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This review is taken from PN Review 145, Volume 28 Number 5, May - June 2002.

LAST ORDERS ANTONY EASTHOPE, Privileging Difference, ed. Catherine Belsey (Palgrave) £42.50 hb £16.99 pb

Antony Easthope completed this book on his deathbed. Such a context inevitably compels respect, but it cannot cancel criticism. As Easthope himself said in his instructions to Catherine Belsey, who edited the volume: 'let the argument be judged on its merits'. Always a robust polemicist, Easthope would surely have been disappointed if he had thought his final work would receive no more than the polite approbation of the obituarist. But to an extent, his argument is unexceptionable: that modern critical and cultural theory has tended unduly to privilege difference, the idea of an endless pursuit and celebration of non-identity, anti-essentialism and otherness. His chief theoretical resource in this argument is much more dubious, however: the staler of what Easthope calls 'the two Jakes', Jacques Lacan (the other is Jacques Derrida), especially Lacan's notion of 'the imaginary', by which human beings, as speaking subjects, try to close the gap that difference opens up by means of fantasy and an attempted recovery of coherent meaning. For Easthope, the need to close this gap is ineluctable and thus the aspiration to, the advocacy of, any easy acceptance of difference is untenable. It is interesting to hear in this book the return of a note of high modernist austerity when Easthope says, in an Eliotic echo: 'Human beings cannot bear too much reality'.

On one level, then, Easthope's mission might seem an almost classical one: to return current theory to a sense of reality, albeit not of an empirical, rationalist or ...


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