Centurial Quotes

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In fact this desire for consonance in the apocalyptic data, and our tendency to be derisive about it, seem to me equally interesting. Each manifests itself, in the presence of the other, in most of our minds. We are all ready to be sceptical about Father Marystone, but we are most of us given to some form of 'centurial mysticism, ' and even to more extravagant apocalyptic practices: a point I shall be taking up in my fourth talk. What it seems to come to is this. Men in the middest make considerable imaginative investments in coherent patterns which, by the provision of an end, make possible a satisfying consonance with the origins and with the middle. That is why the image of the end can never be permanently falsified. But they also, when awake and sane, feel the need to show a marked respect for things as they are; so that there is a recurring need for adjustments in the interest of reality as well as of control. This has relevance to literary plots, images of the grand temporal consonance; and we may notice that there is the same co-existence of naive acceptance and scepticism here as there is in apocalyptic. Broadly speaking, it is the popular story that sticks most closely to established conventions; novels the clerisy calls 'major' tend to vary them, and to vary them more and more as time goes by. I shall be talking about this in some detail later, but a few brief illustrations might be useful now. I shall refer chiefly to one aspect of the matter, the falsification of one's expectation of the end. The story that proceeded very simply to its obviously predestined end would be nearer myth than novel or drama. Peripeteia, which has been called the equivalent, in narrative, of irony in rhetoric, is present in every story of the least structural sophistication. Now peripeteia depends on our confidence of the end; it is a disconfirmation followed by a consonance; the interest of having our expectations falsified is obviously related to our wish to reach the discovery or recognition by an unexpected and instructive route. It has nothing whatever to do with any reluctance on our part to get there at all. So that in assimilating the peripeteia we are enacting that readjustment of expectations in regard to an end which is so notable a feature of naive apocalyptic. And we are doing rather more than that; we are, to look at the matter in another way, re-enacting the familiar dialogue between credulity and scepticism. The more daring the peripeteia, the more we may feel that the work respects our sense of reality; and the more certainly we shall feel that the fiction under consideration is one of those which, by upsetting the ordinary balance of our naive expectations, is finding something out for us, something real. The falsification of an expectation can be terrible, as in the death of Cordelia; it is a way of finding something out that we should, on our more conventional way to the end, have closed our eyes to. Obviously it could not work if there were not a certain rigidity in the set of our expectations.

Frank Kermode
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