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This article is taken from PN Review 207, Volume 39 Number 1, September - October 2012.

God, Marx, and Literary Theory: The Curious Case of Terry Eagleton Roger Caldwell
In his 2001 memoir, The Goalkeeper, Terry Eagleton delineates his intellectual trajectory from Roman Catholicism to Marxism ‘without passing through liberalism’. Such a journey is scarcely a unique one. When one certainty fails it is natural to seek another one and, in this sense, the passage from Aquinas to Marx is the exchange of a heavenly utopia for an earthly one. In a mocking aside in The Meaning of Life (2007) he tells us that many liberals ‘tend to prefer questions to answers, since they regard answers as unduly restrictive’. The implication is that unlike these fuzzy-minded ‘liberals’ – always a hate-word with Eagleton – he himself does have answers to give. This is indeed the case: however, the answers vary from work to work, are often inconsistent with each other, and frequently raise more questions in their turn. Eagleton’s writing – in which words such as ‘maybe’ or ‘perhaps’ are rarely to be found – exudes a jaunty confidence, but there is nonetheless a sense of provisionality in his formulations as we move from book to book: not only, it seems, does he fail to persuade his audience but, sometimes at least, he fails to persuade himself.

Eagleton’s first substantial work, Criticism and Ideology, appeared in 1976, at a time when the Left was still triumphalist, and Marxism was still a sort of intellectual sine qua non. It is very much a young man’s book: his former mentor Raymond Williams is subjected to ‘necessarily astringent criticisms’, among his ...


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