Thursday, August 19, 2010

The sense of an ending

Frank Kermode, grand old man of English lit-crit, has passed away. The Guardian obit notes:
He fundamentally changed the study of English literature in the 1960s by introducing French theory by post-structuralists such as Roland Barthes and Michel Foucault, and post-Freudians such as Jacques Lacan, into what Sutherland described as "the torpid bloodstream of British academic discourse". Speaking to Sutherland in 2006, Kermode admitted that the move had "attracted quite a lot of opprobrium".

Although he later moved away from theory, he told Sutherland that the time considering it was not wasted. "One of the great benefits of seriously reading English is you're forced to read a lot of other things," he said. "You may not have a very deep acquaintance with Hegel but you need to know something about Hegel. Or Hobbes, or Aristotle, or Roland Barthes. We're all smatterers in a way, I suppose. But a certain amount of civilisation depends on intelligent smattering."
The Telegraph gives us a glimpse at Kermode's war years:
On graduating in 1940, Kermode joined the Navy, spending much of the war making ever more futile attempts to lay booms off the stormy coast of Iceland. He also served as secretary to an increasingly lunatic series of superannuated captains.

One of Kermode's commanding officers attended the funeral of his first officer while drunk. He assured the widow that her husband was not really dead, otherwise he, the captain, would have been informed of the fact by the Admiralty. Kermode was later the last visitor to have lunch on Hood before she was destroyed by Bismarck.

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