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This interview is taken from PN Review 197, Volume 37 Number 3, January - February 2011.

in epistolary conversation with Frank Kermode Matías Serra Bradford

July 2003
A conversation, even if only postal, is a ticklish test for the I. ‘Interviews, where a certain degree of self-belief is quite urgently needed,’ Frank Kermode once said, and there was no posturing in the last reply to the following questionnaire, that one book of his had ‘no particular merit’.

He had referred in Not Entitled to his first publication in these terms: ‘The book is deplorable as might be expected.’ The reader of that singular autobiography, with so telling a title, could easily learn about the fragile positions Kermode occupied during his childhood and how they fostered a pivotal precariousness. They certainly looked decisive as groundwork for forthcoming virtues; frailty does like to court confidence and does not necessarily prevent consistency. The fact that he insisted on treasuring a vulnerable, self-deprecating stance, notwithstanding his increasing stature, reveals that he may have been well aware of its uses. For Kermode the exiled Manxman restlessness was part of a system: ‘I have been too ready to abandon what is never more than a temporary environment, quick to move jobs, quick to resign… I willingly sacrificed certitudes.’ Again, his penchant for ends. From the beginning, Kermode nursed the I of a travel writer: detached, genial, quick on the trigger. Like Peter Fleming, Norman Lewis or Patrick Leigh Fermor, the author of Forms of Attention was masterly at placing the self that is narrating and at regulating the distance one holds towards oneself. (He wrote beautifully on ...


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