From Kermode

   “It seemed necessary to examine specimens washed in by the flood [of French structuralist and semiological critical theory], and it was during those years that I chaired, at University College London, a seminar dedicated to that and to similar enterprises. No other phase of my academic life has given me so much pleasure and instruction. We were quite informal, but did a lot of work, some of which was eventually published; but that was not our primary aim. The constitution of the group changed over the years, and we had many visitors, including some novelists — I remember the late B. S. Johnson as particularly co-operative. Among the participants who were in one way or another exponents of la nouvelle critique were Christine Brooke-Rose, Jonathan Culler, the late Veronica Forrest-Thompson, Stephen Heath, Jay Kaiser, Annette Lavers, Christopher Norris, Shlomith Rimmon, Anita Van Vactor, and, on one notable occasion the late Roland Barthes himself; the opposition was in the hands of various no less formidable discussants, Barbara Hardy for one. Not the least of the qualifications of these and many other friends of the group was a willingness to express lively disagreement without rancour; another was to examine one’s own prejudices as well as others’ and to preserve a tone of good humour in the midst of the most serious, even the most fierce, exchanges. In those days I suppose I imagined that there was nothing unusual in this combination of opposition and civility, but I have seen very little of the kind since 1974, and can only hope that the lack is local and not general.” (The Art of Telling, p. 3)
 
   “The seminar came to an end in 1974, without ever (so far as I remember) taking on Derrida or deconstructionism. Although, as I have suggested, I gained much by it, I was never tempted to declare myself a structuralist, or a post-structuralist, or even a narratologist or poetician. There are doubtless many reasons for this resistance, not all of them creditable. One was, simply, inertia; I was too old, and by formation too much of an historian, to be comfortable with all the implications of structuralism; I was a diachronic sort of person, who indeed once published a book called Continuities. A good part of the pleasure I derived from my profession had come from finding out what texts seemed to be saying as it were voluntarily, and in conveying this information to others; and I should have felt uneasy to join a party whose sole business it was to elicit what they were saying in spite of themselves. Since I have put the matter so crudely I should add that I do not share the comfortable opinion of the English academic (and, it seems, journalistic) establishment that the critics of the new persuasion are self evidently absurd; or, more seriously, that they are unprincipled; or, when their arguments seem persuasive, that they are, like the forces of Monostatos and the Queen of the Night, wickedly threatening the citadels of Imagination or indeed Humanity, as alarmed academics sometimes claim.” (The Art of Telling, p. 5)
 

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2 Responses to From Kermode

  1. Kimberly says:

    Interesting. Thank you.

    I loved this:

    A good part of the pleasure I derived from my profession had come from finding out what texts seemed to be saying as it were voluntarily, and in conveying this information to others; and I should have felt uneasy to join a party whose sole business it was to elicit what they were saying in spite of themselves.

    though I suspect I come at it from the opposite end. I’m constantly concerned with the hidden curriculum (and thus the things that texts say, that liturgies say despite themselves). I suspect sometimes the people who are most bewildered by me are on the other side of this critical divide, and that’s worth remembering.

  2. tom matrullo says:

    Kermode was civilized as a reader, extinguishing his trumpet so he could hear the viola played by the text in front of him. An exemplary humanist, far beyond the ideologues that in the name of “the humanities” who instead of bothering to read some key works of the continental critics, looked for talking points to lambast them. GlenBeckians avant la lettre.

    I find the same quality in some of Derrida and de Man, especially the earlier writings – a genuine attentiveness, a literariness that made itself felt in attending to qualities of texts that the humanities often excluded from consideration because they didn’t exhibit certain received ideas of what literature is.

    They and Kermode – and of course many others – write from the place where philosophy and poetry meet – it’s often a rather nasty place – like urban warfare, and best avoided in polite circles. It’s nonetheless where reading takes place.

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