Terry Eagleton: Commentary

LifeWorksCriticismCommentaryQuotationsReferencesNotes

Gayatri Ch. Spivak
Seamus Heaney
R. F. Foster
John Waters
Dick Walsh
Denis Donoghue
Seamus Deane
Chris Morash
Steven Pole
Gregory Castle
Rory Brennan
Proinsias Ó Drisceoil
Brendan Glacken
Gerry Smyth
Kevin Barry
David Lloyd
Robert Tobin
Martin McQuillan
Christina Patterson
John Mullan
Bill Sweeney
Nicholas Grene
Brian Dillon
Marjorie Perloff
Jonathan Rée

See also “Eagleton Rebuffed” - a duo of articles by Bruce Stewart and Austen Morgan in Irish Studies Review, 7 (Summer 1994) - attached.

Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, ‘Can the Subaltern Speak?’ (1988): ‘“That [Derrida’s] own work”, Terry Eagleton writes, “has been grossly unhistorical, politically evasive and in practice oblivious to language as discourse [language in function] is not to be denied.” Eagleton goes on to recommend Foucault’s study of ”discursive practices”.’ (Spivak, op. cit., in C. Nelson & L. Grossberg, eds., Marxism and the Interpretation of Culture, Macmillan 1988, pp.271-313; quoting Eagleton, Literary Theory: An Introduction, Minnesota UP, 1983, p.205.)

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Seamus Heaney, ‘Speranza in Reading: On “The Ballad of Reading Gaol”’, in The Redress of Poetry [Oxford Poetry Lectures] (London: Faber & Faber 1995), acknowledges that he is conducting his reading of “Reading Gaol” in the light of ‘some recent post-colonial readings of Wilde by critics like Declan Kiberd and Terry Eagleton. Eagleton’s play Saint Oscar is a bravura interpretation of Wilde’s English career as both a consequence of his Irish background and an occlusion of it. Saint Oscar is full of ventriloquistic inventiveness that enables the author not so much to sound Wilde’s depths as to sound off his surfaces, tick him off by taking him off. It is a theatrical event where the catharsis is the criticism, and where the subject, who once suffered the name of eprvert in England, is made to revert to Ireland. [quotes Eagleton’s Wilde, “‘I object to this trial on the grounds that no Irishman can receive a fair hearing in an English court because Irishmen are figgments of the English imagination. I am not really here. I am just one of your racial fantasies. […] I have my own truth and morality which I call art. […] You hold that a man is a man and a woman is a woman. I hold that nothing is every pure itself, and that the point wehere it becomes so is known as death. […] &c.]” (St. Oscar, 1989, p.46; Heaney, pp.86-87.)

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R. F. Foster, ‘Protestant Magic: W. B. Yeats and the Spell of Irish History’ [British Academy 1990]: A critic as imaginative as Terry Eagleton might see the crowds of dead people whom Yeats or Elizabeth Bowen discern walking the roads of Ireland as the souls of dispossessed tenants. I do not; but, while accepting the Neoplatonic and Swedenborgian pedigree of ideas about the dead partaking in the life of the living, the particular appeal of the supernatural for Irish Protestants deserves decoding.’ (In Paddy and Mr Punch, 1996; rep. in Jonathan Allison, ed., Yeats’s Political Identities, Michigan UP 1996, pp.83-105; here p.91.)

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John Waters, ‘Challenge to Liberal Agenda Cannot be Dismissed’, in The Irish Times ( Tuesday, 3 Sept. 1996) - contra Dick Walsh, IT columnist, in a previous issue: ‘Terry Eagleton is no traditionalist - atavistic traditionalism, he states, “is a hideous enough affair” - but a thoroughly modern thinker with a deep suspicion of the pseudo modern. […] at Dr Eagleton is seeking is synthesis between apparent incompatibilities. He outlines the dangers of binary oppositions between “atavistic traditionalism on the one hand and a liberal, pluralist, enlightened world order on the other”.’ (See full text.)

Dick Walsh, in The Irish Times (7 Sept. 1996) [columnist]: ‘I’d imagined that Soviet strategists might have shown an interest in changes in the Republic: the development of a modern, industrial society with the promise of social change, the abandonment of Civil War politics, more understanding of the Protestant working class. / They didn’t. And now we have Terry Eagleton and his followers continuing on the old, nationalist tack, acting once more as if in the Ireland of the 1990s nationalism - Orange and Green - were not at the core of our most serious problem.’

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Denis Donoghue, review of Heathcliff [ …&c] , in The New Republic (21 & 28 Aug. 1995), commences with a comical recitation of the plot of the play Saints and Scholars, on Connolly, which follows the Stopfordian technique of making an escaped James Connolly share a cottage in the West of Ireland with Bakhtin and Wittgenstein; quotes from the character Connolly in the play; ‘The British don’t believe Ireland is real; they just drop their fantasies here’; quotes, ‘Ireland, in this and other ways has come to figure as the monstrous unconscious of the metropolitan society, the secret amaterialist history of endemically idealist England. It incarnates, for Carlyle, Froude and others, the Tennysonian nightmare of a nature red in tooth and claw, obdurately resistant to refinement. When the child of Heathcliff trespasses on the Grange, the neurasthenically cultivated Lintons set the dogs on him, forced for a moment to expose the veiled violence which helps to prop them up’.

Further: Healthcliff is ‘a fragment of the famine’; Donoghue comments, ‘I think I know what ‘materialist and idealist are doing in that remarkably polemical first sentence’ but goes on to illustrate the false tenure of the arguement in relation to all the writers that Eagleton selects, and also in relation to the IPP which is the special object of his spleen; Further quotes Eagleton, on Swift: ‘Swift reviled the British for reducing the Irish to slaves, then condemns the Irish for internalising this slavery, which is at once more and less reason for excoriating the British, and excellent reason for loathing oneself. The Gulliver who is caught on the hop between the conflicting cultural norms, whose whole existence is barely tolerable in-betweenness, is then an appropriate figure for an Ascendancy which was both colonised and colonist.’ (O’Donoghue, p.44; and styled therein ‘lively stuff’ and a ‘bizarre reading’); Further quotes, ‘From Tone’s “common name of Irishmen” to early Sinn Féin’s Davisite notion of a comprehensive nation, most nationalist trends, including the Irish Republican Brotherhood, were at pains to rally to their banners the non-Catholics and no-Gael, however notionally or perfunctorily […] Padraic Pearse saw fit to rebuke the Ancient Order of Hibernians for excluding Protestants from their ranks.’ [Note that Eagleton reviews Donoghue’s The Practice of Reading in Times Literary Supplement, 29 Jan. 1999.]

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Seamus Deane review of Heathcliff and Hunger, in London Review of Books [q.d.], p.28; refs. to ‘the bad form of hegemony - accepting colonialism as a boon or as an irretrievable disaster and behaving accordingly. It should be possible to refuse both and to accept the notions of continuity and discontinuity, difference and exceptionalism can be entertained without [abandoning] them for some universal norm that inevitably turns out to be culturally specific despite its pretensions’. Notes & Queries, Vol. 240, No. 42 (Sept. 1995), pp.178-79

Chris Morash, ‘Eagleton’s Angel of History’, review of Heathcliff and the Great Hunger: Studies in Irish Culture (London: Verso 1995), in Irish Literary Supplement (Spring 1996), p.16: ‘As a consequence [of his dependence on facts] in lieu of digging through the archives himself to establish mortality rates or crop yields, he must rely upon precisely that quantitative historical writing whose illusory claim to objectivity he exposes elsewhere as ideological mystification. Similarly, while Eagleton is the last person who could be accused of accepting any simple model of literary misrepresentation, I suspect that engaging with the anti-mimetic challenge contained in Lloyd’s work would threaten to push his championing of theory to lengths it would rather not go, at least in the matter of Ireland.’ Morash goes on to assent to Deane’s estimate of the importance of Eagleton’s study.

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Steven Pole, review of Saint Oscar and Other Plays, in Tiems Literary Supplement (4 July 1997): this reviewer takes a strong dislike to the ideological intentions of the author and pillories him for a contradictory tendency in his aesthetic, focusing on the unserviceability of the stage directions; ‘it would be a genius of a wardrobe mistress who could realise the description of a character in God’s Locusts, a heave black comedy set during the Irish Potato Famine, who is “dressed like a Victorian version of a modern-day left-wing intellectual”; goes on to comment that ‘Eagleton has a horror of naturalism, which is a weapon of the colonial oppressors [… a] claim made in the introduction: “If, like Wilde, your history has been largely one of colonial disruption, you are less likely to be enamoured of stable representational forms, which are usually, so to speak, on the side of Caesar”. The choice of artist is eccentric, since Wilde wrote possible the most brilliant, traditionally “well-made” comedy in the English language[Earnest]; But Eagleton does not say what “stable representational forms” are […]’; reviewer quizzes the stability of the novel, cinema, painting; quotes Eagleton elsewhere,”Modernism was the period in which theorising itself came to be a poetic act, and works of art came to include quasi-theoretical reflections upon themselves” [n. ref.], and infers Eagleton to mean that ‘Modernism was the revolutionary broom that swept away representational forms”’; concludes that if Eagleton is correct, modernism must have begun no later than Plato; cites stage-directions from Saint Oscar: ‘A Courtroom: slightly surrealist, perhaps, to indicate that the scene is only tenuously realist”; reviewer challenges Eagleton’s terms: ‘surrealism is not tenuous realism’.) ‘Eagleton’s aims are painfully clear from the knockabout scene that follows; cites stage-directions for disappearances, ‘a compromise between an apartment or expensive hotel room in London and some more abstract space without formal entrances”; ‘More problematic is Eagleton’s approach to national identity, the theme at the heart of all his plays’; ‘The themes are the possibility of revolution, and the duality of the expatriate or colonial subject; reviewer dismisses the ‘flashy tics’ of the writing and the ‘sardonic songs peppered throughout’, singling out the ‘wonderfully brutal absurdist comedy’ of the two jailers of Connolly before his execution uniquely for praise, and ends citing Wilde on sincerity: ‘a great deal of it is absolutely fatal.’ (p.19.)

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Rory Brennan, review of Crazy John and the Bishop (1998): enthusiastic appraisal shares anti-bourgeois attitudes of the author but seems disposed to consider the object of the first essay, William Dunkin, an invention of the critic’; remarks on his ‘sprightly-borne learning and an original inquisitorial spirit’. (Books Ireland, 1998).

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Proinsias Ó Drisceoil, review of Crazy Jane and the Bishop , in The Irish Times (21 Oct. 1998): ’[…] blindness to literature in Irish is something shared by Eagleton with many of the historians he attacks here in “Revisionism Revisited”, a polemical essay which claims that “the British can now confidently rely on the Irish themselves to produce the kind of anti-Irish sentiments which they had previously to disseminate themselves”. / He offers the emphasis placed by certain historians on native gombeenism as a cause of the Famine as an instance of such obsequiousness, declaring it a current fashion. If it is a fashion, it is a remarkably persistent one, dating back to William Carleton’s 1847 novel, The Black Prophet, which blamed the Famine of 1845 on “a class of hardened wretches who look forward to a period of dearth as one of great gain and advantage …” Resort to evidence is not a pronounced feature of this particular essay - in contrast, it might be said, to the generally well researched nature of the book - and it is not clear which historians are under attack. However, it is difficult not to conclude that the essay’s central implication is that the Irish are so warped by history as to be incapable of writing any. / He sees what he believes to be the incapacity of Irish liberals to recall the history of Irish nationalism without feelings of unease as symptomatic of “how negatively dependent they remain on a history they believe they have transcended”. The entire essay is populated by neurotic stereotypes, bomb victims, “spiritually mutilated women … emotionally autistic men” and Dublin advertising executives permanently fearful of returning to a life “unemployed and sexually guilt-ridden at the country crossroads” […]’ [See response from Brendan Glacken, infra.]

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Brendan Glacken, ‘The Sisters of Murphy’, news feature in The Irish Times (28 Oct. 1998): ‘ Culture, is it? Reviewing Terry Eagleton’s latest book, Crazy John and the Bishop and Other Essays on Irish Culture, Proinsias Ó Drisceoil says that one entire essay is populated by various neurotic stereotypes including spiritually mutilated women, emotionally autistic men and Dublin advertising executives permanently fearful of returning to a life “unemployed and sexually guilt-ridden at the country crossroads”. / Good man, Terry. It’s time it was said. I run into the same crowd myself all the time and there is no denying they are one sorry lot. […] In an attack on fashionable revisionism, Terry also tells us that “the British can now confidently rely on the Irish themselves to produce the kind of anti-Irish sentiments which they had previously to disseminate themselves”. / High time, too. We have been dependent on others, particularly the Brits, for long enough. Our advertising executives, when they are not cowering in atavistic fear of the unemployed, guilt-ridden country-crossroads fate, are doing sterling work in this area. A new campaign being run in Britain for Murphy’s Stout, for example, has replaced the five-year-old “I’m not bitter” slogan with the new line, “Drink to the sisters of Murphy”, illustrated by a trio of leather-clad dancers. / The British magazine Marketing has completely misunderstood this new approach. “There is a strong possibility”, it sneers, “that Irish heritage is becoming as tired as a flagging Riverdancer.”’

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Gerry Smyth, ‘Irish Studies, Postcolonial Theory and the “New” Essentialism’, in Irish Studies Review, vol. 7, No. 2 [Irish Studies and Postcolonial Theory Issue] (August 1999), pp.211-220: ‘[…] the limitations of Eagleton’s critique of postmodernism are explicit in his own discourse (”all the untold havoc which ethnic stereotyping has wreaked in human affairs”) revealing the dangers to which any move back towards the “authentic” is liable’ (p.216.)

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Kevin Barry, review of Terry Eagleton, Scholars and Rebels in Nineteenth-century Ireland (Blackwell), in Times Literary Supplement (2 June 2000), remarks that the work offers a framework for the understanding of the colonial intelligentsia; contains brief studies of W. E. H. Lecky, George Petrie, W. K. Sullivan, J. P. Mahaffy, William Rowan Hamilton, Robert Kane [‘state intellectual’], Jane Elgee, William Stokes, William Wilde, Goerge Sigerson, Isaac Butt, John Elliott Cairnes and John O’Donovan. Barry notes a multiplicity of errors, loose thinking and clichéd ripostes and suggests that self-parody is an element in the writing. He remarks, ‘Eagleton is wholly persuaded that the direction of Irish history is in its strongest determinations Gaelic, Catholic and Nationalist […] It is no accident, Eagleton assures us, that things on the whole took the shape he claims they did, “no accident” that a Dublin historian should have an admiration for medicine, “no accident” that William Wilde was medical scientist and antiquarian together. In a post-vulgar-Marxist world, discernible patterns still rule, and in Ireland explanations are easily reversible […] No doubt it is also self-parody when Eagleton passes off as fact the fiction that “philosophically speaking, upper classes tend to idealism, whereas middle classed incline to empiricism”. But what are we to make of the reiterated cliché used to account for the writing styles of the Anglo-Irish intelligentsia? We are asked to forget what Eagleton has already told use, that “banking and commerce remained largely in Protestant hands”. A totalising cliché is available, and he is not a writer to waste it. “They also resorted”, he reveals, “to what customary Irish alternative to material wealth, verbal opulence”.’ (p.8.)

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David Lloyd, ‘When cultures clash’, review of The Idea of Culture, in The Irish Times (Sat. 6 May 2000): ‘Terry Eagleton, in his stimulating and very readable The Idea of Culture, dives head-on into this proliferation of meanings and associations that swirls around the word. The very title of the book is a paradox, since what Eagleton reminds us is that there is no one idea of culture. His excellent first chapter traces the history of the word and its many associations, from its roots in agriculture to its emergence in the late 18th century as a term to designate the cultivation, not of beets, but of aesthetic taste. As Eagleton recalls, this tradition of culture was meant to cure us of the painful economic and political divisions of industrial society by opposing fragmentation with an idea of wholeness and spiritual freedom that was truly human. […] Eagleton is passionately committed to retrieving at least some of the universal claims of culture, excoriating the foibles of post-modernity and identity politics which all too often seem to amount to much the same devil. But despite the polemical edge of this manifesto, it is often hard to decipher the definition of culture that he espouses. That’s partly because Eagleton, delighting in ironic mischief, savours so much the vexed dialectic between culture as local and particular and culture as universal, appreciating the moment of truth in each. / At times, especially when he is tilting at identity politics, Eagleton loses his balance and dialectic becomes caricature. […]’ Further, ‘Eagleton is at his most persuasive when he himself espouses what most post-1960s “identity” movements ultimately stand for: a politics of culture that is “inseparable from radical socialist change”. […] In seeking to trim the overweening ambition of much that passes for cultural politics, Eagleton risks missing the rich implications of his own insight. The human body is at once the site of affective identity and cultural difference, and a socialism that demands solidarity while dismissing the intricacies of our desire for difference runs the risk of being as dully homogenising as the capitalism it opposes. [… &c.]’

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Robert Tobin, reviewing of Terry Eagleton, The Gatekeeper: A Memoir (Allen Lane), in The Irish Times (24 Nov. 2001), writes: ‘For if there is one thing The Gatekeeper makes plain, it is that Terry Eagleton hates liberals, or more precisely, middle-class Protestant liberals living in suburbs. He never tires of heaping contempt on those whom he sarcastically refers to as “ideal utopianists” and ‘bright-eyed liberal modernisers”, but as the repetition of hackneyed phrases makes obvious, such people never really exist for him save as symbolic abstractions of his own mind. Indeed, the writing would be a lot better generally had it not been treated so often as a mere packhorse for the author’s many prejudices.’ (p.9.)

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Edna Longley, ‘Ulster Protestants and the Question of “Culture”’, in Last Before America - Irish and American Writing: Essays in Honour of Michael Allen, ed. Fran Brearton & Eamonn Hughes (Belfast: Blackstaff Press 2001): ‘[...] the anthropological definition [of culture] is not universally agreed. Marxist theorists like Terry Eagleton and Francis Mulhern have recently criticised the appeal to “culture”, even in its “multicultural” guise, as a denial of politics whose mystificatory purpose is itself highly political.’ (p.110.) ‘For Eagleton, culture must wait. In the guise of postmoderism, culturalism “licences certainreadings of Irish politics while suppressing others”.’ (p.103; citing Eagleton, Crazy John and the Bishop, Cork UP 1998, p.326.) Quotes Eagleton: ‘the more astute Ulster Unionists have learned to speak the language of multiculturalism’ (p.103; citing The Idea of Culture, Blackwell 2000, p.77.) ‘Whatever else may be going on here, Eagleton and [Bill] Rolston identify the common tendency in Ulster unionism and the British state towards transcendental culture ideology. [...]’ (p.104.)

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Gregory Castle, Modernism and the Celtic Revival (Cambridge UP 2001): ‘As Terry Eagleton has recently argued, Ireland is unique among European nations in that “as a whole [it] has not leapt at a bound from tradition to modernity. [1] Instead, it presented an exemplary case of what Marxism has dubbed combined and uneven development.” (Heathcliff and the Great Hunger: Studies in Irish Culture, London: Verso 1995, p.274.) Following Perry Anderson’s analysis of the relationship between modernity and revolution, Eagleton notes that there are three preconditions for a flourishing modernism: [Quotes: “The existence of an artistic ancien régime … Modernism springs from the estranging impact of modernizing forces on a still deeply traditionalist order [….&c.” (Ibid., p.297); see longer extract in Quotations [supra]. / For Eagleton, the agonistic relationship between the archaic and the modern creates ideal conditions for the emergence of modernism and these conditions exist most dramatically not in the metropolitan center, which lacks the key criteria of “breathtakingly new technologies” and social revolution, but on the colonial and decolonial margins: “the ‘no-time’ and ‘no-place’ of the disregarded colony, with its fractured history and marginalized space, can become suddenly symbolic of a condition of disinheritance which now seems universal.” (Ibid., 298.) Irish modernism, then, while it seeks to accommodate new technologies and revolutionary energies, is at the same time very conservative: “If there is a high modernism, there is little or no avant garde,” and this is so because the Anglo-Irish monopolized modernism by translating political dispossession into cultural production. The deracinating effects of land legislation and an increasingly cynical Liberal party that seemed willing to abandon its client ruling [2] class to its own ineffectuality left the Anglo-Irish feeling acutely their ambivalent position between colonizer and colonized. Eagleton notes that this “in-betweenness” was “a version of the hybrid spirit of the European modernist, caught between diverse cultural codes” and that the Anglo-Irish Revivalists’ recourse to “the celebrated formalism and aestheticism of the modernists” was an effective and defiant “rationalization of their own rootless condition.” (Ibid., p.300.) / Eagleton’s argument that Irish modernism emerged in the estranging contact of modernity with a traditional or archaic culture finds support in a consideration of the role anthropology played in the development of the Celtic Revival’s modernist aesthetic of cultural redemption. This aesthetic is one of the most controversial elements of the Celtic Revival, in part because the anthropological authority behind it renders it internally contradictory, at once complicit with and hostile toward a tradition of representation that sought to redeem Irish peasant culture by idealizing or essentializing its Ccprimitive” social conditions. This is true especially for writers like Yeats and Synge, whose meditations on Irish culture employ theories of cultural difference and discursive techniques and strategies borrowed from, or analogous to those found in, anthropology. […]’ (pp.2-3.)

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Martin McQuillan, ‘Irish Eagleton: of Ontological Imperialism and Colonial Mimicry’, in Irish Studies Review, 10, 1 (April 2002), pp.29-38: ‘If the pressure of deconstruction has brought about a crisis in the boundaries of categorisation for the left, this is matched by the crisis in the textual boundaries of Eagleton’s own discursive practice, in which any clear distinction between the theoretical contents of his fictions and the fictional content of his theory cannot rigorously be policed. When the historical place of Marxism is put into question by deconstruction, Eagleton deconstructs this question by placing history in a novel content. The irresponsibility of fiction emancipates Eagleton from the scientific certainly of his own theory, allowing him to retun Marxism’s privileging of History to the place where it originated […] The place of Ireland in Eagleton is that of a disruptive figure which calls into question the ontological terrors of the West. [&c].’

Christina Patterson talks to Terry Eagleton about love, sex, God - and the global crisis’, Independent [UK] (27 Sept. 2003): quotes, “The Politics of Amnesia” [chap.]: ‘Quietly spoken middle-class students huddle diligently in libraries, at work on sensationalist subjects like vampirism and eye-gouging, cyborgs and porno movies.’ Cast adrift in the stormy currents of postmodernism, they prefer to focus their energy on “the history of pubic hair” or the evolution of Friends, a trend that Eagleton regards as “politically catastrophic”.’ Quizzes Eagleton as former post-modernist guru: ‘Inevitably’, he adds, more convincingly, ‘those ideas grow out of or are developments of ideas that I’ve been involved in. Postmodernism grew out of Marxism and so on, so, to the extent that I’ve been involved in that whole game, I’m responsible. Of course’, he continues, with a huge grin, ‘I would say that I’ve been ill-served by my acolytes.’ Further: ‘History now is such’, he explains, ‘with the political drive from the right, that thinking small isn’t really an option any more … There are different ways of thinking big, or deep’; ‘There my old Roman Catholicism kicks in’, he admits, with disarming honesty. ‘In terms of sensibility, I’ve never really got on with the idea that we’re just raising questions.’ Even more surprising than his penchant for answers is the omnipresence in the book of God, a figure better known in the annals of postmodernism by his conspicuous absence. Eagleton famously chucked in his Catholicism in his early twenties, but he does not write as one who thinks that God is dead. Does he? ‘I think’, he replies with another hearty laugh, ‘you should address that question to the Almighty, who knows far more about that than I do […] For one thing,’ he adds, ‘I am quite appalled by how ignorant secular intellectuals are of theology […] that is to say they tolerate a degree of caricature in that area that they wouldn’t possibly countenance anywhere else […] The second thing, I suppose, is that you never entirely leave Catholicism behind and I don’t see anything wrong with that.’ ‘The genre deeply doesn’t matter,’ says the man who has set his mind to fiction, drama and (hilarious) memoir, as well as lit crit. ’The way of putting that maybe that I’m a creative writer manqué … I write,’ he explains with a smile, ‘until somebody drags me from a box in the cupboard and they have to put boxing gloves on to stop me from doing any more.’ (Independent [online].)

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John Mullan, ‘What Terry did next …’, review of After Theory, in The Guardian ( 29 Nov. 2003): ’[…] He is caught between two attitudes to the academic business. On the one hand, he rather wants to laugh at all those earnest undergraduates (and lecturers) attaching the same arguments about sexual transgression to whatever they are studying. Here he speaks in a voice familiar from his literary journalism, a wry commentator on academic habits. “Students once wrote uncritical, reverential essays on Flaubert, but all that has been transformed. Nowadays they write uncritical, reverential essays on Friends.” He is jokey, roguish, strictly jaundiced. He is still in love with the supposedly comic similes and illustrations that were such an odd part of his style in his memoir The Gatekeeper. […] For there is also Marxist Terry, who sees the duty of intellectuals to be revealing the depredations of capitalism. In this voice he speaks solemnly of the shortcomings of “cultural theory”. We inhabit “a social order which urgently needs repair” and we are told that “theory must be harnessed to practical political ends”. Yet it is not quite clear what he thinks is to be done. How is the study of culture to effect the revolutionary changes he dimly sketches? He talks about “fashioning a world in which the hungry could be fed”, but takes it for granted that this is not something that would ever concern those professionally involved in politics or commerce. He is superciliously dismissive of all politicians. He likes to use the word “democratic” about what he likes, “the whole idea of cultural theory is a democratic one”, and so on. Yet his only word for the state in which we live is “capitalist”.’

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Bill Sweeney, review of Holy Terror, in The Irish Times (17 Sespt. 2005), Weekend: ‘With this new publication, Eagleton offers a short reflection on terror and displays his trademark erudition and originality to signal effect. Terrorism began its political life as a strategy of the state, not of shadowy individuals pitting their guile and muscle against it. Its historic authorship points to Robespierre, not Bin Laden. The term “terrorist” is intended to separate the agent of violence from any coherent set of ideas - exemplified in the west’s refusal to hear any explanation of suicide bombing. It is rather like labelling someone a copulationist, writes Eagleton, in order to rubbish their high-minded justification for everyday fornication. / Here we see Eagleton at his most imaginative, at times poetic, juxtaposing some pithy observations of the contemporary - with psychoanalysis, he tells us “we have moved from the godly to the genital” - with some dense literary analysis and indeed some impenetrable prose to boot. (Writing of medieval images of God, for example, he proclaims: “This paradox of a violent void or abrasive form of nothingness returns in late modernity under the name of the Real. This, to be sure, is the ‘bad’ late-modern or postmodern sublime; the ‘good’ one is to be found in the postmodern celebration of whatever defeats representation.” Yeah, right.) […]’ (See full text, in Library, “Reviews”, infra.)

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Nicholas Grene, review of Sweet Violence, in The Irish Times (26 Oct. 2002), Weekend, p.12: ‘[…] What is striking throughout the book, in fact, given Eagleton’s reputation as a leading leftist cultural critic, is how often the interpretations he offers are Freudian - and Christian - rather than Marxist. If the Freudian Lacan is a major influence throughout, Pascal and St Paul are cited just as respectfully as Benjamin and Bakhtin. Original sin is the theological equivalent to the rooted guilts of the psyche. / There is a tension running through the book as to whether the tragic is to be considered as a universal and irremediable part of the human condition, or a historically grounded and potentially alterable state of things. / Eagleton argues strenuously that his idea of tragedy is compatible with political revolution. The “tragic rhythm of death and regeneration”, he tells us, involves “relinquishing a form of life which is inherently exploitative so that another, more just one may be brought to life”. What remains obscure is just how and when this might happen or how the experience of tragedy might help to bring it about. It cannot be linked directly to socialist revolution for, Eagleton admits, in the wake of the catastrophe of Stalinism, “the most we can muster is a Marxism without a name”. It is in some less politically defined way that the extremity of suffering witnessed in tragedy may augur its opposite: “When humanity reaches its nadir, it becomes a symbol of everything that cries out for transformation, and so a negative image of that renewal.” In this process, the emphasis is on the tragic protagonist as scapegoat or martyr, and the ultimate type of the tragic is the Passion of Christ. […]’ (See full text, infra.)

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Brian Dillon, ‘A master of the metaphor’, review of The Meaning of Life By Terry Eagleton, in The Irish Times (24 March 2007), “Weekend”: ‘much of The Meaning of Life records the history of scepticism regarding the meaning of life. At a pace brisk enough, I imagine, to lose most readers unacquainted with the philosophers in question and annoy those in the know, Eagleton considers Wittgenstein’s dismissal of metaphysical language, Schopenhauer’s positing the willed meaninglessness of the universe, Nietzsche’s post-deistic self-fashioning and the existentialist embrace of the void. He is aphoristically acute on Samuel Beckett’s “meticulous sculpting of sheer vacancy, [ his] crazedly clear-headed attempt to eff the ineffable”, and, when it comes to current offerings in the way of cosmic consolation, bracingly dismissive of new age flummery, liberal individualism and resurgent fundamentalism all alike. / At this point, oddly, The Meaning of Life turns into an entirely different volume: a book with an argument, a point, nothing less than a lesson, in fact. It’s as if Eagleton had first to rehearse a lot of mildly comic stage business before finding the courage for his final soliloquy. The last 30 pages or so advance a polemic that revisits its author’s Marxism and Catholicism. His relation to both may now be somewhat complicated, but the urgency with which Eagleton argues for love, of all (the obvious) things, as the true “meaning” of life, is impressive in its fidelity to his intellectual wellsprings. If our lives have a collective meaning, he concludes, it lies in actions, not states of being or mind: tending the sick, welcoming strangers, sacrificing our own happiness for that of others. […; &c.’] (See full text, infra.)

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Marjorie Perloff, review of Martin Amis, The Second Plane, in Times Literary Supplement (15 Deb. 2008): ‘Amis wants you to know that what he hates is not so much Islam itself as what he takes ot be the West’s excessive tolerance of Islam. / A fine distinction to say the leats, but one meant to counter tose - and there have been many, most notably Terry Eagleton - who have in recent months attacked Amis as racist. In the introduction to the second edtion of his book Ideology (2007), Eagleton calls Amis’s father “a racist, anti-Semitic boor, a drink-sodden, self-hating reviler of women, gays and liberals”, and adds: “Amis fils has clearly learnt more from [his father] than how to turn a shapely phrase.” This insinuation led to brouhaha at the end of last year, in the pages of the Guardian and elsewhere, especially since Eagleton and Amis are now colleagues at the University of Manchester, the former as Professor of Cultural Theory, the latter of Creative Writing. One need not take sides in a nasty war of words - the novelist Elizabeth Jane Hower, Kinglsey Amis’s second wife, called Eagleton an “spitting cobra”, while Eagleton referred to Martin Amis’s talk of the “definite urge” to inflict “suffering” on the Muslim community as “stomach-churning” - to find The Second Plane an off-putting book.’

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Jonathan Rée, ‘Eagleton gives high-performance ideas a quick spin as he surveys the history and philosophy of religion’, review of Culture and Death, in The Guardian (27 Feb. 2014), “”[ending]: ‘Eagleton's well-known verve and cogency are all on display in Culture and the Death of God, but various vices are apparent as well. He seems to have turned himself into the Jeremy Clarkson of philosophy, giving high-performance ideas a quick spin, but making a point of not taking anything very seriously. [...] Eagleton has sometimes been accused of bumptious egotism, but nothing could be further from the truth. If he has a unique selling point, it is his uncanny self-effacement. He is like a puppeteer who puts on a good show but refuses to appear before his audience in person. His books would be very different if he was prepared to let us know what questions really keep him awake at night, and whether he has got any clearer about them as time goes on. In particular, he might have mentioned that the publication of Culture and the Death of God marks the 50th anniversary of his debut as a public intellectual. Terence Eagleton was a leading member of a group of radical Roman Catholics who launched the energetic but short-lived magazine Slant in the spring of 1964. In a series of rousing articles, he argued that Christians could not be true to the “recklessness” of faith unless they committed themselves to revolutionary socialism, and conversely that Marxist materialism was exhausted, and only Christianity could save it. “Christianity,” he explained, is “an extremist belief, extreme and uncompromising in its tolerance and love.” Christians must pledge themselves to “live as potential martyrs”, battling with “philistine capitalism” for the sake of “real culture” – for a “whole society” in which “the Mystical Body may be realised on the shop-floor” and “Christ can live in fact rather than in word.” Eagleton's analysis may have been a little cranky, but it was presented with a guileless honesty that would soon be lost in a flurry of evasive flippancy. Perhaps he should try to get back in touch with his frank and vulnerable old self, 50 years on. Will the real Terry Eagleton please stand up?’ [Available online; accessed 04.03.2014.)

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