What is Terry Eagleton's view on Colonialism & Emergence of English Especially as an academic subject?What is Terry Eagleton's view on Colonialism & Emergence of English Especially as an...

What is Terry Eagleton's view on Colonialism & Emergence of English Especially as an academic subject?

What is Terry Eagleton's view on Colonialism & Emergence of English Especially as an academic subject?

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Karen P.L. Hardison | College Teacher | eNotes Employee

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In Literary Theory: an Introduction, when author Terry Eagleton talks about The Rise of English (see pg 22-24), he means the rise of teaching English literature as an academic subject (not the rise of the English language in colonial environments). English Universities were still teaching the literary Classics, being Greek and Latin literature. Colleges for the male working class, called Mechanics’ Institutes, began, under the aegis of proponents like F.D. Maurice and Charles Kingsley (23), to teach English novels as a way of delivering what Eagleton calls a “poor man’s Classics” education that had, per Maurice’s and Kingley’s theory, a serious social objective. This objective was, as Eagleton describes it, to instill (1) solidarity between social classes (as opposed to class divisiveness and notable distinction due to differences in deportment); (2) the development of “larger sympathies,” which would be for ideas outside their own immediate life experience; (3) the growth of national pride and the “transmission of ‘moral values’.”

Eagleton also contends that pre-19th century English literature espoused “timeless truths, thus distracting the masses from their immediate commitments, nurturing in them a spirit of tolerance and generosity” with the narrow aim of “ensuring the survival of private property” [bear in mind that Eagleton writes Marxist literary criticism]. Nineteenth century literature, according to Eagleton, abandoned the concept of timelessness in literature and emphasized personal feeling and experience and ideological dogmas. Pre-19th century writers’ beliefs, he contends, were “reasoned positions rather than ideological dogmas.” Nineteenth century literature, on the other hand, became a platform for explicating ideological dogma and the feelings of experience, eventually becoming exclusively emotive rather than analytical (moving from personal moral value to social moral value) (22). (Eagleton’s example (23) for this concept of a shift from analytical to emotive is: “the truth or falsity of beliefs such as that blacks are inferior to whites is less important [to those following after Dante, Milton and Pope] than what it feels like to experience them.”)

Eagleton ties the introduction of English (literature) as an academic subject to another shift, an “historic shift in the very meaning of the term ‘moral’,” that took the meaning of moral away from a “code or explicit ethical system” to a meaning encompassing the “whole quality of life itself with an emphasis on human experience.” This takes Eagleton’s argument full circle back to his assertion that 19th century English literature, which became an academic subject, abandoned timeless, immortal ideas and embraced what the experience of ideas felt like, which ties to colonialism because the experiential approach could inculcate English citizens of all classes with the ideology that the colonial policies were elevating the colonized peoples and bringing them out of a Dark Ages into an Enlightenment, e.g., Kipling’s short stories like “Beyond the Pale.”

For more information, see Literary Theory: An Introduction by Terry Eagleton (p 22-24), from which I've taken this answer.

pohnpei397's profile pic

pohnpei397 | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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I was wondering what work you are reading -- what book your teacher has assigned that is supposed to discuss this topic.  Can you tell me?  I think you've had to wait a long time for an answer because this is a pretty esoteric topic and not something that most people are exposed to...

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pohnpei397 | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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You've asked this a number of times and I have wanted to contact you to ask about it.  But it is not possible to send you a message.  So I'll tell you what I can and ask you a question:

Eagleton argues that English arose as an academic subject as a way to bind the English people together as their religious faith was waning.  He believes that the study of English was something imposed by the ruling classes as a way to encourage all the lower classes to think like the upper classes.

Unfortunately, I have not read anything about Eagleton and colonialism.  However, it seems to me that what he says about the English lower classes could equally apply to colonized peoples.  By teaching them English (as an academic subject) the colonizers could be encouraging them to identify with upper class English values.  This would tend to make them happy with their colonial status.

Does this sound plausible given what you have read?  Please feel free to contact me if you wish.

 

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nusratfarah | (Level 1) Valedictorian

Posted on

I am studying now "Rise of English" by Terry Eagleton, actually the essay is an excerpt from Eagleton's Literary Theory and I've to prepare note for my exam on that, but can't find proper sources. That's why I posted the question on enotes, and thanks a lot for responding. But I needed a bit detail.

nusratfarah's profile pic

nusratfarah | (Level 1) Valedictorian

Posted on

You've asked this a number of times and I have wanted to contact you to ask about it.  But it is not possible to send you a message.  So I'll tell you what I can and ask you a question:

Eagleton argues that English arose as an academic subject as a way to bind the English people together as their religious faith was waning.  He believes that the study of English was something imposed by the ruling classes as a way to encourage all the lower classes to think like the upper classes.

Unfortunately, I have not read anything about Eagleton and colonialism.  However, it seems to me that what he says about the English lower classes could equally apply to colonized peoples.  By teaching them English (as an academic subject) the colonizers could be encouraging them to identify with upper class English values.  This would tend to make them happy with their colonial status.

Does this sound plausible given what you have read?  Please feel free to contact me if you wish.

 

Good Reply... I've liked it... I think that it's leading toward the right path. But I could have been benefited more if you knew more about Eagleton. Thank you very much. Really I waited for a reply for many days. :)

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