A Reply to Joseph Frank

Critical Inquiry 4 (3):579-588 (1978)
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Abstract

I'm pleased to have been offered the chance of replying to Joseph Frank's criticisms . He is a courteous opponent, though capable of a certain asperity. . . . Frank complains that his critics appear incapable of attending to what he really said in his original essay. It is the blight critics are born for; and it is undoubtedly sometimes caused by the venal haste of reviewers, and sometimes by native dullness, and sometimes by malice. But there are other reasons why an author may sometimes feel himself to be misrepresented. One is that a genuinely patient and intelligent reader may be more interested in what the piece under consideration does not quite say than in what is expressly stated. Another is the consequence of fame. Frank's original article is over thirty years old; it crystallised what had been for the most part vague notions, ideas that were in the air, and gave them a memorable name. "Spatial form" entered the jargon of the graduate school and began an almost independent existence. The term might well be used by people who had never read the essay at all; or they might casually attribute to him loose inferences made by others from the general proposition—inferences he had already disallowed and now once more contests. It must be difficult, particularly for an exasperated author, to distinguish between these causes of apparent misrepresentation. But sometimes it can be done; and then it will appear that the effect of the first is far more interesting than that of the second cause. For the suggestion then must be that the author has repressed a desire to take a position which, in his manifest argument, he differentiates from his own. This, as it happens, is what he advances as an explanation of certain ambiguities in my Sense of an Ending; the least one can say is that it is perfectly possible. Frank Kermode is the author of The Sense of an Ending: Studies in the Theory of Fiction, Continuities, and Shakespeare, Spenser, Donne: Renaissance Essays; his works also include The Classic and The Genesis of Secrecy. His contributions to Critical Inquiry are "Novels: Recognition and Deception" , "A Reply to Denis Donoghue" , and "Secrets and Narrative Sequence"

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