Friday 23 December 2011

The Sense of an Ending, by F. Kermode

Having read Julian Barnes, I turned to this other book which must be relevant to understanding his work, since he gave it the identical title - bowing to the master?

Kermode's  Sense of an Ending has the subtitle: Studies in the theory of fiction. An eminent Brit, knight of the realm, professor of English, he taught at Harvard and Rutgers as well as Cambridge. He died in 2010. (Is it significant that Barnes' book was published around that time?) Kermode's book was originally published in 1967 in the US. Wellington's Central Library stock it, bless them, though it was out when I first looked for it. Someone else triggered into reading it ...

Now it's my turn, and I have to get on with it, not waste any time. The first chapter is entitled The End.

It's hard work. The most important word in that chapter is apocalypse:  How we imagine an ending to whatever time-bound process we are thinking about, so that it has a beginning, a middle and an end, a pattern we seem to require, whereas life flows on and on strands interwoven, and there is no beginning and end. The apocalyptic view belongs to a rectilinear world view, rather than a cyclical one. Am learning heaps: The Odyssey is written in 'episodes related by their correspondence with cyclical ritual.' The Western model is apocalyptic.

I have to read with the dictionary at hand - several unknown words  - surd, for instance, and clerisy - and some I wanted to be sure about, such as eschatological.

I am now in the middle of chapter 2, unable to progress for a while. Being a mother got in the way. There are some days ahead where I shall - hopefully - be able to work on what interests me.

In the mean time, I think over the Julian Barnes book in the light of apocalypse...As I have said in a previous post, I finished that book feeling I had missed the point, that there was something which I had not noticed. A bit like that psychological experiment on selective attention where someone is told to watch a team of people playing ball and keep their eye on the ball at all times, and then does not notice when a large gorilla (a person in a gorilla suit) walks across the space...(More info about this here). This happened to a friend of mine who has excellent concentration and she was mortified. Some people did notice the gorilla, but quite a large percentage didn't.

We believe instinctively that we see everything that is there to be seen...

A friend told me that she had read Julian Barnes's The Sense of an Ending with her book group - middle-class educated women - and that by and large people had not liked it. No one had looked up the Kermade connection or knew about apocalypse.

I do think it changes everything.

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