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The Sense of an Ending: Studies in the Theory of Fiction

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s/t: With a New Epilogue Frank Kermode is one of our most distinguished and beloved critics of English literature. Here, he contributes a new epilogue to his collection of classic lectures on the relationship of fiction to age-old concepts of apocalyptic chaos and crisis. Prompted by the approach of the millennium, he revisits the book which brings his highly concentrated i s/t: With a New Epilogue Frank Kermode is one of our most distinguished and beloved critics of English literature. Here, he contributes a new epilogue to his collection of classic lectures on the relationship of fiction to age-old concepts of apocalyptic chaos and crisis. Prompted by the approach of the millennium, he revisits the book which brings his highly concentrated insights to bear on some of the most unyielding philosophical and aesthetic enigmas. Examining the works of writers from Plato to William Burrows, Kermode shows how they have persistently imposed their "fictions" upon the face of eternity and how these have reflected the apocalyptic spirit. Kermode then discusses literature at a time when new fictive explanations, as used by Spenser and Shakespeare, were being devised to fit a world of uncertain beginning and end. He goes on to deal perceptively with modern literaturewith "traditionalists" such as Yeats, Eliot, and Joyce, as well as contemporary "schismatics," the French "new novelists," and such seminal figures as Jean-Paul Sartre and Samuel Beckett. Whether weighing the difference between modern and earlier modes of apocalyptic thought, considering the degeneration of fiction into myth, or commenting on the vogue of the Absurd, Kermode is distinctly lucid, persuasive, witty, and prodigal of ideas.


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s/t: With a New Epilogue Frank Kermode is one of our most distinguished and beloved critics of English literature. Here, he contributes a new epilogue to his collection of classic lectures on the relationship of fiction to age-old concepts of apocalyptic chaos and crisis. Prompted by the approach of the millennium, he revisits the book which brings his highly concentrated i s/t: With a New Epilogue Frank Kermode is one of our most distinguished and beloved critics of English literature. Here, he contributes a new epilogue to his collection of classic lectures on the relationship of fiction to age-old concepts of apocalyptic chaos and crisis. Prompted by the approach of the millennium, he revisits the book which brings his highly concentrated insights to bear on some of the most unyielding philosophical and aesthetic enigmas. Examining the works of writers from Plato to William Burrows, Kermode shows how they have persistently imposed their "fictions" upon the face of eternity and how these have reflected the apocalyptic spirit. Kermode then discusses literature at a time when new fictive explanations, as used by Spenser and Shakespeare, were being devised to fit a world of uncertain beginning and end. He goes on to deal perceptively with modern literaturewith "traditionalists" such as Yeats, Eliot, and Joyce, as well as contemporary "schismatics," the French "new novelists," and such seminal figures as Jean-Paul Sartre and Samuel Beckett. Whether weighing the difference between modern and earlier modes of apocalyptic thought, considering the degeneration of fiction into myth, or commenting on the vogue of the Absurd, Kermode is distinctly lucid, persuasive, witty, and prodigal of ideas.

30 review for The Sense of an Ending: Studies in the Theory of Fiction

  1. 5 out of 5

    Janet

    This was a sublime book that asks the big questions of the writer--what is fiction? how is formed? what is its purpose in human life? Invaluable for both readers and writers concerned with meaning and how it's constructed in a work of fiction. My journal is filled with quotes from this book: "The difference between myths and fiction--people know that fictions are fiction." "Anti-semitism is a degenerate fiction, a myth. King Lear is a fiction. Myth operates within the diagrams of ritual, which pre This was a sublime book that asks the big questions of the writer--what is fiction? how is formed? what is its purpose in human life? Invaluable for both readers and writers concerned with meaning and how it's constructed in a work of fiction. My journal is filled with quotes from this book: "The difference between myths and fiction--people know that fictions are fiction." "Anti-semitism is a degenerate fiction, a myth. King Lear is a fiction. Myth operates within the diagrams of ritual, which presupposes total and adequate explanations of things as they are and were; it is a sequence of radically unchangeable gestures. Fictions are for finding things out, and they change as the needs of sense-making changes. Myths are agents of stability, fictions the agents of change. Myth calls for absolute, fictions for conditional assent. Myths make sense in terms of a lost order of time; fictions, if successful, make sense of the here and now… Lear changes our posture towards life and death. If fictions lose their operational effectiveness, they're relegated to the dump." "The registration of what we fail to take in--an essential tool of narrative fiction. The situation as it's originally viewed, and the final understanding that its significance is other." A kind of deja vu. "It is not that we are connoisseurs of chaos, but that we are surrounded by it, and equipped for coexistence with it only by our fictive powers. This may in the absence of a supreme fiction… be a hard fate, which is why the poet of that fiction is compelled to say: 'From this the poem sings. That we live in a place that is not our own, and much more, nor ourselves. and hard as it is, in spite of blazoned days…' ==Wallace Stevens, Notes towards a Supreme Fiction. I loved his analysis of the issue of Kairos--the opportune moment. The moment, as opposed to Chronos, which is time. Kairos is all about 'why now?' 'That thou doest, do quickly,'--John xii:27. Lady Macbeth chooses to shrink the gap between desire and action--'the shrinking allowance of time in which men are permitted to consider their desires in terms of God's time as well as their own.' Meaning lies in that gap. Christ waited for his Kairos, refusing to anticipate the will of of the Father. Macbeth is penetrated by the language of times, seasons, prophecies--Kermode believes the tragedy of Macbeth was time's revenge upon him for trying to hurry time, rather than waiting for succession. Refusal to await the season. Kermode's got me thinking about the parts of fiction--the itch that fiction scratches. Everyone thinks that they live in a moment of crisis. That they live in the period of crisis and transition. The apocalypse now. We certainly think we do right now--the end of the planet, the end of the public sphere, the end of democracy and literacy and intelligence,. Global warming is the universal apocalypse in our time. Terrorism the horseman. Drowning, then end of the animals, the inundation of the waters, the acidification of the seas, the burial of the earth in garbage, diseases, population explosion, flesh eating staph. Terrorism the horseman. Monopoly capitalism requiring fewer and fewer people to run it. Huge, endless squalor and the richest of the rich. Is this time worse than others? "The belief that one's own age is transitional between two major periods turns into a belief that the the transition itself becomes an age…. Crisis is a way of thinking about ones' moment." It's so rare to come across a book this full of ideas, a look at not only the writing but the matrix of writing. Belongs right up there with Skhlovsky.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Riku Sayuj

    Early in this work, Kermode discusses the differences between myth and fiction as he defines them, and the way that popular stories stick close to established conventions, while major works tend to vary them more and more. 'The story that proceeded very simply to its obviously predestined end, would be nearer myth than the novel or drama.'  This ‘tragic reversal’, is postulated to be important in 'sophisticated' fictions. Furthermore, it depends on our confidence of the end: 'it is a disconfirma Early in this work, Kermode discusses the differences between myth and fiction as he defines them, and the way that popular stories stick close to established conventions, while major works tend to vary them more and more. 'The story that proceeded very simply to its obviously predestined end, would be nearer myth than the novel or drama.'  This ‘tragic reversal’, is postulated to be important in 'sophisticated' fictions. Furthermore, it depends on our confidence of the end: 'it is a disconfirmation followed by a consonance; the interest of having our expectations falsified is obviously related to our wish to reach the discovery or recognition by an unexpected or instructive route'.  *** 'The more daring the peripeteia, the more we may feel that the work respects our sense of reality; and the more certainly we shall feel that the fiction under consideration is one of those which, by upsetting the ordinary balance of our naive expectations, is finding something out for us, something real. The falsification of an expectation can be terrible, as in the death of Cordelia; it is a way of finding something out that we should, on our more conventional way to the end, have closed our eyes to. Obviously it could not work if there were not a certain rigidity in the set of our expectations.'

  3. 5 out of 5

    Teresa

    I'm not learned enough or well-read enough to understand every single thing Kermode is getting at in his series of talks, combined in this one slim volume, but what I did understand impressed me very much. And when I did understand, it wasn't dense reading at all. See the quotes in my comments below.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Tait

    Three Faces of the End of the World: Empire, Decadence, and Crisis I am currently reading “The Sense of an Ending”by Frank Kermode, a little piece of literary criticism examining the relationship between theological apocalypses and fictional narratives as means of making sense of reality. Originally a series of lectures written in 1965, the ideas that Kermode draws together are perhaps even more important for today – in an age where the world ends every imaginable way in our entertainments, where Three Faces of the End of the World: Empire, Decadence, and Crisis I am currently reading “The Sense of an Ending”by Frank Kermode, a little piece of literary criticism examining the relationship between theological apocalypses and fictional narratives as means of making sense of reality. Originally a series of lectures written in 1965, the ideas that Kermode draws together are perhaps even more important for today – in an age where the world ends every imaginable way in our entertainments, where the deepest thinkers debate the viability of end dates, and where certain age-old signs of apocalypse haunt our political and environmental systems. Kermode suggests some things that I’ve been saying for years – that historically, any apocalypse that claims a specific date for the end of the world or specific harbingers correlated to historic persons/events is a “naive apocalypse.” Humans have since the beginning of time believed they were living at the end of times, but not once have the often obtuse symbolisms and chronologies of apocalypses accurately fit our desired schemas. Instead, narratives of apocalypse – as well as fictional narratives in general – serve another purpose, which is to allow us to make a greater sense of the reality we are living in. Humankind lives in the “middest” – in the middle of the narrative of our own lives and world history – and by imagining the way in which our narratives might end we are able to step outside of time and see the pattern as a whole. As Kermode says, we impose our fictions on the face of eternity, because that’s the closest we will ever get to a total understanding of the world in which we live (though that’s certainly up for debate; personally I know eternity is far more accessible). While I’m fond of this existential reading of narrative apocalypses, the challenge still remains that we live in times that feel like the end of days, and seem to feel this way much more than at any time before. Stories of the end of the world can not only help us make sense of reality and our own lives in general, but offer ways of responding to the crises and uncertainty of the historical moment we are actually living in (which might attest to the fact that such stories are currently in vogue). In particular, Kermode suggests that there are three doctrines or modes through which we respond to apocalypse: empire, decadence, and crisis. As Kermode unfortunately rushes past this point without fully explaining what he means, I’d like to offer a few words about the three faces of the end of the world. The first apocalyptic mode is empire, the doctrine in which apocalypses have most often found their expression. Many of the earliest accounts of the end of the world are cast as heralding in a new kingdom, a new empire both sacred and secular. This empire spells life eternal, but only for a small group of elect – those who believe in it, the rich, the powerful, the worthy – while everyone else will be thrown into flames and eternal damnation. The conflation of the imperial urge with the end of the world goes back to the union of the Church and Rome – since then there are those who’ve actively worked to bring about or accurately predict the end of the world in order to bring to fruition this everlasting empire. But as Philip K Dick said, the empire never ended. Even today, conservative American politics is enmeshed in this apocalyptic mode – only the rich are worthy of having the means to live while all the rest of us, including our very environment, must suffer to the end of days. If there is one stance that might actually cause the current global crises to reach a tipping point, it is the urge to empire. On the opposite hand from empire is the doctrine of decadence, which springs from the age old hope of utopia – for eternal times of peace, love, and aesthetic meaning – star-crossed by turbulent changes that make such hopes impossible. Where the imperial mode seeks to bring the end of the world into being; decadence yawns, oh this old trick, and runs off to have a dance party as the only sane response. History is rife with periods of decadence, perhaps most famously the Fin de siècle moment in France at the turn of the last century. Following the social and technological upheavals of the Second Industrial Revolution, artists and intellectuals chose to drown the crises of this transition in feelings of extreme boredom and aesthetic noodling. Today the decadent mode gives rise to entertainment value of catastrophes; as well as the cultural attitudes displayed in movements like Evolver and Burning Man, which may be fun for their participants, but willfully occlude the significance of the times we live in. I call this the Masque of the Red Death Syndrome – after Poe’s apocalypse, in which, faced with a world-devastating disease, a group of aesthetes lock themselves in a castle to hold a dance party, at least until the plague gets them anyway. Decadence is always a loosing dance with death. Of the three apocalyptic modes, Kermode spends the least time analyzing the third mode, that of crisis. Kermode suggests that, opposed to the everyday chronological time by which our days tick past, there are also moments of kairotic time – moments charged with significance and transformation, in which the end of the world is immanent and demands to be addressed. Rather than imperially striving for an apocalypse that never comes or decadently hiding it behind the good times, the doctrine of crisis looks the looming collapse straight in the face and chooses to act. History unfortunately offers far fewer examples of the crisis response. One might point to the socio-political struggles of anarchist movements, though these have most often been a reaction to empire rather than an action toward addressing the greater ideological, technological, and environmental crises at work in our historical narratives. Rather than merely fighting against oppressive systems, the crisis mode recognizes that one can and must act in even one’s smallest gestures as if every day is the end of the world. Neil Stephenson’s tome “Anathem” offers an intriguing example of how this mode of crisis might operate. Stephenson’s story contains a group of martial-artist mathematicians who utilize a concept called “emergence.” Certain highly-charged and critical moments offer opportunities for action in which one can push past one’s limitations to effect real changes and transformations in both oneself and in the world. Personally I feel that the crisis response to catastrophe may be the only viable response if humanity is to effect the incredible transformation that awaits us rather than killing ourselves off. I’d like to sum up with an example of how each of these apocalyptic modes might respond to a very real and present end of the world scenario – the collapse of the environment. Empire ignores environmental destruction or mocks it in the media while actively furthering it through economically advantageous but ecologically destructive policies and technologies. Decadence admits that the environment is imperiled, but shudders in the face of it by either telling myths about how the Native Americans lived in harmony with the environment or by throwing benefit parties. Crisis seeks to address the environment directly: raising consciousness of the real issues at stake; protesting and sabotaging strip-mining and logging corporations; not participating in environmentally destructive practices like driving; and by planting trees, farming, or otherwise re-wilding inhospitable urban spaces. It seems fairly clear which of these responses to environmental collapse will have actual effects on the world. But what remains to be seen is how it might be possible to shift the larger cultural attitudes surrounding the end of the world from imperial or decadent doctrines toward the direct address of crisis.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Chris Schaeffer

    Can I talk about how weirded out I was when I walked into a bookstore and saw piles of books called 'The Sense of An Ending' all over the place? My heart was all aflutter, my head was light. I was so stoked for the poor, late Mr. Kermode, his hour come at last. Nope, it was some Julian Barnes thing. Shame on you, dude.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Austin

    Kermode’s overall argument seems to be that literary fiction is an attempt to reflect the "fictions," or narratives, we construct about, and fundamentally take to be, “reality”; in so doing, we provide narrative structure (beginning, middle, end), and thus meaning, to our otherwise meaningless lives. Moreover, because the object of literary fiction is to “make sense of” the fictions that we create to give meaning to our lives, it must constantly evolve; this is because the fictions we create or Kermode’s overall argument seems to be that literary fiction is an attempt to reflect the "fictions," or narratives, we construct about, and fundamentally take to be, “reality”; in so doing, we provide narrative structure (beginning, middle, end), and thus meaning, to our otherwise meaningless lives. Moreover, because the object of literary fiction is to “make sense of” the fictions that we create to give meaning to our lives, it must constantly evolve; this is because the fictions we create or adopt in a constant effort to interpret an inert and meaningless “reality” are also constantly changing, and because as soon as a literary fiction lapses into cliché or convention, it betrays the fact that it is a fiction (and thus fails to be “real,” or at least faithfully represent the fictions we hold about reality). Is it therefore the task of literary fiction to constantly break free from literary conventions, while at the same time retain an (unavoidable) narrative structure—i.e., beginning, middle, end—that ultimately gives meaning to our lives. In short, Kermode argues that the purpose of literary fiction is to "makes sense of our ways of making sense of the world." It seems to me that Kermode's thesis draws heavily on existentialist philosophy (and Kermode does provide an extended exegesis of Sartre in his final lecture): i.e., beginning with the assumption that there is no God (“God is dead”), and thus that we have no predetermined purpose or function in life (unlike artificial objects, our “existence precedes essence”), we are infinitely free to create that purpose; moreover, because there is no such thing as (or, at least, we have no access to) an objective reality (“being-in-itself”), there is only reality as perceived by our individual subjective consciousnesses (“being-for-itself”), we are therefore disturbingly (“nauseatingly") free to interpret and thus create our own “realities” (or what Kermode would call “fictions,” as distinguished from “literary fictions”). Of those aspects of Kermode's lectures that I understood, I found them to be insightful and even profound. But Kermode, much like the existentialists from whom he draws some inspiration, is not an exemplar of clarity. His lectures feel, at times, self-indulgent in their gratuitous obscurity. By contrast, in How Fiction Works, James Wood argues—lucidly—that too often academic literary theorists and critics are themselves preoccupied with literary style, metaphor, and imagery—the very objects of their inquiry—at the expense of both clarity and (consequently) providing satisfactory answers to important literary questions: “[Literary theorists and critics] thought like writers alienated from creative instinct, and were drawn, like larcenous bankers, to raid again and again the very source that sustained them—literary style. Perhaps because of this alienation, this aggressive passion, they come to conclusions about the novel that seem to me profound but partial . . .” Indeed, as I said, Kermode’s conclusions do often seem profound; but because he constantly raids the repository of literary style, metaphor, and imagery, the conclusions he draws about them are frustratingly obscure. Wood goes on to point out that literary theorists, “are specialists, writing, in the end for other specialists … [as if they do] not expect to be read and comprehended by any kind of common reader (even one who is in training for uncommonness . . . ).” This, I think, is an apt criticism of Kermode. As a result of an apparently prevalent obscurity of expression in literary theory, Wood concludes that, “I am not sure that academic criticism and literary theory have answered [any important literary questions] very well.” I’m no expert in comparative literature or literary theory and criticism (and perhaps that’s precisely the problem), but based on my amateur reading of Kermode’s The Sense of an Ending, I'd have to agree with Wood. Then again, to quote Hesse: "Poetic writing can be understood and misunderstood in many ways. In most cases the author is not the right authority to decide on where the reader ceases to understand and the misunderstanding begins. Many an author has found readers to whom his work seemed more lucid than it was to himself. Moreover, misunderstanding may be fruitful under certain circumstances."

  7. 4 out of 5

    Alessandro

    "The purpose of the book being rather to make suggestions, to initiate discussion, than to settle any of the problems it raises [...]" This is the very preface, and I was ok with what was being said - after all I just wanted to read some interesting thinking on the End. Unfortunately, this series of lectures takes the aformentioned quote too much seriously, and never tackles the argument directly: actually, most of it consists in quoting other writers, randomly talking about other's works, commen "The purpose of the book being rather to make suggestions, to initiate discussion, than to settle any of the problems it raises [...]" This is the very preface, and I was ok with what was being said - after all I just wanted to read some interesting thinking on the End. Unfortunately, this series of lectures takes the aformentioned quote too much seriously, and never tackles the argument directly: actually, most of it consists in quoting other writers, randomly talking about other's works, commenting other's views on yet one another's view, and what's left? The actual content I was expecting ends being so damn buried under everything else.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Brenton

    A brilliant book--sometimes a bit obscure, but usually because I am not as well-read as I would like to be.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Christopher Rush

    Allow me to paraphrase an exact quotation: "Blah, blah, blah, blahbiddy-blah-blah blah." That's about as profound, meaningful, necessary, and helpful Mr. Kermode gets with this decaying collection of palaver and bushwa masquerading as profundity and erudition. I'm sure Mr. Kermode was an intelligent, capable human being with joys and sorrows and all that, but this series of prize-winning lectures is as disappointing a pile of nonsense for which anyone could possibly hope. Beginning with concrete Allow me to paraphrase an exact quotation: "Blah, blah, blah, blahbiddy-blah-blah blah." That's about as profound, meaningful, necessary, and helpful Mr. Kermode gets with this decaying collection of palaver and bushwa masquerading as profundity and erudition. I'm sure Mr. Kermode was an intelligent, capable human being with joys and sorrows and all that, but this series of prize-winning lectures is as disappointing a pile of nonsense for which anyone could possibly hope. Beginning with concrete proof Mr. Kermode understood the Bible and Judaism and Christianity not at all, and ending with as awe-inspiring a climax as the jokes on a Laffy Taffy wrapper, these six lectures-turned-essays are virtually unintelligible obscurantism. Effectively, Mr. Kermode is either a) trying to show off his diverse reading dilettantism under the guise of scholarly acumen, or b) demonstrating, sadly, un-ironically how far intellectual discourse had fallen in Late-modern academic circles into the tish and pish of what passed for meaningful inquiry. Mr. Kermode spreads himself too far, too thin to be truly edifying or entertaining. For one brief moment, though, for which I am pleased to give him due credit, when he is discussing Macbeth (I was about to say "Shakespeare's Macbeth," but does anyone else have one?), Mr. Kermode proves he is capable of making trenchant observations and analyses - in part because he actually spends more than one paragraph on that work and idea. Had he focused at greater length on fewer works/authors, this may have been a more enriching enterprise. I know he is famous, and I know this work is famous as well, but we should all allow the Sands of Time to swallow it up into its abysses along with all the "contemporary experts" he cites (no doubt to prove his edginess and currentiness) that have all be long-forgotten as well. Skip it. (I feel sorry for the janitorial staff that had to sweep up all the names he dropped each week during these lectures. I hope the students got their money back as well.)

  10. 5 out of 5

    Erik Graff

    This was one of the "must read" books circulating amongst us during my final semester at Grinnell College. A new professor of German literature was on campus and his lectures were having a enormous influence in my circle. So popular were his classes that people unenrolled in them commonly attended. Beyond that, books that he would recommend, or even just mention in passing, were looked into and disseminated. Of especial influence on me were the recommendations of Robert Gehorsam, a friend who mi This was one of the "must read" books circulating amongst us during my final semester at Grinnell College. A new professor of German literature was on campus and his lectures were having a enormous influence in my circle. So popular were his classes that people unenrolled in them commonly attended. Beyond that, books that he would recommend, or even just mention in passing, were looked into and disseminated. Of especial influence on me were the recommendations of Robert Gehorsam, a friend who might actually have been taking one of Harris' courses. Among the books I pursued were Kermode's The Sense of an Ending as well as Kinser and Kleinman's book on Nazi aesthetics, Graves' White Goddess (never finished), Burnshaw's Seamless Web, Pound's work on Chinese calligraphy and so on. Why was this particular teacher so popular? I suppose the common denominator was that he was enthusiastic about topics most of us knew about, but didn't know very much about. The topics, like Nazi aesthetics or, in the case of this book, eschatology, were sexy, a bit out there, a bit risque. Further, I imagine that for those so inclined, he was a bit seductive himself. Though balding, he was young--and this at a college were you'd forget there were any persons between the ages of twenty-one and forty on the planet--and extremely energetic. Although I never had him and although we weren't especially close, I think Harris left an impression on me and has influenced the way I have tried, at my best, to discuss serious matters about human culture with people, particularly young people, ever since.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Bruce

    I've been wanting to read this for a long time, given my interest in fictional endings, and while it's rich in implications and supplemental information, it all boils down to the question: If fiction is of interest as a mirror of reality, why are we readers so enamored of endings -- since obviously stories in life never end, except through death? Kermode makes much of the observation that the rise of the novel roughly coincides with the decline of religious faith, thus supplanting belief in heav I've been wanting to read this for a long time, given my interest in fictional endings, and while it's rich in implications and supplemental information, it all boils down to the question: If fiction is of interest as a mirror of reality, why are we readers so enamored of endings -- since obviously stories in life never end, except through death? Kermode makes much of the observation that the rise of the novel roughly coincides with the decline of religious faith, thus supplanting belief in heaven, hell and purgatory with plot endings that are somehow comparably significant. But how so? Kermode's exploration of this question is fascinating.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Mary Victoria

    This book is a difficult read but delivers great insights on the use of eschatological devices in fiction (apocalypse, end time scenarios, etc.) Sometimes I felt I had to hack through all the scholarly references with a machete... but Kermode makes excellent points and it is well worth the effort to understand them. That said... this is not light reading. Two pages knock you out better than a nightcap.

  13. 4 out of 5

    J. Alfred

    Interesting, difficult stuff. Kermode links our human novelizing techniques or tendencies with our equally human tendencies to anticipate the end of the world, to rearrange facts to suit our theories, and to give a personal meaning to seemingly unrelated events. He balances this with our educated, "clerkly" responsibility to be skeptical of broad narratives of this type and says that somewhere in this mix is life itself; that life and poetry have the same crux or secret.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Laura Walin

    This is a colleaction of lectures given by Frank Kermode in the 60's, complemented with the author's epilogue from 1999. Interesting thoughts about how we humans perceive time (in real life), how we always - in whatever era we live - have the sense of apocalypse looming over us, and try to make sense of that in our fiction in which, contrary to reality, we can and will always set a beginning, a middle, and an end. The language is beautiful, the argument relatively easy to follow, and hence a nic This is a colleaction of lectures given by Frank Kermode in the 60's, complemented with the author's epilogue from 1999. Interesting thoughts about how we humans perceive time (in real life), how we always - in whatever era we live - have the sense of apocalypse looming over us, and try to make sense of that in our fiction in which, contrary to reality, we can and will always set a beginning, a middle, and an end. The language is beautiful, the argument relatively easy to follow, and hence a nice reading in comparative literature. The epilogue does not bring anything new, Kermode more or less just asserts what he has written 35 uears earlier.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Sissel

    Goodbye, terrible book. May I never see you again. This book is one of two texts on the syllabus for the semester and I'll have to revisit it in a month or two but in the meantime GO TO HELL

  16. 4 out of 5

    Highlyeccentric

    Oh, to be a white dude in academia in the 1960s. Ideas are interesting, but wow. If I went around making sweeping claims like that I'd be kicked out on my arse quick smart. And yet. It's super useful to me. Someone else has already made the sweeping claims!

  17. 4 out of 5

    Bryant

    Why is there not more literary criticism of this sort? Kermode combines close reading with the development of a general theory about endings, literary and 'real-life,' and how these final events stand in relation to each other. Part of what makes the book so refreshing is that his criticism is developed *through* his readings of various works. It is not a general theory of language applied to fiction, nor is it an explicit reaction to a critical mode of the past. Yet while the book has at times Why is there not more literary criticism of this sort? Kermode combines close reading with the development of a general theory about endings, literary and 'real-life,' and how these final events stand in relation to each other. Part of what makes the book so refreshing is that his criticism is developed *through* his readings of various works. It is not a general theory of language applied to fiction, nor is it an explicit reaction to a critical mode of the past. Yet while the book has at times the grandly etherial qualities of totalizing theory--he is, after all, talking about Apocalypse--Kermode never leaves earth long enough to abandon productive engagement the works themselves. Particularly successful set-pieces are his discussions of Sartre's "Nausea" and Wordsworth's "Resolution and Independence." The latter discussion especially ties together many of Kermode's ideas about the relation between 'real' time and fictional time as well as between day-to-day lived reality and the re-shuffled chronologies that fiction permits.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Dave H

    Interesting throughout, from the merely curious to the fascinating. Jumping off the Book of Revelation, he hops across time and the importance of the end in making sense of things. (As with The Genesis of Secrecy: On the Interpretation of Narrative, Kermode provides refreshing insight on the Bible, though he doesn't devote as much space to it here.) He somehow cites and quotes just about everyone from antiquity on up, though he gives much space to Wallace Stevens (I suspect his book on Stevens p Interesting throughout, from the merely curious to the fascinating. Jumping off the Book of Revelation, he hops across time and the importance of the end in making sense of things. (As with The Genesis of Secrecy: On the Interpretation of Narrative, Kermode provides refreshing insight on the Bible, though he doesn't devote as much space to it here.) He somehow cites and quotes just about everyone from antiquity on up, though he gives much space to Wallace Stevens (I suspect his book on Stevens probably is worth the time). The first chapter, titled "The End," is recommended. "Time cannot be faced as coarse and actual, as a repository of the contingent; one humanizes it by orderly fictions of beginning and end."

  19. 5 out of 5

    Steen Ledet

    Kermode's classic book not only on the apocalyptic but also of modernism and the difference between them. Written before the phrase of postmodernism, it is evident that Kermode paves the way for a better understanding of what being new after modernism means. One of Kermode's most compelling and problematic arguments is that nothing is wholly new (I agree) and if it were, it would simply be noise and therefore meaningless (I disagree, noise is a constant part of making things new. All we need are Kermode's classic book not only on the apocalyptic but also of modernism and the difference between them. Written before the phrase of postmodernism, it is evident that Kermode paves the way for a better understanding of what being new after modernism means. One of Kermode's most compelling and problematic arguments is that nothing is wholly new (I agree) and if it were, it would simply be noise and therefore meaningless (I disagree, noise is a constant part of making things new. All we need are new modes of appreciating the noise).

  20. 4 out of 5

    Salvatore

    What thoughts on what endings in life, in fiction, in poetry, in time, in religion, in you mean! Why does so much hinge on the ending, why does the narrative seem to change and force you to reflect on what you finished? Is it possible to avoid that? And if so, at what cost? Does The End pervade everything before it? And if so how then can we look at Time, since it's Past, Present, and Future then...?

  21. 4 out of 5

    Roof Beam Reader (Adam)

    Fascinating! Not what one expects from a narrative theory text, but this one does predate the narrative analysis movement just a bit. Much more philosophical than analytic, in my opinion. Interesting ideas, though - and particularly appropriate for those interested in the idea of apocalypse and of life in medias res.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Jjbbone

    I think I MIGHT up my rating because I finished this book quite a while ago. It keeps stirring up in my mind. Memory. Is so wispy. So dependent on who we were at the time. So seen through cracked glass. Reconsidering what is true, what really happened, is haunting.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Courtney

    I'm not literature literate enough for this... I had no idea what Kermode was referencing, and to be honest I read it for a class... Unless you're a literature buff, try to avoid this one. Kermode doesn't even cite his references, so if you don't know them; tough.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Dave

    Lovely writing, some fascinating ideas (and some lacking in evidence). I've been trained for years to eschew this kind of criticism, but it's precisely the kind of erudite, sweeping argument I hope to write someday. So, hello paradox.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Peter

    This is a must read for readers. Kermode is brilliant in his analysis of human psychology and the stories we like to tell. Apocalyse now, anyone? Because I am aging, it must be all coming to an end soon, or eventually, which will seem like an instant … later.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Kasper

    Insightful. There is no writer quite like Frank Kermode... Here, he makes unique and compelling arguments about two different types of endings, those in narrative and the fake closures eschatological fiction conjure up in our minds.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Rex Jones

    For people my age, this book was great for thinking about the choices I've made and why I made them. Also for thinking of how I might choose differently, even though, I have to say, I don't have regrets.

  28. 4 out of 5

    ·Karen·

    Just let my poor brain cool down for a while..........

  29. 5 out of 5

    Sannie Hald

    Read chapter two for my course 'Time in British Literature' ...

  30. 5 out of 5

    Jeremy

    Alan Jacobs mentioned this book in class (Nov. 12, 2013).

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