“that dreadful terry eagleton”…

…is apparently a phrase uttered by Prince Charles. An interview with Eagleton was published in the NYT in January, but recently cropped up on C18-L. Conversation has ensued, although not so much about the issues Eagleton raises in the interview.

Eagleton misses the mark when he says that theorists aren’t addressing the “big questions” he wants them to address. On religion, for example, see The Puppet and the Dwarf : The Perverse Core of Christianity, On Belief (Thinking in Action)
, and The Fragile Absolute: Or, Why is the Christian Legacy Worth Fighting For? by Slavoj Zizek and Acts of Religion, by Jacques Derrida.


“The golden age of cultural theory is long past,” Mr.
Eagleton writes in his new book, “After Theory” (Basic
Books), to be published in the United States in January. In
this age of terrorism, he says, cultural theory has become
increasingly irrelevant, because theorists have failed to
address the big questions of morality, metaphysics, love,
religion, revolution, death and suffering.

Today graduate students and professors are bogged down in
relativism, writing about sex and the body instead of the
big issues. “On the wilder shores of academia,” he writes,
“an interest in French philosophy has given way to a
fascination with French kissing.”

His critique goes further. “The postmodern prejudice
against norms, unities and consensuses is a politically
catastrophic one,” he writes. Cultural theorists can no
longer “afford simply to keep recounting the same
narratives of class, race and gender, indispensable as
these topics are.”

What Mr. Eagleton, one of the few remaining Marxist
critics, wants now is a search for absolutes, for norms,
for answers to what he calls “fundamental questions of
truth and love in order to meet the urgencies of our global

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One thought on ““that dreadful terry eagleton”…

  1. While I’m sure there are plenty of valid critiques of the state of academic criticism and theoretical inquiry today, Eagleton here essentially makes the worst sort of move for dialogue, by suggesting the very grounds that we might critique his argument (by citing the impossibility of absolutes) is just so much relativist clap trap.
    But after a recent satirical piece in the New Yorker, in which the reader is given a questionairee to fill out as an application for Air America (the liberal radio network that I won’t be able to hear in DC), a questionairre that reassures that any answer is ok, really, because we accept all sorts of viewpoints, I am wondering more and more what a pluralist rhetoric can look like–to what degree does accounting for other positionalities weaken a rhetorical position. To what degree does taking the high road lead to diminishing access to power? How can progressives change the rules of the game when conservative ideologies frequently don’t play fairly according to our ideal rules?
    Is an ethical approach to expounding the rhetoric of pluralism precisely the reason that such an approach is not working?
    Inshort, while I think Eagleton (as represented in this excerpt) is full of crap on this point, I wonder if he doesn’t expose a crucial rhetorical flaw in progressive and liberal positions.

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