Terry Eagleton

By: Mark Kingwell
February 22, 2014


The English critic and literary theorist TERENCE FRANCIS ‘TERRY’ EAGLETON (born 1943) has a lot of enemies. Some of them he made himself, others volunteered for the post, all agree that he is a bad man: an attack-dog apologist for religion who mocked Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens under the ‘solitary signifier’ Ditchkins; an about-face rejecter of the very postmodern theories that made him rich and famous; a property-owning careerist bastard (three houses!) who nevertheless preaches social justice and workers’ rights. A more charitable take on the best-selling author of Literary Theory (1983; revised 1996 and 2008) and After Theory (2003), among some forty other books, is that he is a man of firm ideological conviction — a subject about which, not surprisingly, he has written extensively. Radical Left-Catholic belief colours all of Eagleton’s work, both considered and caustic. He believes sincerely that casual relativism about truth is dangerous and that faith is no small thing in human affairs. He also writes with more grace and wit than most academics — though not as much as either Hitchens or Martin Amis, another regular intellectual sparring partner. The latter called Eagleton “an ideological relict… unable to get out of bed in the morning without the dual guidance of God and Karl Marx” — not necessarily an insult in the target’s eyes. A nastier fancy would have retroactively identified Mancunian striver T. Eagleton with the hapless, jumped-up working-class git ‘Terry’ who figures in Amis’s novel Success (1978), described as “a quivering condom of neurosis and ineptitude.”


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