Terry Eagleton on Postmodernism

Russell Pearson spectres at innotts.co.uk
Sat Sep 21 10:36:01 MDT 1996

Thanks Louis for the posting on Terry Eagleton and postmodernism.
I heard Eagleton give a talk at Nottingham UK in front of a packed hall =
of pomo's, feminists, deconstructers and a few Marxists.
He was very witty, cracking lots of 'jollies' on the way and provided a =
thorough-going review of contemporary theory.
His tack was to ask this very tongue in cheek question: "Suppose there'd =
been a series of awful defeats and all the Marxists/Radicals had had the =
wind knocked out of them, what would happen?"
Some, he thought, would go straight over to the Right, while others would=
 wander around for a while before realising they had ended up on the righ=
t. The majority however, would want to retain their radicalism, but not =
their Marxism. Eagleton then asked what form this radicalism might take. =

Power, he thought would be a good one to look at, but so long as the obje=
ct of enquiry wasn't too big- so micro-politics would appeal. And carniva=
ls and parties, and all things turned upside down- that he thought would =
appeal. And the Body! Well that would be a good one too...
So off Eagleton went, lampooning current theory.

After his speech he was asked questions. Some of the audience were in agr=
eement. Part of his speech defended humanism and the idea of commodity =
fetishism. I asked him if whether it wasn't a bit rich for him to be defe=
nding these ideas, what with his Althusserian background and all. He fudg=
ed the question and pointed me towards the intro to _Against the Grain_ =
where he settles his Althusserian past.
The vast majority of the questions were on postmodernism. The standard =
point made was that he'd overdone it- that he had caricatured postmoderni=
sm and that nobody nowadays really held the exaggerated positions he sket=
ched out.
Eagleton's reply to this was yes, he was taking the piss somewhat, but =
that many people did still hold these ideas. This was especially so in =
the US, where he claimed that the average undergraduate was deeply imbued=
 with a naive relativist skepticism.

After the talk, I gather that most of the 'radicals' in the audience were=
 not impressed by the talk. One young woman even went to the head of depa=
rtment to complain. In tears, she asked why Marxists were so hostile and =
why we couldn't all get along together.
This struck me as being a bit cheeky, considering the almighty flak that =
the pomo's have been throwing at Marxists the last few years! But there =
we go: it's alright to say that Marx's meta-narrative leads straight to =
the Gulag and that all totalities are totalitarian, but to question a pom=
o...oh no that's being hostile.


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