A good critic is permitted to take his place slowly--and irretrievably--in the tradition that brings art and criticism together.

Such has been the career of Frank Kermode, unspectacular, quiet, gradually establishing him as a distinguished and important critic. Today, I think Kermode is the best 'practicing', 'younger' critic in England. I say 'practicing' and 'younger', not to emphasize his activity or his age--what with late development and longevity, describing someone as 'younger' might seem ironic--but rather to set him off from the galaxy of older figures like Eliot, Richards, Leavis, and Empson, whose work has been largely done and who no longer write regularly for the weeklies and the literary periodicals. If we are to relate Kermode to these established figures, we should have to say that he is a kind of bridge between their strongheaded, position-taking, groundbreaking work and the present trend toward more casual, more eclectic, more urbane critical writing. In this respect, Kermode speaks for a mood and an ideal of literature. His critical personality, combining scholarship, a sense of history, a speculative instinct, and a feeling for the contemporary (which usually means the ability to cope with things that are not grandiose or permanent), is almost ideal for a period that can no longer be programmatic or produce violent movements or eccentric figures of genius, a period that is given to adventure, to curiosity, to the acceptance of smaller aims and a variety of talents to achieve them, and, above all, to the idea that everything is possible and that . . .

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