Wednesday August 18th, 2010

Frank Kermode Dead at 90

kermodePreeminent literary critic, essayist, and academic Frank Kermode has died at 90. In a thorough obituary for the Guardian, John Mullan writes, “His fusing of scholarly disinterestedness and live intellectual curiosity was hard and rare. It made him the leading literary critic of his generation.” From the same obituary:

The title of another collection of essays from his post-Cambridge period, An Appetite for Poetry (1989), reflected a new emphasis in Kermode’s thinking about literary criticism and the teaching of literature. He had become surer and surer that literary theory, which he had once invited into the seminar room, was strangling the understanding and love of literature. He had come to think that many university teachers and leading critics of literature, particularly in America, had no “appetite for poetry.” Earlier works from the 80s, Forms of Attention (1985) and History and Value (1988), had explored the need for a literary canon – a core of especially valuable works of the imagination to which we can keep returning. Now he believed that theory, frozen into formula, was the addiction of academic critics “who seem largely to have lost interest in literature as such.” Thus, a final irony: a man who had been one of the country’s leading literary theorists became a scathing critic – sometimes satirist – of literary theory’s self-importance.

(Photo of Kermode by Eamonn McCabe for the Guardian)