Terry Eagleton 1943-
(Full name Terrence Francis Eagleton) English critic, novelist, essayist, nonfiction writer, screenwriter, and playwright.
The following entry presents an overview of Eagleton's career through 1999.
An erudite scholar and influential cultural theorist, Terry Eagleton is widely regarded as the one of the foremost Marxist literary critics on the contemporary academic scene. With the publication of Marxism and Literary Criticism (1976) and Literary Theory (1983), a popular college text, Eagleton won recognition for producing highly informed though accessible works of literary criticism that explore the relationship between literature, history, and society. While Eagleton's Marxist perspective is clearly apparent in his writings, his work also demonstrates a regard for other theoretical approaches such as feminism and psychoanalysis. English by education as well as birth, Eagleton displays a notable concern for the history, politics, and culture of Ireland. By urging critics to move out of the isolation that academia tends to foster, he manifests a desire that criticism be used to promote a more equitable society.
Eagleton was born in Salford, England, where his father worked as an engineer. He attended local schools before studying at Cambridge University, where he received his B.A. in 1964. He earned his Ph.D. at Cambridge in 1968. While at Cambridge, he worked with the critic Raymond Williams, under whose influence he rejected the orthodoxies of New Criticism, a critical approach that treats the literary text as autonomous and unconnected to moral, historical, or political realities. Eagleton served as a fellow in English at Cambridge from 1964 to 1969 until moving to Oxford University. He was married from 1966 to 1976. At Oxford, he became a fellow and tutor in Poetry, a position that he held until 1989, when he became a lecturer in Critical Theory. Eagleton continues to work at Oxford, holding the post of Thomas Warton professor of English and Literature, which he received in 1992.
Eagleton's writings reflect his interest in examining ideologies as they are expressed in literature. The tool with which he prefers to explore ideologies is Marxist literary theory, which takes into account—unlike New Criticism—the relationships that historical, political, and social conditions have to works of literature. Eagleton's theoretical stance, while it has not remained static during his career, is apparent in his first book, The New Left Church (1966). In this work he combines literary criticism, Marxist political analysis, and Catholic theology in an attempt to reconcile Roman Catholicism with socialist humanism. With Shakespeare and Society (1967), he released his first book of criticism on a traditional literary topic. Demonstrating his rejection of New Criticism, Eagleton refuses to regard Shakespeare's work as an autonomous entity; instead, he treats his writings as inseparable from Elizabethan social issues. Investigating the conflict between individualism and social responsibility in Shakespeare's later plays, Eagleton argues that while Shakespeare was actually a political conservative who had an interest in maintaining the contemporary social order, his presentation of individualism and sexual desire undermines the conventional structures of law and marriage. Eagleton revisited this subject in William Shakespeare (1986).
In The Body as Language (1970), Eagleton confronts the human alienation that capitalism creates by advocating cooperation between Christianity and revolutionary socialism. Following this book, the author was not to return to Christian doctrine as a major topic in his writings. Instead, for his next two books Eagleton trained his Marxist theory on specific literary figures. Exiles and Emigrés (1970) examines why so much important twentieth-century English literature has been written by non-English authors such as Joseph Conrad, T. S. Eliot, Henry James, and James Joyce. Myths of Power (1975) looks at the work of the Brontë sisters in light of the emerging industrial class of their time. Eagleton's next work, Marxism and Literary Criticism, exerted a significant impact on the practice of literary criticism. Here Eagleton argues that the artist does not “create” something from nothing, but instead “produces” a work that is determined by historical and ideological conditions. In addition to presenting the concept of the author as producer, Eagleton also considers the relationships between form and content and that of the writer and social commitment. Asserting in Criticism and Ideology (1976) that Marxism is the only methodology free of the ideological bias that other analytical approaches entail, Eagleton maintains that the goal of criticism is to reveal the ideological forces that make up a text. In Walter Benjamin (1981), Eagleton argues that Benjamin's revolutionary criticism has not been given proper attention. He also displays in this work an interest in feminism. In The Rape of Clarissa (1982) Eagleton applied a feminist approach, in addition to Marxist and psychoanalytic theories, to his interpretation of the eighteenth-century novel Clarissa by Samuel Richardson.
Eagleton is perhaps best known for Literary Theory, which has become a popular instructional text among academics. In this work, Eagleton not only surveys such major literary theories as structuralism, semiotics, and phenomenology, but also discusses the historical and ideological conditions behind each theory to demonstrate its limitations as well as its significance. Eagleton also contends that students would benefit from a study of rhetoric, as was practiced from antiquity to the eighteenth century. He also favors a cultural discourse that would eradicate the distinctions between literature and non-literature. In The Function of Criticism (1984), which offers a polemical history of the critical establishment from the eighteenth century to the present, Eagleton attempts to sway criticism away from its preoccupation with literary texts and estrangement from society in the interest of returning it to its traditional involvement in cultural politics. In Saints and Scholars (1987), his only novel to date, Eagleton satirically explores the beginnings of modern European thought. Set in Ireland in 1916, the novel involves Irish revolutionary James Connolly, who has escaped his real-life execution, and his encounters with philosophers Ludwig Wittgenstein and Bertrand Russell; Leopold Bloom, the protagonist of James Joyce's Ulysses; and Mikhail Bakhtin's brother, Marxist literary critic Nikolai. Besides showing how religious, economic, and political forces affected society in the early twentieth century, their conversations serve as a debate of the theoretical and practical limitations of thought and social action.
Eagleton returned to criticism with The Ideology of the Aesthetic (1990), in which he illustrates how social and political forces influence a society's aesthetic conceptualizations. His analysis considers the work of Benjamin, Theodor Adorno, G. W. F. Hegel, Martin Heidegger, Immanuel Kant, and Friedrich Nietzsche to examine how these forces affect the formation of aesthetic thought. In Ideology (1991), Eagleton scrutinizes the concept of ideology itself and its various manifestations, again providing a survey of major theoretical positions and their proponents in the process. In Heathcliff and the Great Hunger (1995), Eagleton proposes that Heathcliff in Emily Brontë's Wuthering Heights was actually a refugee from the great Irish potato famine. In this series of essays, Eagleton confronts what he considers to be a revisionist view of Irish history, one that seeks to diminish the impact of the potato famine and nineteenth-century English politics on the period's writers. Eagleton also addressed issues concerning Irish culture in the essay collection Crazy John and the Bishop (1999). In The Illusions of Postmodernism (1996), Eagleton defends the relevance of Marxist theory against the current preference among critics for postmodernism. He argues that postmodernism, with its view of the world as fragmented and truth as indeterminate, is an inadequate successor to Marxism, which in its critique of capitalism can offer a more concrete moral vision for society.
Even those colleagues who disagree with Eagleton's Marxist position and interpretation of ideology tend to commend his passionate writing. Eagleton has been praised for his humor and wit as well as for demonstrating a graceful style. In his first major work, Marxism and Literary Criticism, Eagleton was hailed not only for his writing technique but for his concise explication of the obtuse theories of European Marxist critics and his provoking treatment of the author as “producer.” He was criticized, however, for a lack of textual examples and for being too self-referential. His second major work, Literary Theory, was similarly lauded by critics for serving as an accessible, comprehensible introduction to its subject. The book was also praised for its consideration of the relationship between literary theories and the ideological conditions in which they arise. On the other hand, many critics rejected his suggestion that literature and literary theory are illusions and that the study of literature be replaced with the study of rhetoric. The Ideology of the Aesthetic and Ideology also elicited considerable critical response, with many commending Eagleton's impressive range and insight into their subjects, and others finding his arguments flawed and merely polemical. His critics notwithstanding, Eagleton remains a prominent literary theorist, one who, having reexamined the tradition of criticism and the role of the critic, has greatly influenced both students and professional academics.
The New Left Church (essays) 1966
Shakespeare and Society: Critical Studies in Shakespearean Drama (criticism) 1967
The Body as Language: Outline of a “New Left” Theology (nonfiction) 1970
Exiles and Emigrés: Studies in Modern Literature (criticism) 1970
Myths of Power: A Marxist Study of the Brontës (criticism) 1975
Criticism and Ideology: A Study of Marxist Literary Theory (criticism) 1976
Marxism and Literary Criticism (criticism) 1976
Walter Benjamin; or, Towards a Revolutionary Criticism (criticism) 1981
The Rape of Clarissa: Writing, Sexuality, and Class Struggle in Samuel Richardson (criticism) 1982
Literary Theory: An Introduction (criticism) 1983
The Function of Criticism: From the Spectator to Post-Structuralism (criticism) 1984
Against the Grain: Selected Essays, 1975-1985 (essays) 1986
William Shakespeare (criticism) 1986
Saints and Scholars (novel) 1987
The Ideology of the Aesthetic (criticism) 1990
Nationalism, Colonialism, and Literature [with Frederic Jameson and Edward W. Said] (criticism) 1990
Saint Oscar (drama) 1990...
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SOURCE: “Phallic Woman,” in New Statesman, September 24, 1982, p. 28.
[In the following review of The Rape of Clarissa, Thurley concludes that the work is “a vigorous and sometimes brilliant book” marred by Eagleton's “dogmatic intensity.”]
We can read Clarissa again, says Terry Eagleton, thanks to feminism and post-structuralism. It is now relevant, he argues [in The Rape of Clarissa], because it dramatises the scandal of rape in patriarchal society and opens up the possibility of a fully feminised social order. Eagleton assumes fixed meanings for masculine and feminine throughout. Women are tender, gentle and considerate (though also narcissistic in a way he approves of); men are brutal, rapacious and domineering.
Aristocracy is treated as historically masculine in contrast to the (feminine) bourgeoisie: bourgeois inwardness and kindness replaced aristocratic militancy in the 18th century. Lovelace is therefore an outdated Restoration rake, brutal and cynical yet also pathetic—an infantile sadist expressing his misogyny ‘in the virulently anti-sexual act of rape’. Real sexuality involves ‘adult relationship’ not only beyond the rapist but quite simply impossible in the patriarchy in which Clarissa and Lovelace live.
Having disposed of all sexual relationships before the age of feminisation (which still hasn't quite arrived),...
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SOURCE: “Skull Caps,” in New Statesman, June 3, 1983, pp. 24-5.
[In the following review, Hawkes offers positive assessment of Literary Theory.]
As much goad as guide, Terry Eagleton's spirited introduction to literary theory [Literary Theory] has the sharp bite that only a trenchant and tough-minded argument can give. It puts an incisive and persuasive case: that in our society the discourses of literary criticism and of politics share a deep mutual involvement, so that to place something as ideologically sensitive as ‘English’ at the centre of a system of mass education implies and invokes relationships of real social power. Hence the urgency, the bitterness and the public interest in recent clashes over ‘structuralism’, ‘deconstruction’ and the like. At stake is not merely ‘English’, but the mysterious quality of Englishness: civilisation as we know it.
Eagleton puts his own cards firmly on the table and deals innocence out of the game. If criticism involves the continuation of politics by other means, there can be no criticism ‘itself’. The even-handedness and neutrality beloved of examination boards exists only as a series of contrived stances or tricks of style masking a variety of prejudices. The most fundamental of these naturally sees theory as a foreign, intrusive body sullying the pure encounter between reader and text. But that pristine...
(The entire section is 874 words.)
SOURCE: “Does Literature Exist?,” in Nation, January 21, 1984, pp. 59-60.
[In the following review, Davis offers positive evaluation of Literary Theory, though is skeptical of Eagleton's Marxist ideology and devaluation of literature in favor of other mediums of representation.]
Terry Eagleton's new book is a concise guide to the most interesting and mystifying trends in the study of literature over the last fifty years. Judging from Literary Theory's positive reception in Britain and now America, it answers a need—and answers it well. But as I read along, I kept imagining a TV ad: “Can't decide between hermeneutical and structural approaches to literature? Embarrassed at parties by your faulty knowledge of deconstructionist or Marxist criticism? Let Terry Eagleton help you through with his handy patent-pending guide to the wonderful world of literary criticism.” It is a strange moment in late capitalism when a Marxist guide to literary criticism seems as necessary to middle-class life as a Sony Walkman and an I.B.M. personal computer.
One might point out as a caveat to the general public that Eagleton's history of literary theory is not a disinterested one. As a Marxist, he has axes to grind along with the wares he displays. Rather than presenting a traditional literary history, he begins with the striking and contestable notion that there is no such thing as...
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SOURCE: “Miscellaneous,” in Modern Fiction Studies, Vol. 30, No. 2, Summer, 1984, pp. 399-403.
[In the following excerpted review essay, Kellman offers tempered assessment of Literary Theory, concluding that it should be read with a “blend of enthusiasm and wariness.”]
Although it mentions neither Wellek nor Warren, Literary Theory: An Introduction seems to aspire to be the Theory of Literature for a poststructuralist world, a more overtly partisan examination of the most influential schools of literary theory in recent decades. A Marxist with wit, Terry Eagleton is magisterial in his deployment of a wide range of ideas, but rarely dispassionate. However, after patient scrutiny of the writings of numerous contemporary critics, Eagleton confesses that he has not come to praise theory but to bury it. He rejects the claim that literary theory is a coherent discipline:
It is an illusion first in the sense that literary theory, as I hope to have shown, is really no more than a branch of social ideologies, utterly without any unity or identity which would adequately distinguish it from philosophy, linguistics, psychology, cultural and sociological thought; and secondly in the sense that the one hope it has of distinguishing itself—clinging to an object named literature—is misplaced.
Literary study becomes...
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SOURCE: A review of The Function of Criticism, in New Statesman, October 5, 1984, p. 33.
[In the following review, Montrose offers positive assessment of The Function of Criticism, though notes its similarity to his earlier work on Walter Benjamin.]
Terry Eagleton's essay [The Function of Criticism] seeks to ‘recall criticism to its traditional role’—engagement in cultural politics—from what he considers a position of crisis, where it is narrowly preoccupied with literary texts and estranged from social life through confinement to Academe and ‘the literary industry’ (public relations branch). Central to his argument is Jürgen Habermas's notion of ‘the public sphere’: an arena which facilitates free and equal discourse, among individuals, on cultural questions. Eagleton's starting-point is early 18th-century England, where the coffee houses and clubs and such periodicals as Steele's Tatler and Addison's Spectator comprised a ‘bourgeois public sphere’ which sustained cultural consensus. That sphere's gradual disintegration by economic and political factors is subsequently charted in a brief (and confessedly selective) history of criticism in England.
The Victorian ‘academicization of criticism’ marked its demise as ‘a socially active force’. Later, Scrutiny represented an attempt to reinvent the classic public sphere:...
(The entire section is 349 words.)
SOURCE: “Having Their Way with Will,” in New Statesman, March 21, 1986, pp. 26-7.
[In the following review, Rissik offers negative assessment of William Shakespeare.]
In her slim critical book [Shakespeare], Germaine Greer writes, ‘The public duty of the playwright was to bring the caviare of his angelic intellectual exercise within the grasp of those savage hordes, who were quite capable of disrupting performances they could not follow.’ In his study [William Shakespeare], Terry Eagleton, who is Tutor and Fellow in English at Wadham College, Oxford, tells us that ‘it is difficult to read Shakespeare without feeling that he was almost certainly familiar with the writing of Hegel, Marx, Nietzsche, Freud, Wittgenstein and Derrida.’
Such fatuous tributes as these are, of course, only the most recent manifestations of a prevailing critical tendency to regard Shakespeare not as mere poet or dramatist but as God: all-knowing, all-wise and all-embracing. According to the unstoppable supply of critical books which pour yearly from the presses, Shakespeare had Christ's ability to read the human heart, Walt Disney's enchanting verve as a popular entertainer and Aristotle's pre-occupying High Seriousness. Although specific minor critics have specific minor criticisms, in each case the burden of the argument is the same. Shakespeare outdistanced and out-achieved everyone...
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SOURCE: “Recent Studies in Elizabethan and Jacobean Drama,” in Studies in English Literature, 1500-1900, Vol. 27, No. 2, Spring, 1987, pp. 321-79.
[In the following excerpted review essay, Howard offers unfavorable assessment of William Shakespeare, which, she concludes, “is a book that overreaches itself.”]
The crassly pragmatic purpose of an SEL review is—ugly phrase—“information management.” Publication proceeds at such a pace that no one can possibly absorb even a fraction of what is printed on Renaissance drama in a given year. An omnibus review such as this, published soon after the books themselves are published, supposedly gives overextended scholars some basis for deciding which of these scholarly and critical texts they will actually read. Consequently, I have in part proceeded as if I were simply composing an annotated bibliography, and to some extent that seems not a misrecognition of the nature of the task. On the other hand, description is not enough, and reading all these texts ideally puts one in the position to make larger statements about the state of criticism and scholarship in the field of Renaissance drama and to identify and evaluate those books that emerge from the pack as unusually provocative, ambitious, or significant. I have tried to do as much evaluating and sense-making as I could, though I am very aware of how little of that I have been able to...
(The entire section is 1072 words.)
SOURCE: “After the Revolution: Eagleton on Aesthetics,” in Contemporary Literature, Vol. XXXII, No. 4, Winter, 1991, pp. 573-79.
[In the following review of The Ideology of the Aesthetic, Sprinker discusses Eagleton's aesthetic perspective in light of Hegelian philosophy, and finds contradictions in the political aspects of Eagleton's conclusions.]
Having been a reasonably diligent observer of Terry Eagleton's career since the mid 1970s, I remain of two minds about the body of work that has poured forth since Criticism and Ideology—in my view, his most original and significant contribution to literary theory. On the one hand, I greatly admire (perhaps even envy a bit) his facility as a writer—not merely the speed with which he is able to compose provocative and important studies as various and wide-ranging as his books on Walter Benjamin, the history of English criticism, and Samuel Richardson's Clarissa; his still-unsurpassed introduction to contemporary literary theory; and now his long meditation on the history of European aesthetics, but also the clarity he achieves in commenting on and (often enough) taking to task both Marxist and bourgeois theories. Eagleton is, in fine, a superior stylist and a gifted expositor of complex texts. On the other hand, I have consistently been suspicious of the very elegance and cleverness of his books, their literary grace setting off...
(The entire section is 2583 words.)
SOURCE: A review of The Ideology of the Aesthetic, in British Journal of Aesthetics,Vol. 31, No. 2, April, 1991, pp. 169-71.
[In the following review, Lyas offers positive evaluation of The Ideology of the Aesthetic, though finds fault in its omission of several key philosophers and Eagleton's conclusion.]
[The Ideology of the Aesthetic], despite qualifications to which I will come, is one of the best reads in philosophy that I have had for many a long year. I turned to it, somewhat co-incidentally, after yet another of my periodic grazings in the fertile meadows of two works which illuminate many of the issues discussed by Eagleton, Bernard Williams's Ethics and the Limits of Philosophy and Roy Edgley's Reason in Theory and Practice. The effect was not unlike turning from The Golden Bowl to The Old Curiosity Shop. For this is a rumbustious, heart-in-the-right-place, cascade of a book. Read with due tolerance, a comment to which I shall return, it has the power to give pleasure and instruction, even if, in the end, one discovers the journey to have been more exciting than the destination.
Comparisons with fiction are not entirely unapt. On p. 196 the writer begins a chapter: ‘The narrative so far …’. I do not think that Eagleton wishes to use the term ‘narrative’ in the sense in which it is used by many theorists who...
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SOURCE: “Dialectic Without Detail,” in Times Literary Supplement, June 28, 1991, pp. 6-7.
[In the following review, Griffiths offers unfavorable assessment of Ideology.]
Though generally admiring William Empson's work, Terry Eagleton regretted that “it lacks … almost any concept of ideology”. This is not strictly true: a formulation such as “language is essentially a social product, and much concerned with social relations, but we tend to hide this in our forms of speech so as to appear to utter impersonal truths” (The Structure of Complex Words) states clearly one classic account of ideological function. But you see what Professor-Elect Eagleton means: Empson makes his point unsystematically, as a general observation about human behaviour rather than as something determined by particular sociopolitical circumstance. When Empson says of the early eighteenth century in England, “There was the feeling that the unity of society had become somehow fishy”, he sounds more jokey than a Marxist would allow himself to be about the matter, though his claim is one which a Marxist too might wish to make. The question, then, is whether, lacking a concept of ideology, Empson lacks anything worth regretting. What does “ideology” help us understand which would otherwise baffle us?
Eagleton has been devoted to the word for a good fifteen years, since Criticism and...
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SOURCE: A review of The Ideology of the Aesthetic, in Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism, Vol. 49, No. 3, Summer, 1991, pp. 259-61.
[In the following review of The Ideology of the Aesthetic, Schusterman praises Eagleton's insight and rhetorical turns, though finds shortcomings in the book's omissions and contradictory assertions.]
The past decade of Anglo-American intellectual history has witnessed literary theory's undeniable emergence as the most influential, ambitious, and institutionally powerful genre of theoretical discourse in the humanities. The fact that it now prefers to call itself simply “theory,” as if to encompass and exhaust the entire theoretical realm, is testimony to its ambition. But it also testifies, I believe, to a covert but nagging discomfort with its narrowly literary past, its institutional provenance in the Anglo-American world as a theoretical practice based in departments of English and foreign literature, dominated (if not originally formulated) by “language teachers” rather than so-called professional philosophers, who have traditionally held the honor of being Western culture's grand theorists. In its attempt both to escape its literary past and to avoid and outflank its closest neighbor and rival in Anglo-American philosophy departments, literary theory took care to distinguish itself sharply from the field of aesthetics, aligning itself instead...
(The entire section is 1935 words.)
SOURCE: A review of The Ideology of the Aesthetic, in Modern Language Review, Vol. 86, Pt. 3, July, 1991, pp. 653-54.
[In the following review, Wright offers positive assessment of The Ideology of the Aesthetic.]
What R. H. Tawney did for religion, Arnold Hauser for art history, Adorno for music, and Raymond Williams for literature, Terry Eagleton has done for aesthetics: namely, to uncover the ideological motivation that ideology itself exists to conceal. In spite of a modest disavowal he comes challengingly close to doing the same for philosophy. In the favoured definitions, self-confirming premises, chosen controversies, chosen opponents, bland ignorances, and shared assumptions of what is to be banally true, he charts a new map for aesthetic theory from Baumgarten to the postmoderns. It is part of Professor Eagleton's originality to realize that this is a demystification that has been imperative for some time. As one reads it, one has the refreshing feeling of at last having an illusion exorcised. In rending the ideological fabric, he brings into salience philosophical questions of the place of the aesthetic in the bases of culture and society, indeed, showing it to be essentially imbricated in knowledge and language, and, moreover, in ideology itself. Answering these questions is not part of his brief, but it is evidence of radical success that such questions have to be put.
(The entire section is 700 words.)
SOURCE: “In the Defiles of Analogy,” in Art History, Vol. 14, No. 4, December, 1991, pp. 620-24.
[In the following review, Lloyd offers unfavorable evaluation of The Ideology of the Aesthetic, though credits Eagleton's elucidation of the work of other major theorists.]
At the time of writing, it is already clear enough to casual observation that Eagleton's Ideology of the Aesthetic has become something of an academic best seller. Accordingly, the usual concerns of an advance review give way here in this rather belated account to an assessment of the work's achievement, made all the more demanding by virtue of the book's wide circulation and probable influence. Fredric Jameson's comment on the cover, ‘That contemporary theory would eventually turn back to consider its origins in the contradictions of philosophical aesthetics was predictable’, is certainly true, and marks the necessity of such a project. It must be said, of course, that such a project has been undertaken over a long period already in Germany, in the wake of both the Frankfurt School and Habermas, and in the work of the Budapest School, though Eagleton makes no acknowledgement of either corpus.1 Nonetheless, the appearance of such work in English is much to be desired, especially at a moment when, in the face of cultural studies and multi-cultural transformations of curricula and institutions, the Right is...
(The entire section is 3274 words.)
SOURCE: “Eagleton on Ideology: Six Types of Ambiguity,” in University of Toronto Quarterly, Vol. 61, No. 2, Winter, 1991-92, pp. 280-88.
[In the following review of Ideology, Henderson offers analysis of Eagleton's philosophical perspective and critical approach to the delineation of ideology. While citing many shortcomings and contradictions in the work, Henderson writes, “Eagleton's negotiation of this dense and difficult terrain is masterful.”]
‘Ideology’ is such a charged and vexed term that many people, taking in hand a volume about this topic, might well be tempted to follow Hume's famous advice. ‘Does it contain any abstract reasoning concerning fact or number? Does it contain experimental reasoning concerning matter of fact and existence? No. Commit it then to the flames: for it can contain but sophistry and illusion.’ Nevertheless, pronouncements about the end of ideology are surely premature, and however enticing the prospects of committing it to the flames might be, this richly ambiguous term can still do useful conceptual work, as Eagleton's thought-provoking book [Ideology] amply and cogently demonstrates. Moreover, in this post-Nietzschean world, experimental reasoning concerning matter of fact and existence is itself likely to be labelled sophistry and illusion, matters of fact being, as everyone knows, matters of interpretation. Indeed, the place where...
(The entire section is 4585 words.)
SOURCE: “The Ideology of the Aesthetic,” in New Left Review, No. 192, March-April, 1992, pp. 120-32.
[In the following review, Soper examines the development of Eagleton's theoretical analysis and socialist perspective in The Ideology of the Aesthetic, drawing attention to the “tensions, ambivalences, irresolutions, in Eagleton's book.”]
In Ingmar Bergman's film of The Magic Flute, the camera, throughout the overture, traverses the faces of an audience divided by age, sex, ethnicity and style, but united in its common rapture. It is a compelling image of the power of the ‘aesthetic’ to realize—despite everything that tends to human dispersion—an instance of humanist fusion; an instance, moreover, that seems all the more exalted because it depends on nothing but mutual inspiration, and all the more precious because of its fragile spontaneity. This audience, in its wordless communion, surely captures something of what Kant had in mind when he presented the aesthetic as the site of a reciprocity of feeling and intersubjectivity denied us in our rational or moral or purely sensual dealings with others. Yet it may also, one feels, capture rather more than Kant intended. For, separated though it may be in terms of years or nationality or personal comportment, there is one aspect in which this audience appears more homogeneous: it is undoubtedly essentially bourgeois. Perhaps we...
(The entire section is 6675 words.)
SOURCE: A review of Ideology, in Southern Humanities Review, Vol. XXVII, No. 2, Spring, 1993, pp. 166-69.
[In the following review, McGowan offers positive evaluation of Ideology, though notes that some of Eagleton's arguments are undermined by equivocation.]
Terry Eagleton has written a remarkable book. To enter the swamps of theorizing about ideology and to shed light invariably on every dense obscurity examined is work that calls to mind the lonely and noble labors of Spenserian and Tennysonian knights. No doubt we view such knightly endeavors with suspicion today, sensitive not only to the quixotic nature of quests for lucidity, but also to the self-aggrandizement and incipient elitism of those aiming to assume the mantle of heroic virtue. Eagleton's book is alternately embarrassed by and defiant about its determination to bring light to the benighted, but let me describe what he does before I ponder the puzzles of the tone in which he does it.
Eagleton begins by asserting that the notion of ideology is in crisis. He even claims that the dominant trend is to jettison the term altogether. Here he is mistaken. If anything, the concept of ideology is more prevalent than ever as the left's attention in recent years has swung almost entirely to issues of culture and social reproduction from earlier emphases on economic inequalities and matters of political organization. But...
(The entire section is 1715 words.)
SOURCE: “The Critic as Novelist,” in Wilson Quarterly, Vol. XVIII, No. 1, Winter, 1994, pp. 116-24.
[In the following excerpt, Levenson examines the motivation among literary theorists, including Eagleton, to write fiction and offers discussion of Eagleton's novel Saints and Scholars.]
Misleading to call it a movement, and still worse to think of it as a program, but we now have seen enough minor literary eruptions to suspect that it is a cultural symptom that bears some reflection: this burst of novel-writing from people who have lived the conceptual life, the life of method and argument, who often carry leather cases, or who give public lectures and contribute essays to learned journals. In the past five years, some of the world's leading literary critics have turned novelists, and at the same time turned from the coterie audience gathered in the universities to the wider public made up of anyone who wants to read. Why do they do it? What do they want? Are they merely slumming in the bad streets of the imagination? Or are these just new cases of a few gifted people who always hoped to grow up to be novelists and decided to act before it was too late?
Literary critics are not alone in suddenly feeling the charm of novel-writing; it happens to historians and journalists, among others. But I intend to give reasons for taking the literary academic drift of the tide with special...
(The entire section is 2645 words.)
SOURCE: “The Persistence of Idealism,” in Philosophy of the Social Sciences, Vol. 24, No. 1, March, 1994, pp. 84-92.
[In the following review, Hogan offer positive evaluation of Ideology, though cites shortcomings in Eagleton's “idealist epistemology.”]
Ideology: An Introduction presents a conceptual and historical overview of the notion of ideology from the Enlightenment through “post-Marxism.” It is lucid, informative, engaging, and well-argued. Although aimed at non-expert readers broadly familiar with debates in critical theory, it may be read productively by anyone from an advanced undergraduate to a specialist in political criticism. It works particularly well in a graduate Introduction to Literary Theory seminar, as I know from just having used it. Eagleton's discussions of such writers as Habermas, Gramsci, and Bourdieu help students to think about ideology more deeply and articulately, while his criticisms of current poststructural views encourage students to evaluate theories of ideology more critically and more practically.
The first two chapters present a clear statement of the nature and varieties of ideology. These chapters are particularly valuable because they situate the problem of ideology squarely within the realm of real politics. When confronted with a fashionable philosophical claim about politics, Eagleton asks, what does this mean in the...
(The entire section is 4346 words.)
SOURCE: A review of Ideology, in Comparative Literature, Vol. 46, No. 4, Fall, 1994, pp. 390-93.
[In the following review, Norris offers positive evaluation of Ideology.]
This book finds Eagleton returning once again to a topic that has often preoccupied his thinking, from the high Althusserian rigor of Criticism and Ideology (1976) to his recent major work on the history of aesthetics as a surrogate form of ideological discourse. Not that he is merely recycling old ideas in a different polemical context. On the contrary, Eagleton's analysis has deepened and evolved over the years through exposure to the various contending schools of post-Althusserian theory. Some of these arguments he has taken on board, albeit with a growing measure of critical reserve. Others he has berated—not without reason—as philosophically incoherent, politically bankrupt, or irrelevant to the practical Marxist interest in grasping and transforming our conditions of life in the late twentieth-century Western liberal pseudo-democracies. Certainly Eagleton has taken full stock of those challenges to the Althusserian paradigm that have come from so many quarters of late (poststructuralist, postmodernist, neopragmatist, anti-foundationalist, etc.), and whose effect has been to generate a widespread suspicion of any such “discourse” ultimately wedded to the concepts and categories of Marxist...
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SOURCE: “The Eternal Rocks Beneath,” in Spectator, May 27, 1995, pp. 43-4.
[In the following review, Craig offers positive evaluation of Heathcliff and the Great Hunger.]
Terry Eagleton's cast of mind is erudite and ingenious, and his ingenuity is nowhere more in evidence than in the opening essay of this collection. Heathcliff and the Great Hunger superimposes an allegory of Irishness, in the person of Heathcliff himself, over the narrative of Wuthering Heights: this intractable Brontë character, Eagleton says, ‘starts out as an image of the famished Irish immigrant, becomes a landless labourer set to work in the Heights, and ends up as a symbol of the constitutional nationalism of the Irish Parliamentary Party’. Before the audacity of this pronouncement can take our breath away—so that's what Emily Brontë had in mind, and we never knew—he goes on to make out quite a good case for this eccentric reading (‘The hunger in Wuthering Heights is called Heathcliff …’).
Where the facts don't fit the hypothesis, he simply acknowledges the discrepancy and carries on regardless; pointing it out himself before someone else can do so. For example, he mentions Branwell Brontë's visit to Liverpool in 1845, and surmises that he might have encountered an Irish urchin there and passed on the information to his sister. But Eagleton is making a point about the...
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SOURCE: “Spud Bashing,” in New Statesman and Society, June 16, 1995, pp. 37, 39.
[In the following review, Morgan offers unfavorable assessment of Heathcliff and the Great Hunger.]
Terry Eagleton is a professor of English at Oxford; Roy Foster the professor of Irish history there. Last year, Eagleton launched a violent attack on his colleague, accusing Foster, and Irish historians, of revisionism. There was also a pre-emptive strike against Foster's current project, the biography of W. B. Yeats. Eagleton accused him of raiding literature in a “reductive” manner, “paying only passing attention to the politics and poetics of form”.
Now, with Heathcliff and the Great Hunger, Eagleton has continued the offensive with his great coat-trailing work on Irish history. At once the application of cultural theory to Ireland, and the insertion of Irish history into literary criticism, this set of essays intersperses slabs of impressionistic analysis of Victorian Ireland with studies of particular writers. The lead chapter, ripped from any context to catch the 150th anniversary of the famine (“a low-level nuclear attack”), is typical Eagletonism.
Heathcliff, he reveals, was an Irish famine victim—ever if Earnshaw's discovery in Liverpool might have been a gypsy or a Creole or something else, and Emily Brontë began Wuthering Heights before the potato...
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SOURCE: “I Am Not Heathcliff,” in New Republic, August 21-28, 1995, pp. 42-5.
[In the following review, Donoghue provides summary and tempered analysis of Heathcliff and the Great Hunger.]
“The British don't believe Ireland is real; they just drop their fantasies here.” In a wild romance called Saints and Scholars, which appeared in 1987, Terry Eagleton ascribed that assertion to James Connolly, one of the leaders of the Easter Rising, 1916. It is also the main idea of Eagleton's new book.
In his very professorial novel, Eagleton developed the conceit that Connolly, Commandant-General of the Irish Volunteers and the Irish Citizen Army, was not executed on May 12, 1916 for his part in the Easter Rising. Instead, he escaped from Dublin and lit out for Connemara. There he took refuge in a cottage which happened to be occupied by the philosopher Wittgenstein and his friend Nikolai Bakhtin, brother of the literary scholar Mikhail Bakhtin. Waiting for reinforcements, Connolly diverted himself from the pain of a gunshot wound by engaging these foreign gentlemen in high discussion of war, symbolism, language, martyrdom and the rhetorical success of failure.
Bakhtin, sodden with drink, says of the soldiers killing one another in France: “If there are bodies in torment there are bodies in ecstasy.” Wittgenstein, having remarkably little to say for himself,...
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SOURCE: “Reading Irish Culture,” in Novel: A Forum on Fiction, Vol. 29, No. 2, Winter, 1996, pp. 248-49.
[In the following review, Daly offers positive assessment of Heathcliff and the Great Hunger.]
In his “Introduction” to The Ideology of the Aesthetic (1990), Terry Eagleton mentions that he had originally conceived of that work “as a kind of doubled text, in which an account of European aesthetic theory would be coupled at every point to a consideration of the literary culture of Ireland.” The daunting potential size of such a work led to his decision to “reserve [it] either for a patented board game, in which players would be awarded points for producing the most fanciful possible connections between European philosophers and Irish writers, or for some future study.” Regretfully, the board game has never appeared, but Heathcliff and the Great Hunger would appear to be that “future study.” The essays range from the title piece, an interesting attempt to read Wuthering Heights in the context of the Irish famine of the 1840s, to an appreciation of the 18th-century Irish philosopher, Francis Hutcheson, to a discussion of the traces of Lamarckian thought in the writings of Oscar Wilde and G. B. Shaw. The vestiges of the earlier work are visible in the recurrent attempts to trace the peculiar modalities that the aesthetics of politics and the politics of the...
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SOURCE: A review of Ideology, in Notes and Queries, Vol. 43, No. 1, March, 1996, pp. 119-21.
[In the following excerpted review, Cooper offers tempered analysis of Ideology, which he contrasts with Leonard Jackson's The Dematerialisation of Karl Marx.]
Eagleton and [Leonard] Jackson have produced two books that it is tempting to read as symptomatic of the state of Marxist literary theory in the 1990s at a time when ‘world Communism has collapsed’, (Jackson). Eagleton's anthology of extracts from eighteen writers [Ideology] takes its title from the claim that ideology is indeed the major concern of twentieth-century Marxist and Post-Marxist theory; for Jackson, on the other hand, Eagleton is classed as a bogeyman of English departments for precisely the reason that he and other ‘Althusserians’ have shifted attention away from the economic materialism of Marx's original writings, and have thereby ‘dematerialised’ not only Marx and Engels but the whole study of literature. The prospect of a lively debate between these two antithetical positions is rather dampened by the sense that both representatives have somehow lost their way. It is hard not to read Eagleton's selection of theorists as a mirror of his own development in the last two decades—perhaps an unfair assumption, but one which nevertheless underlines the reader's feeling that the penultimate section of his...
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SOURCE: A review of Heathcliff and the Great Hunger, in Modern Language Quarterly,Vol. 58, No. 1, March, 1997, pp. 114-18.
[In the following review, Trumpener offers positive assessment of Heathcliff and the Great Hunger and comments on the book's critical reception.]
Over the last twenty years groundbreaking books by British, Irish, and American academics have shaped a new field of Irish literary and cultural studies. A series of monographic studies in the tradition of Daniel Corkery's Synge and Anglo Irish Literature (1931) have used the oeuvres and careers of particular authors to show how Ireland's social conditions and political tensions molded Anglo-Irish consciousness and literature, from Swift's counter-Augustan aesthetic to a peculiarly Anglo-Irish mode of gothic.1 And a series of ambitious historical overviews, essay collections, and anthologies have explored the status of Ireland as an exemplary or prototypical British colony, the continuities and discontinuities of Anglo-Irish culture, and the shifting relationship between English-language and Gaelic literatures.2 Terry Eagleton's latest book builds on this stimulating body of work and moves the discussion to a new level of analytic sophistication.
In overlapping essays on Irish political, cultural, and literary history, Heathcliff and the Great Hunger ranges from the Irish...
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SOURCE: “Tickling the Starving,” in Times Literary Supplement, March 28, 1997, p. 25.
[In the following review, Pindar offers unfavorable assessment of The Illusions of Postmodernism.]
“Speaking as a hierarchical, essentialistic, teleological, metahistorical, universalist humanist, I imagine I have some explaining to do.” Terry Eagleton begins and ends his latest book, The Illusions of Postmodernism, at a disadvantage to which he readily admits. Put at its crudest, postmodernism is in, hip, trendy, sexy. Marxism—or what he now prefers to call socialism—is not.
If his broad-brush approach to one of the most elusive movements of modern times appears unsatisfactory it is as well to remember that his target is not postmodernism proper but “what a particular kind of student today is likely to believe”. His own students—“too young to recall a mass radical politics”—have unthinkingly succumbed to a fashionable postmodern “sensibility”. It is understandable that a vigorous thinker who has spent most of his career espousing the cause of radical Marxism should feel that it is the time, rather than himself, that is out of joint. This book is less a critique than an exercise in retaliatory caricature. In Eagleton's hands, though, this is a strength, not a weakness, and The Illusions of Postmodernism makes entertaining reading.
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SOURCE: “The Illusions of Postmodernism,” in Monthly Review, Vol. 49, No. 5, October, 1997, pp. 58-61.
[In the following review, Mooers offers positive assessment of The Illusions of Postmodernism.]
A grammatically-correct friend explained to me recently that when terms like “Post-Modernism” are written as “Postmodernism” it represents the linguistic equivalent of coming of age. Which, like so many apparently momentous passages in life, may be full of sound and fury, but in the end signify very little. Nevertheless, as Terry Eagleton points out in the preface to this very clever and readable book, “Part of the power of postmodernism is that it exists, whereas how true this is of socialism these days is rather more debateable. Pace Hegel, it would seem at present that what is real is irrational, and what is rational is unreal.”
The Illusions of Postmodernism sets out to challenge not so much the heavy hitters of the postmodernist canon but the “sensibility of postmodernism” which has seeped down to become part of the intellectual “common sense” of many young (and not-so-young) people, especially if they have come within a stones throw of a university classroom in the past ten years. As Eagleton explains, “Postmodernism is a style of thought which is suspicious of classical notions of truth, reason, identity, and objectivity, of the idea of...
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SOURCE: “Bogged Down,” in Times Literary Supplement, July 23, 1999, p. 30.
[In the following review, Maddox offers unfavorable assessment of Crazy John and the Bishop.]
This combative book [Crazy John and the Bishop] is aimed at unnamed foes. In the small world of Irish Studies, they presumably know who they are. The innocent reader can only guess.
What the enemies are guilty of is less obscure. Terry Eagleton, Warton Professor of English Literature at Oxford, dislikes postmodernism and revisionism applied to Irish culture. He wants the philosophy, poetry and prose written on what he calls “the wrong side of St George's Channel” to be read in the social and historical context of Ireland's religion and education, not in terms of signifiers and post-colonial utterance.
He despises the tweezering out of the great names, such as Joyce, Yeats and Beckett, for world literature, as if the lesser lights of Irish writing were not as important to the national tradition as they are to England's. And he has no patience with the brisk, revisionist, or cock-up, school of historians of Ireland who argue that the Great Famine and the Easter Rising have been romanticized and overwritten. Holding up examples of caring landlords and inefficient revolutionaries is an attempt, he argues, to deprive these events of their symbolic importance in the Irish drive for...
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Alter, Robert. “The Decline and Fall of Literary Criticism.” Commentary 77, No. 3 (March 1984): 50-6.
A negative review of Literary Theory, which Alter cites as an example of the wayward and irrelevant critical concerns of poststructuralist and Marxist literary theorists.
Lord, Timothy C. “A Paradigm Case of Polemical History: Terry Eagleton's The Ideology of the Aesthetic.” Clio: A Journal of Literature, History, and the Philosophy of History 22, No. 4 (Summer 1993): 337-56.
Delineates and analyzes the characteristics of “polemical history” through the example of Eagleton's The Ideology of the Aesthetic.
Additional coverage of Eagleton's life and career is contained in the following sources published by the Gale Group: Contemporary Authors, Vols. 57-60; Contemporary Authors New Revision Series, Vols. 7, 23, 68; and Major 20th-Century Writers, Editions 1, 2.
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