Frank Kermode died this week at the age of 90. His output was staggering. I’ve only read a small sampling of a body of work that is wide ranging as well as insightful.

In her appreciation of Kermode in the New York Times, Verlyn Klinkenborg describes Kermode’s literary modus operandi. It struck a chord. The same could describe a strategy for navigating the visual arts.

In my years in academia, I had watched the study of literature go down any number of rabbit holes — chasing after theory and ideology and system. The very point of reading and talking about what we read seemed to have been lost in a kind of strangulating self-seriousness and alienation. That’s where Kermode came in.

He was drawn to the entanglements of the text and its rational mysteries rather than some scaffold of theory. In his many books and essays, he protected the reader’s freedom to be interested in whatever was interesting. That meant writing a prose that was never wholly academic and over the years became more and more open to the intersection of literature and the lives we’re actually living.

Thanks to Janet for alerting me to Klinkenborg’s appreciation.

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