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This article is taken from PN Review 48, Volume 12 Number 4, March - April 1986.

Orthodoxy and Tradition Frank Kermode

I have a strong sense that the 'orthodoxy' of which you speak is already proving brittle, and I take some pleasure in having, in my last book, prophesied what anybody should have seen as inevitable, its early demise.

However, I do not see these things as you do, simply as a matter of being right or wrong. This, after all, has not been the first 'orthodoxy'; in my own time we have had several, from a naïve historicism to the New Criticism, phenomenology . . . And each leaves some sort of deposit in the tradition. It strikes me that your polemically expressed view of the matter leaves no room for such changes, or for the operation of such a tradition. I was only today expounding Eliot's essay on Marvell, a great piece of criticism surely, and still valid after sixty years; yet it is easy enough now to see in it a certain sly selfishness, a willingness to rewrite history in the interests of a programme for poetry now belonging to the past. That is a good illustration of the way the history of criticism unrolls, a good definition of the classic: it persists despite its temporal provincialism. So also with critical theory. Not much will survive from the last twenty years but some will, and in transformations we cannot predict except to say that they will surely occur.


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