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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

    William2

    Whoa. Recondite stuff. I will need to re-read.

  3. 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 disconf 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.'

  4. 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. 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.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Alexander Rubtsov

    I wish I were ten times more intelligent to assimilate everything that Sir Kermode says in this quite dense book on Time as it is “made sense of” in/by fiction, for the reward of even so little can hardly be underestimated. Some unwilling listeners have already suffered me extensively quoting from it😀 “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.”

  6. 5 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. 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.

  7. 4 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.

  8. 5 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."

  9. 4 out of 5

    Ciahnan Darrell

    As a recovering academic, I've read a great many books that apply various modalities of critical theory to literary texts, and a great many dealing with theories of narrative and narrative structures and devices, I've come across very few books, however, that speak to the role of stories play in conditioning the lived experience of individuals and society. Kermode writes eloquently and substantively on the centrality of story to human survival in The Sense of An Ending, and the reader feels a sa As a recovering academic, I've read a great many books that apply various modalities of critical theory to literary texts, and a great many dealing with theories of narrative and narrative structures and devices, I've come across very few books, however, that speak to the role of stories play in conditioning the lived experience of individuals and society. Kermode writes eloquently and substantively on the centrality of story to human survival in The Sense of An Ending, and the reader feels a sadness as s/he finishes, but also quiet excitement, knowing that their perspective has been enlarged, and that they will see and read differently than before, alive as they are to new subtleties and valences. The text is of such caliber that it will reward any and all readings, but I think it is especially suited to those skeptical of, or—god save them—with an aversion to critical theory. I was/am lucky to be among those who believe in it's importance, and enjoy reading it, but my identity and purpose have always been moored to my creative writing, and there were/are times when theory appears bloodless by comparison. Sense of An Ending is never bloodless, never even anemic, but rather underscores the importance of story, interpretation, and revision to human society—of a reflexively reconstituting narrative practice demanding critical vigilance and community in order to prevent the formation of totalizing narrative practices that do violence to individuals and the body politic. I consider The Sense of An Ending, alongside Jame's Baldwin's essays, J.M. Coetzee's Doubling the Point, Corine Mardorossian's Framing the Rape Victim, and Iris Murdoch's The Sovereignty of Good to be one of the most useful and inspiring critical resources I've encountered for thinking about narrative, fiction, and their place in daily life. 4.5

  10. 5 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.

  11. 4 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.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Jonathan Honnor

    The Myth of Liberalism Modernism and liberal humanism, like the Cartesian subject, rely upon dualism. Kermode too uses a dualistic conception of time. Kermode in the second chapter of this book distinguishes between chronos (passing time) and kairos (time of action), and posits a third term of ‘aevum’, a mid-point between the two. Chronos is the chaotic objective time of experience, whereas kairos is the ordered subjective time of narrative. In this distinction, Kermode is working within the dual The Myth of Liberalism Modernism and liberal humanism, like the Cartesian subject, rely upon dualism. Kermode too uses a dualistic conception of time. Kermode in the second chapter of this book distinguishes between chronos (passing time) and kairos (time of action), and posits a third term of ‘aevum’, a mid-point between the two. Chronos is the chaotic objective time of experience, whereas kairos is the ordered subjective time of narrative. In this distinction, Kermode is working within the dualistic framework of the modern liberal humanist: between chaos and order, objectivity and subjectivity, progressivism and conservatism, flux and form, world and word, Dionysus and Apollo. It is this dualistic approach that Peterson, a self-proclaimed classical liberal, claims is a natural psychological process inherent within our biology, in his book ‘Maps of Meaning’ (from which the following ideas draw heavily). I cannot be sure whether such a dualism is natural or not: it seems nevertheless to be a heavy predilection towards which human thought tends. The dualism seems to have been inherent in many intellectual presuppositions from Christian thought to the Cartesian system to the Enlightenment to Romanticism and finally to modernism. Modernist authors exemplify this tendency especially, and as such tend to be the focus of Kermode’s book. Peterson claims that our consciousness is the process of turning a chaotic world into order, making the unknown known; Kermode claims that fictions are necessary to create order or concordance from the chaos of experience. Both work with the idea that our lives are fictions, narratives, and from this extrapolate the importance of myth and literature respectively. Kermode values the interplay between experience and structure, world and word more highly, and therefore values literature highly but regards myth as a simplified form of literature, which makes concordance too easy. Peterson, however, values the creation of structure out of chaos (which he likens to the act of divine creation of the Logos) and therefore prefers the simple but effective structures of myths to complex literature. While Peterson tends to value order over chaos and Kermode is more ambivalent to them both, both thinkers are liberal humanists, as they value highest of all the individual’s ability to create their own order out of chaos. This tendency also links them both with the existentialist tradition (Peterson influenced by Dostoevsky and Nietzsche, Kermode particularly by Nietzsche and Sartre), which, as Sartre noted, has a great affinity with many of the tenets of humanism. The liberal humanist believes that the artist is someone who does not break entirely with their previous order, but introduces a new chaotic element into the pre-existing order to restructure it. The liberal humanist therefore sees the literary canon as a dialectical progression where each writer subverts an element of the institution of literature (or, in Bloomian terms, engages in an agonistic struggle against their precursors) yet becomes later subsumed into a new restructured order. This is the process Eliot describes, for example, in his essay on ‘Tradition and the Individual Talent’. The totally avant-garde, or completely revolutionary and disconnected from tradition, which Kermode despises, collapses back into triviality and mediocrity. Nevertheless the movement of the canon is not a pre-ordained, teleological one (which distinguishes liberalism from historicist eschatology, for example) — at each present moment there is the utmost contingency of chaos and the unknown. The liberal humanist tends often (but not always) to value order over chaos, but always values the synthesis of these above either one of them alone. Hegel, a liberal humanist who alters some fundamental tenets of the liberal humanist position, values the negative, the chaotic, over the ordered, but also values the synthesis above both positive and negative. As such, Hegel values the collective (the Weltgeist) over the individual. Liberal humanists however usually tend instead to value the individual over the collective, and value further the artist, the genius, the revolutionary hero over the ordinary individual. The artist is someone who, as an individual, becomes representative of the collective. Yeats showed this in his belief that the poet must become ‘more type than man’. The artist is also, as the true synthesis of chaos and order, androgynous. The androgynous Leopold Bloom, Joyce’s Ulysses, represents both the true artist and the everyman, the extraordinary hero and the most ordinary. The liberal position is claimed often to be self-evident or natural. But it is slow and indecisive, and it does not allow for radical restructuring of society. It is a dialectical process, and therefore does not move in any one direction permanently, but almost always takes a centrist path, with only gradual progression usually towards further liberalism. It is often attacked by those discontent with the current state of affairs: hardcore Marxists, fascists, religious fundamentalists, anarchists, and, to a certain extent, postmodernists. These, to the liberal, appear as ideological positions, which are simplistic tendencies either towards too much order (fascism, fundamental Christianity, Marxism) or too much chaos (anarchism, postmodernism). They are, for the liberal, incomplete, teleological narratives (postmodernism’s deconstruction of teleology is still itself a teleology) that do not spontaneously allow for the constant reinvention required for society’s continued function. The liberal is usually keen for such positions to be heard, hence their advocation historically for free speech. They are open to ideas of both extreme order and extreme chaos which, they hope, on a collective scale will balance out. Yet they will not allow for any extreme action, and thus they are passive and may be overtaken in action by extreme groups. Critics of the liberal position will also claim that liberals are deeply entrenched within their own ideology and unnatural set of presuppositions that are fundamentally unjustifiable, untrue. In other words, the liberal’s meta-narrative is also a fiction; the need to maintain balance between chaos and order is a fiction. The liberal humanist position may be far from natural, it may be a product of the institution of literature, of literacy, of the written word and the printing press themselves. (With this idea, I am drawing from Walter J. Ong). Such a medium sets up an inherent dualism between the ordered word (or Logos) and the chaotic world from which this word is created, as light is created from darkness in Genesis. It encourages books that are not entirely divorced from the world (ie. maintain some relevance to spoken culture) but are not so representative of the chaos of oral culture as to become near unreadable. It encourages constant reinvention, as books are expected not to copy their predecessors but to somehow differentiate themselves to an audience that already has access to previous texts (hence Pound’s ‘Make it new’). In a purely oral culture, such reinvention was not only not possible, since there would have been no record of poetic works, but it would have been discouraged, as the oral repetition of helpful ideas is the only way to create a cultural memory. Whereas oral cultures allow for static, highly conservative societies, the literate culture forces constant reinvention, constant movement. The world of literacy is also highly individualistic, as it separates everyone into a private reading and writing spaces. Multiple authors for a single book are unlikely, as a book is more enjoyable read when it has a single cohesion of thought, and thus it encourages the development of individual, idiosyncratic systems of thought that are individually owned and differentiated from other thoughts, or the crowd. This may be how literacy gave birth to Protestantism, which relied upon a personal, individual relationship with reading the Bible as opposed to a more oral, collective culture of reading represented by the Catholic Church, and then a series of existential thinkers influenced by Protestant ideas and highly (excessively?) literate in other areas: Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, Heidegger, and by extension Sartre. These philosophers deal with man as necessarily and essentially alone, who as an individual separated from the group is an agent for the creation of their own authentic meaning. The revolutionary hero or artist must therefore, for the liberal humanist influenced by existential thought, be fundamentally isolated. Kermode in his book ‘Romantic Image’ sees in the figure of Yeats such an alienated figure and therefore deals with him as one of the greatest poets. But many other Romantic and modernist authors (those in a later stage of literacy) also express alienation in their works: Keats, Joyce, Kafka, Beckett, and more who I am not yet well-read enough to mention. It could be argued that the symptoms of increasing alienation in literature over the course of the 19th and 20th century are not solely due to the changes of the post-industrial world (as Weber, among others, has argued), but rather are inevitably caused by literature and the written word itself. Literature produces both humanism and alienation. Such a reading that literature itself causes both alienation and a dualistic worldview may have support in the psychoanalytic theories of Lacan and Kristeva, who theorise that as the subject enters into language, or ‘the symbolic’, they become split. The pre-symbolic for Kristeva is the ‘semiotic’, the stage where the child enjoys babble and play with the mother. Such a fall from a protected, paradisal state into an alienated one may be represented in Christian mythology by the ‘Fall’. The entrance into the symbolic order and language forces thought into dualisms, specifically that of signifier and signified (but also good and evil, heaven and hell). In written language, as opposed to spoken, the gap between signifier and signified becomes all the more prominent: as such the sense of alienation from the semiotic, voiced babble becomes greater as literacy increases. Alternatively, a sense of dualism and alienation may indeed be inherent in our biology rather than purely in the introduction of language, which, in turn, may be only symptomatic of our brain structure. We know of no organisms that have a symmetrical brain structure, or that is without hemispheric division; all organisms must have asymmetrical hemispheric brains. Yet we may also consider that our brains have adapted to use language just as much as language has adapted to our brains. We may decide that we wish to escape the meta-narrative of liberal humanism, but this does not look easily achievable if we are continuously reading literature, a liberal humanist institution. The radical restructuring that Marxism, fascism, religious fundamentalism, anarchism and other ‘ideological’ doctrines desire seem only to be potentially achievable (if at all) with a radical destruction of our current media. Thus there are diverse tendencies among such groups to advocate for propaganda, or the destruction/reconstruction of the canon, or for banning books, or for mass book-burnings. Terry Eagleton, at the end of his introduction to literary theory, suggests that only through the destruction of ‘literature’ as a subject and canon, and perhaps with the replacement of the less ideologically-charged ‘media studies’, will we be able to overcome the liberal humanist (and bourgeois) bias of both the study of literature and society at large. Will the myth of modernism and liberalism then come to an end? Kermode’s text seems symbolic in its publication date: 1967, one year before the 1968 protests in France. Kermode’s text may be the swan-song of modernist and liberal humanist thought, and its preoccupations with time and chaos/order. In 1968 there may have been a kind of radical restructuring of thought that overturned many of the presuppositions of liberal humanism: now literature was not expressive of eternal truths but only conditional truths based on power structures, it was the job of the critic to reveal and overturn those power structures, to interpret interpretations more than interpret texts. Yet it could very reasonably be argued that poststructuralism is itself far more ideologically based in the tenets of liberalism than it wants to believe. Much of postmodern thought rests still upon binary (dualistic) structures: like Derrida’s binary between interpretive and playful reading, Barthes’ binary between readerly and writerly texts, Kristeva’s binary between symbolic and semiotic, and finally the reliance of all of the above on the binaries of Saussure. Many share the existentialist/humanist’s innate sense of alienation to the human subject. Postmodernism may therefore be less of a reaction to a modernism than a continuation of what has gone before. The phrase ‘I can’t go on, I’ll go on’ represents the permutational motor of liberalism: the constant belief that we have reached completion, yet the absolute contingency of the future, the necessity to continually move forward in a way that we don’t yet understand, and the continual sense of apocalyptic crisis. Liberalism feels the sense of an ending constantly, but it never does reach an end, it is always ‘becoming’.

  13. 4 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.)

  14. 4 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.

  15. 4 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.

  16. 5 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.

  17. 5 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. 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.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Courtney Ferriter

    ** 2 stars ** This book embodies some of the qualities that I hate most about literary theory. Originally given as a series of lectures at Bryn Mawr in 1965, this volume is a dense, verbose slog with multiple references to other works with little context as if I'm supposed to know exactly what Kermode is talking about (because haven't we all read a bunch of French writers, modernists, avant-gardists, Russian classics, and early 20th century American poets?). Instead of using clear language to ill ** 2 stars ** This book embodies some of the qualities that I hate most about literary theory. Originally given as a series of lectures at Bryn Mawr in 1965, this volume is a dense, verbose slog with multiple references to other works with little context as if I'm supposed to know exactly what Kermode is talking about (because haven't we all read a bunch of French writers, modernists, avant-gardists, Russian classics, and early 20th century American poets?). Instead of using clear language to illuminate his points, Kermode is meandering and grandiloquent. Furthermore, only two of the lectures (the first and the fourth - "The End" and "The Modern Apocalypse") really deal with the concept of the apocalypse and its relation to fiction. The others touch on subjects like space and time, which are not unrelated to his overall point about the apocalypse, but he doesn't connect the pieces, so it doesn't read as a particularly coherent argument. Perhaps worst of all (to me, at least), Kermode knows just enough about philosophical pragmatism to slander it at multiple points in this volume. A little knowledge is a dangerous thing, indeed! I'm rating this book two stars because Kermode does make some intriguing points about how we cannot conceive of ourselves as being "in the middle" of time, and since we are obviously not at the beginning, we are drawn to apocalypse as the end or as the chance for rebirth or renewal. He argues that our desire for crisis (including inventing or imagining crisis and apocalypse where it does not exist) is a way of justifying our own ideas of order. I wish these ideas had been more fully developed in his lectures and presented more clearly.

  19. 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.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Ryan Elian

    Kermode’s stylistic writing contains many peripetiatic turns. Readers are warned to follow closely on the words being used and the ideas conveyed. Basic understanding in how the fictional works (such as novels and other literary works) is a must. Kermode turns up his ideas on the first half of the book. Once surpassed, the latter part can be enjoyable and where its’ germination is a harvest from the earlier part. This book is a must read for all literary fans: not only Kermode’s idea is universa Kermode’s stylistic writing contains many peripetiatic turns. Readers are warned to follow closely on the words being used and the ideas conveyed. Basic understanding in how the fictional works (such as novels and other literary works) is a must. Kermode turns up his ideas on the first half of the book. Once surpassed, the latter part can be enjoyable and where its’ germination is a harvest from the earlier part. This book is a must read for all literary fans: not only Kermode’s idea is universal, appropriate, but also forward looking. The wordings being used can be unpresumptious, but do not be fooled, it does not convey simple sentences.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Jan Croonen

    This article got me buying this book: https://www.theatlantic.com/entertain... Ever since the antropoceen discussion I've been wondering about the alarmist story: that human life will be extinct. Weren't the first Christians convinced that after a few generations the Last Judgement would come as a grand finale of the whole of human living on earth? So what's new? Hoping to get some light on this question I bought The Sense of an Ending. This article got me buying this book: https://www.theatlantic.com/entertain... Ever since the antropoceen discussion I've been wondering about the alarmist story: that human life will be extinct. Weren't the first Christians convinced that after a few generations the Last Judgement would come as a grand finale of the whole of human living on earth? So what's new? Hoping to get some light on this question I bought The Sense of an Ending.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Minnie

    4* An enduring piece of literary criticism, akin in importance to The Hero with a Thousand Faces. I knew Kermode from his immortal 1955 edition of The Tempest for the Arden Shakespeare Second Series, but I never would have guessed just how far his genius extends. 4* An enduring piece of literary criticism, akin in importance to The Hero with a Thousand Faces. I knew Kermode from his immortal 1955 edition of The Tempest for the Arden Shakespeare Second Series, but I never would have guessed just how far his genius extends.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Boris

    An impressive work on the relations between time, Apocalypse, fiction. Reading this after Ricoeur's Temps et Récit trilogy made me understand that work much better too: Ricoeur has clearly drawn heavily from Kermode's insights. An impressive work on the relations between time, Apocalypse, fiction. Reading this after Ricoeur's Temps et Récit trilogy made me understand that work much better too: Ricoeur has clearly drawn heavily from Kermode's insights.

  24. 5 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 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

  25. 4 out of 5

    Tauan Tinti

    The tick-tockest of them all.

  26. 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! 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!

  27. 5 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.

  28. 4 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."

  29. 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).

  30. 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...? 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...?

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