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Frank Kermode has long held a distinctive place among modern critics. He brings to the study of literature a fine and fresh critical intelligence that is always richly suggestive, never modish. He offers here an inquiry--elegant in conception and style--into the art of interpretation. His subject quite simply is meanings; how they are revealed and how they are concealed. Drawing on the venerable tradition of biblical interpretation, Mr. Kermode examines some enigmatic passages and episodes in the gospels. From his reading come ideas about what makes interpretation possible--and often impossible. He considers ways in which narratives acquire opacity, and he asks whether there are methods of distinguishing all possible meaning from a central meaning which gives the story its structure. He raises questions concerning the interpretation of single texts in relation to their context in a writer's work and a tradition; considers the special interpretative problems of historical narration; and tries to relate the activities of the interpreter to interpretation more broadly conceived as a means of living in the world. While discussing the gospels, Mr. Kermode touches upon such literary works as Kafka's parables, Joyce's Ulysses , Henry James's novels, and Pynchon's Crying of Lot 49 . By showing the relationships between religious interpretation and literary criticism, he has enhanced both fields.

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Book Details

ISBN: 9780674345355
ISBN-10: 0674345355
Format: Paperback
(230mm x 154mm x 13mm)
Pages: 196
Imprint: Harvard University Press
Publisher: Harvard University Press
Publish Date: 1-Jul-1979
Country of Publication: United States

Other Editions


US Kirkus Review » Contra Susan Sontag and a whole generation of structuralist literary critics, Kermode might have titled these essays - the Norton Lectures on Poetry, 1977-78 - as "For Interpretation." Because all narratives share a "radiant obscurity," as we read we honor this mystery by helplessly trying to figure it out. Hermeneutics is usually the province of biblical scholarship, so Kermode resolves to start right there. Laminated with "secret texts," "midrashim," and corollaries to the Old Testament, the Gospels are a perfect ur-text: agents can be seen to become characters in the course of successive interpretation. Mark, the earliest written gospel, is a harsh story, purposely elusive, almost taunting. Matthew becomes more vivid, but also lops off edges that can make the reader/believer very edgy. Luke and John add verisimilitude - novelistic touches, necessary alignments. The synoptic Gospels, therefore, are created, Kermode argues, like any other text: they receive and consolidate sketchy mysteries, respond to the historical realities of their time (and prospective audience), and in their structures behave like any fiction: the how of the telling shapes the narrative fully as much as what's being told. Not to interpret, Kermode's argument goes, is to write off this hermetic, layered dignity of texts, to fix them to an ideology, to deny their mystery, treating them either as neutral architecture or journalistic propaganda. (There are modern references also - to Pynchon, Green, Kafka.) Though Kermode slips into jargon now and then, the thesis is well wrought, the scholarship varied and well-distributed, and the examples clear and deft. (Kirkus Reviews)

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Author Biography - Frank Kermode

Frank Kermode is Julian Clarence Levi Professor of English Literature, Columbia University, and a Fellow of King's College, Cambridge.

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