The Uses of Error

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Overview

"The history of interpretation, the skills by which we keep alive in our minds the light and dark of past literature and past humanity, is to an incalculable extent a history of error." So writes Frank Kermode of a history to which he has contributed many luminous pages. This book is a record of Kermode's "error," his wandering through literature past and present. He notes that "in thirty-odd years I have written several hundred reviews, an example I would strongly urge the young not to follow" From these hundreds Kermode has selected the pieces he treasures most, and they provide an example that indeed will be difficult to follow.

The Uses of Error contains some of Kermode's very best writing. Again and again he proves himself to be more than a commentator or chronicler; he is rather a creator of cultural value in his interaction with the texts at hand. The appeal of this book is broad. Everything is here from Augustine to Aries on death and dying, from Wilde to Woolf and writer's block, from Joachim of Fiore to Flaubert's Parrot. In a phrase or an aside on any of these subjects Kermode can open a vista, wither a reputation, or spotlight an intellectual mantrap.

The core of the volume is a group of essays on the central figures of modern English literature. Kermode tells more here—about Tennyson, Shaw, Forster, and Eliot—than most people could in twice the space. His brief, vivid, and sympathetic writings extol the range of British writing and mark out the difference between an interest that is solely academic and the richer view of one who writes from inside the culture and shares a common experience with its interpreters.

There is also Kermode the man. He saves a set of autobiographical essays until the end, and they are a veritable dessert for those who read the volume straight through. But they will stand first in the reader's memory afterward, because they give body to the mind so clearly in evidence throughout the book. Kermode shows us the means by which he gained the perspective to become a transnational critic—not a critic on the margin, but one who shows us where the margins are. For anyone who is not yet familiar with Frank Kermode's work, this is the place to begin. For those who are already acquainted with it, here is the chance to see the pattern of the whole.

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Editorial Reviews

Booknews
From hundreds of reviews written over a 30-year period, Kermode has selected his favorites, which are collected here without revision (although he states the temptation to tamper was strong). The original appearances were in the New Republic, The New York Review of Books, New York Times Book Review, the Atlantic, and Raritan. The core is a group of essays on the central figures of modern-English literature; the final set of essays are autobiographical. No index. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780674931527
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press
  • Publication date: 2/28/1991
  • Pages: 432
  • Product dimensions: 6.42 (w) x 9.29 (h) x 1.49 (d)

Meet the Author

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

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Table of Contents

Introduction

I.

Augustine

Joachim of Fiore

Deciphering the Big Book

The Lattimore Version

Sacred Space: Christian Verse

Beethoven at Home

II.

Fighting Freud

Freud is Better in German

Work and Play

Sic Transit Marshall McLuhan

Philippe Ariès' Bumper Book of Death

Paul de Man's Abyss

Talking about Doing: The Deconstructionists and the New Historicists

III.

Frances Yates and Imperial Secrets

Roy Strong: Policy and Pageantry

Protestant Poetry

How Do You Spell Shakespeare?

Shakespeare for the Eighties

IV.
Grandeur and Filth: The Victorian Cities

Tennyson's Nerves

Victorian Vocations: Frederic Harrison and Leslie Stephen

Squalor: On George Gissing

A Little of this Honey: Oscar Wilde

Georgian Eyes are Smiling: Shaw and Conrad in Their Letters

V.

Wells's Ladder

Forster and Maurice

Yes, Santa, There is a Virginia

The Feast of St Thomas

Poetry à la Mode

On William Gerhardie

The Essential Orwell

Half-Way Up the Hill: The Young John Betjeman

Connolly's World

Oldham to Blackheath: Roy Fuller

Remembering the Movement

Obsessed with Obsession: Julian Barnes

Losers: Anita Brookner

The Horse of the Baskervilles: Umberto Eco

VI.

The Faces of Man

The Men From Man

My Formation

A Stroll Around the Block

On Being an Enemy of Humanity

The Uses of Error

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