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The Task of the Critic: Terry Eagleton in Dialogue

The leading literary theorist dissected in interview.
Terry Eagleton occupies a unique position in the English-speaking world today. He is not only a productive literary theorist, but also a novelist and playwright. He remains a committed socialist deeply hostile to the zeitgeist. Over the last forty years his public interventions have enlivened an otherwise bland and conformist culture. His pen, as many colleagues in the academy—including Harold Bloom, Gayatri Spivak and Homi Bhabha—have learned, is merciless and unsparing. As a critic Eagleton has not shied away from confronting the high priests of native conformity as highlighted by his coruscating polemic against Martin Amis on the issue of civil liberties and religion.

This comprehensive volume of interviews covers both his life and the development of his thought and politics. Lively and insightful, they will appeal not only to those with an interest in Eagleton himself, but to all those interested in the evolution of radical politics, modernism, cultural theory, the history of ideas, sociology, semantic inquiry and the state of Marxist theory.

Reviews

  • “Second to none among cultural critics writing in the English language today.”
  • “A combative, fiercely articulate and witty Marxist literary critic.”
  • “Eagleton is informative, witty and wise. ”

Blog

  • On the City at Night: Nightwalking in the Guardian and Observer

    Cities are inherently paradoxical spaces. They constantly shift and elide our gaze, seemingly at the centre of modern industry and technology; they also contain zones of immense ruin and neglect. This second, ruinous, city is fundamental to the first one yet its spaces are hidden from sight. What occurs if we shift our vision from the lustrous and glittering light of the soaring skyscrapers to the labyrinthine passages filled with darkness and destitution? Matthew Beaumont’s new book, Nightwalking, is based on the insight that it is through its most maligned products, its exclusions and cast-offs, that cities reveal the most about themselves.

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  • "A haunting addition to the canon of psychogeography:" Nightwalking: A Nocturnal History of London by Matthew Beaumont

    And the reviews are in for Matthew Beaumont’s Nightwalking – a work that is, according to the Financial Times, “Part literary criticism, part social history, part polemic … a haunting addition to the canon of psychogeography.”


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  • Terry Eagleton at Occupy Coleraine


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     Terry Eagleton has recently spoken on the idea of the ‘New University’ at Occupy Coleraine in the Faculty of Arts at the University of Ulster. Eagleton argues for a new concept of the university, which will reinstate the importance of critical thinking and a humanistic education.

     Traditionally, he argues, universities have been taken to cultivate and guard certain values, as ‘places of enquiry, free exploration, dispute, dialectic, investigation and above all critique’. However, that ‘long and honourable tradition’ of the university ‘is now almost dead at its feet’. He argues that we must set about the work of re-creating a space for the exploration of these values, as the space made for enquiry and critique is constantly being diminished in our society.

     Eagleton criticizes what the university has become in contemporary society, arguing that ‘the production of knowledge’ has been fully incorporated into ‘the institutions of corporate capitalism’. These institutions have become incapable of valorizing ‘self-realisation’ or ‘self-development’ and education no longer serves a function of ‘critical dialogue’ but consists merely of the ‘production of mind factories which sell commodified bits of knowledge’ in the current ‘education system which is almost a complete technocracy’.

     His idea for a “New University” is based on what he sees in occupations such as Occupy Coleraine. What the occupiers represent, he argues, is ‘the real university … the true idea of the university’. At the end of his talk, he extends his solidarity and tells the occupiers,

    You are here to defend this space as symbolic of the very idea of education ... you are here to teach the philistines who run these institutions a vital lesson.

Other books by Terry Eagleton Edited by Matthew Beaumont