We use cookies to give you the best experience possible. By continuing we’ll assume you’re on board with our cookie policy

Critical Response to Kermode’s The Genesis of Secrecy

The whole doc is available only for registered users
  • Pages: 5
  • Word count: 1210
  • Category:

A limited time offer! Get a custom sample essay written according to your requirements urgent 3h delivery guaranteed

Order Now

Clear, explicitly worded thesis.

In the first two chapters of his book The Genesis of Secrecy, Frank Kermode argues that narrative can be read on more than one level, the carnal level and the spiritual level, and attempts, unsuccessfully to explain why narratives are obscured. His explanation about the different levels of reading is thoughtful and interesting. His explanation of why narratives are deliberately obscured is less than satisfying.

Kermode writes in the introduction that exegesis, the critical explanation of a text, and hermeneutics, the rules and theory of interpretation, are closely related. In the past, hermeneutics was left to those studying and interpreting the Bible, recently (remember that Kermode is writing in 1978) hermeneutics is making its way into general scholarship. Kermode views this as a positive trend.

Also in the introduction, Kermode introduces the notion of “… insiders versus outsiders, the former having, or claiming to have, immediate access to the mystery, the latter randomly scattered across space and time, and excluded from the elect who mistrust or despise their unauthorized divinations” (xi). These terms, “exegesis,” “hermeneutics,” “insiders” and “outsiders,” are important to the approach Kermode takes throughout his attempts to explain the problems of interpretation.

In chapter one, Kermode writes that some writers, including the writer of the Gospel of Mark claimed that Jesus used parables told to those without, “with the express purpose of concealing a mystery that was to be understood only by insiders” (2). It is very counterintuitive that any teacher would chose to do this. The purpose of teaching is to teach. In order for successful teaching to occur, learning must take place. To deliberately inhibit the learning of those being taught is odd. In chapter two (see below) Kermode will try to explain why narratives are obscured.

In referencing Henry Green’s novel Party Going, Kermode gives us an example of a text that has an obscure or latent meaning. He gives a brief rehearsal of the manifest meaning, and suggests that the manifest level is so facile that the novel “belongs to a class of narratives which have to mean more, or other than they manifestly say” (7). To college students taking liberal arts classes, it seems odd to spend time making this point. It is obvious that some texts can be read and interpreted on more than one level and one wonders why Kermode made a point of it.

Kermode calls the reading of narrative on the surface level, the carnal interpretation, and the reading at deeper levels the spiritual level. Once interpretation reaches the spiritual level, according to Kermode, the results are more interesting.  Kermode offers a set of cautions or rules that readers should remember when preparing to interpret a text on a deeper level.

First, the interpreter needs “some assurance that a book has sufficient value” (16). Second, a reading at the next level requires divination. Third there is a moment of interpretation in which there is a discovery of a salient point or points, an epiphany or epiphanies in the text. Fourthly, “this divination must not be left to stand on its own” (16-17), it must be in harmony with the rest of the text as a whole. Fifthly, an interpreter assumes the inadequacy of previous interpreters. Sixthly, the notion of a text that is completely open is a myth, all narrative can be read on a different level.

These is interesting, but, like Kermode’s efforts to prove that texts can be read on more than one level, self-evident or obvious. The first and the sixth points appear to be in conflict. If there are no completely open texts and all text can be read on multiple layers, then rule one is superfluous.  In chapter two, Kermode tries to answer the question of “why are narratives obscure” (23)? He writes that if “we want to think about narratives that mean more and other than they seem to say … we can hardly do better than consider the parables” (23). According to the author, parables are “first a similitude” (23), a comparison between the story and the real world. The parable, when properly interpreted, will illuminate the real world. The parable will be open to the insiders, but obscured to the outsiders. It must be interpreted.

Kermode compares parables that appear in the New Testament in more than one of the gospels: the Parable of the Sower, the Good Samaritan and the Parable of the Wicked Husbandsmen. He writes in some detail about the difference in the parables as they appear in Mark and Matthew. Mark interprets the reason that Jesus used parables was that he was deliberately obscuring their meaning to keep the outsiders from understanding what he was teaching. According to the Gospel of Matthew, Kermode writes that Jesus had a different purpose when he used parables. In Matthew, Jesus spoke in parables because most of the people, the outsiders, were unable to understand the plain text.

The reason attributed to Matthew is a more comfortable explanation of Jesus’ use of parables. If Mark were correct, one makes the same objections made against Kermode’s statement in chapter one about Jesus using parable to obscure (see page 2). Kermode spends several pages detailing a number of interpretations of the parables, from his own interpretations to those of Saint Augustine, to the interpretations of a theologian named Gerhardsson. He points out that “Gerhardsson says, in effect, that what he has unearthed is the interpretation” (39).

The fact that a narrative contains the potential for many interpretations, and that each interpreter may believe that his interpretation is the correct one, is disturbing. Perhaps, it’s a only trait for a 21st century male to want to be right, but the variability of interpretation can lead to dangerous behavior. Historically one can look at Charles Manson’s interpretation of the Beatles’ song “Helter Skelter,” a song about an amusement park ride, and the murders the interpretation led to, as well as Hitler’s misinterpretation of Nietzsche to see the danger of misinterpretation.

Kermode writes that narratives “must be obscure. The apparently perspicuous narrative yields up latent sense to interpretation;” (45). It is the nature of narrative to have “inexhaustible hermeneutic potential (44). Kermode concludes that “parable, it seems,” may proclaim a truth as a herald does, and at the same time conceal truth like an oracle” (47). One can’t help being reminded of the double-edge meanings of the Oracle at Delphi. If Kermode’s claim is true, no wonder they seem dangerous.

Kermode does a good job of illustrating that narrative may be read on more than one level. He is not as successful explaining why narratives are obscure. His claim that narrative must by its very nature be obscure is false. It may be true that the narratives studied in colleges and university are hidden, otherwise there would be no reason to study them, but there are hundreds of books written on a simple, face value level. One need only look at the gilded, garish, books available at the supermarket checkout stand to find such books.

Works Cited
Kermode, Frank. The Genesis of Secrecy: On the Interpretation of Narrative. Cambridge Massachusetts & London, England: Harvard University Press, 1979.

Related Topics

We can write a custom essay

According to Your Specific Requirements

Order an essay
Materials Daily
100,000+ Subjects
2000+ Topics
Free Plagiarism
All Materials
are Cataloged Well

Sorry, but copying text is forbidden on this website. If you need this or any other sample, we can send it to you via email.

By clicking "SEND", you agree to our terms of service and privacy policy. We'll occasionally send you account related and promo emails.
Sorry, but only registered users have full access

How about getting this access

Your Answer Is Very Helpful For Us
Thank You A Lot!


Emma Taylor


Hi there!
Would you like to get such a paper?
How about getting a customized one?

Can't find What you were Looking for?

Get access to our huge, continuously updated knowledge base

The next update will be in:
14 : 59 : 59