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“Our Beloved Codex”: Frank Kermode’s Modesty

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Abstract

A key challenge facing literary studies in the era of postcritique is how to articulate a positive role for literary evaluation and interpretation. McDonald revisits the work of the late Frank Kermode to navigate some ways forward in this task. Kermode recognized and affirmed the critic’s role in the process of meaning making, but also insisted on the immense and determining role of history in the cultivation of literary value. He searchingly explored questions, which still animate the discipline—not just how we read and why, but also what we read, how we select the works we deem enduring or worthy of notice. Kermode’s reflections on these themes, despite or perhaps because of the qualified, modest register in which they are articulated, resonate powerfully today.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    Salusinsky, Criticism and Society, 111.

  2. 2.

    Wood, “Introduction,” 1.

  3. 3.

    Norris, “Remembering Frank Kermode,” 6.

  4. 4.

    Kermode, Puzzles and Epiphanies, 1.

  5. 5.

    Kermode, Not Entitled, 248.

  6. 6.

    Lentricchia, Forms of Attention, ix.

  7. 7.

    Kermode, Not Entitled, 198.

  8. 8.

    Pound, ABC of Reading, 13.

  9. 9.

    See for instance Felski, Limits of Critique. The most famous essays articulating a weariness with the hermeneutic of suspicion include Latour, “Critique,” and Sedgwick, “Paranoid Reading.”

  10. 10.

    Williams, “The New Modesty in Literary Criticism.”

  11. 11.

    Hadfield, “Turning Point,” 5.

  12. 12.

    Kermode, “Structures of Fiction,” 915.

  13. 13.

    Kermode, Genesis of Secrecy, 133.

  14. 14.

    Kermode, 145.

  15. 15.

    Kermode, 145.

  16. 16.

    Arac, “History and Mystery,” 152.

  17. 17.

    Gorak, Modern Canon, 157.

  18. 18.

    Kermode, Classic, 134.

  19. 19.

    Kermode, 134.

  20. 20.

    Kermode, 131.

  21. 21.

    Muhkerjee, What is a Classic?, 43.

  22. 22.

    Birns, Boe, and Kermode, “‘Creative Pulse,’” 18.

  23. 23.

    Kermode, Forms of Attention, 72–73.

  24. 24.

    Kermode, 75.

  25. 25.

    Kermode, 79.

  26. 26.

    Kermode, 79.

  27. 27.

    Kermode, 82.

  28. 28.

    Kermode, “Institutional Control of Interpretation,” 86.

  29. 29.

    Kermode, Forms of Attention, 91–92.

  30. 30.

    Kermode, 75.

  31. 31.

    Kermode, History and Value, 13. Hereafter cited parenthetically in text.

  32. 32.

    Dimmock, “Theory of Resonance,” 1060–71.

  33. 33.

    Kermode, History and Value, 99.

  34. 34.

    Kermode, 103.

  35. 35.

    Kermode, 126.

  36. 36.

    Kermode, 126.

  37. 37.

    Kermode, 127.

  38. 38.

    Kermode, “Institutional Control of Interpretation,” 74.

  39. 39.

    Rose, “The Art of Survival.”

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McDonald, R. (2021). “Our Beloved Codex”: Frank Kermode’s Modesty. In: Sridhar, A., Hosseini, M.A., Attridge, D. (eds) The Work of Reading. Palgrave Macmillan, Cham. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-71139-9_7

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