Terry Eagleton Criticism - Essay

Geoffrey Thurley (review date 24 September 1982)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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...

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Terence Hawkes (review date 3 June 1983)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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...

(The entire section is 874 words.)

Lennard J. Davis (review date 21 January 1984)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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...

(The entire section is 885 words.)

Steven G. Kellman (review date Summer 1984)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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...

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David Montrose (review date 5 October 1984)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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: an attempt doomed from the outset given the conditions of late capitalist society. Arriving at the present, Eagleton savages structuralism and deconstruction before promoting the ‘revolutionary criticism’ originally advanced in Walter Benjamin (1981)—wherein he parted company with his earlier work—as the only productive course that an enervated discipline can take as an alternative to withering away. Designed to assist ‘the cultural emancipation of the masses’, such criticism ideally requires (and currently lacks) a ‘counterpublic sphere’ based on institutions of popular culture and popular education. Feminism, though, provides a shining model: criticism that takes its impulse from a political movement.

As always, it is not necessary to agree with Eagleton's dark view of today's criticism, or his prescription for a better tomorrow's, to find him a splendid polemicist. Inevitably, though, the fact that The Function of Criticism—like its predecessor, Literary Theory—largely reproduces the message of Walter Benjamin does lead to its final impact being rather muffled.

Andrew Rissik (review date 21 March 1986)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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...

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Jean E. Howard (review date Spring 1987)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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...

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Michael Sprinker (review date Winter 1991)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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...

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Colin Lyas (review date April 1991)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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...

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Eric Griffiths (review date 28 June 1991)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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...

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Richard Schusterman (review date Summer 1991)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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...

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Elizabeth Wright (review date July 1991)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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,...

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David Lloyd (review date December 1991)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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...

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Greig Henderson (review date Winter 1991-92)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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...

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Kate Soper (review date March-April 1992)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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...

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John McGowan (review date Spring 1993)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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...

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Michael Levenson (essay date Winter 1994)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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...

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Patrick Colm Hogan (review date March 1994)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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...

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Christopher Norris (review date Fall 1994)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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...

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Patricia Craig (review date 27 May 1995)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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...

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Austen Morgan (review date 16 June 1995)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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...

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Denis Donoghue (review date 21-28 August 1995)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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,...

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Nicholas Daly (review date Winter 1996)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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...

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Andrew R. Cooper (review date March 1996)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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...

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Katie Trumpener (review date March 1997)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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...

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Ian Pindar (review date 28 March 1997)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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...

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Colin Mooers (review date October 1997)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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,...

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Brenda Maddox (review date 23 July 1999)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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...

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