Terry Eagleton (Transitions)

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And by ceasing to appear as a totality, the capitalist order renders itself less vulnerable to political critique. Finally, the fact that social life is dominated by inanimate entities lends it a spurious air of naturalness and inevitability: society is no longer perceptible as a human construct, and therefore as humanly alterable.

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Eagleton, , 85 We will consider in more detail that aspect of commodification which atomises our perception of any social totality in discussing postmodernism. The original definition of ideology that we started out with is a pretty broad one. So far, we have narrowly considered power relations in terms of class, leaving Marxism vulnerable to the objection that it is blind to those forms of oppression determined, for instance, by sex and race.

This extension is in one sense positive, since it recognises that, say, sexist or racist beliefs are bound up with certain structures of power, but the expansion of the term in this way nonetheless forces us to confront certain theoretical problems, since it is impossible to trace gender ideology, for instance, to material social relations. The persistence of gendered oppositions such as those between active and passive, rational and irrational across time and cultures is a remarkable fact, even though the precise social relations determined by those oppositions may have differed.

Nonetheless, gender ideology has been transformed by material historical changes.

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The rigid separation between work and home which brought about the middle-class valuation of the feminised sphere of the home, for instance, was largely a consequence of the spatial organisation of the city in the nineteenth century, as suburban life grew at a distance from working life at a 23 24 Te r r y E a g l e t o n factory or office Hall and Davidoff, In allowing for the relative autonomy of ideology from material social relations, one recognises that ideological traditions exert their own strong pressures on those relations but are nonetheless themselves also crucially affected by shifts in the forces and relations of production.

The determination of superstructure by base, then, should not be thought of as a straightforward one-way process. There is also, though, a need to think through feminist and other politics not reducible to class in relation to broader social relations and forms of ideology, since gender ideology, though it entails specific considerations, does not exist in some discrete realm untouched by other forces.

Any feminism — or indeed, other social movement — which neglects other structural determinants of power is likely to end up in some way contributing to their reproduction, just as Marxism has previously failed to take seriously issues irreducible to class. The broad definition of ideology provided by Eagleton may initially appear vulnerable to the charge of under-theorisation, and evidence to support this charge can be found in his introductory book on ideology.

This provides a history of the concept, but one problem with his mode of evaluating the different definitions he reviews is that he tends to point out the inadequacy of theoretical versions by invoking particular instances of ideology for which they cannot account, thereby effectively appealing to some more or less intuitive or a priori understanding of the term.

Terry Eagleton (Transitions)

The advantage of this apparently undertheorised, antiessentialist account, though, is precisely that it refuses to specify in advance the forms that ideology will take. This enables us to grasp ideology, not merely as variable phenomena which may be present in a particular social formation as, say, both commodity fetishism and Social Darwinism may be said to be, but also as historically contingent in the forms it takes: postmodern irony, for instance, is a determinate ideological sensibility not reducible to an explicit set of beliefs, whereas the belief in a divinely ordained hierarchy is a largely obsolete ideological creed.

For the most part, then, Eagleton understands ideology as a force defined by the conservative work it performs and determined by the particular power relations it in turn helps to perpetuate, a force whose forms are therefore inevitably variable. The concept of ideology is an indispensable concept for a left which must be at least as confident in its own analyses of the world as those powerful forces it opposes.

Wuthering Heights As we have just seen, Marxism is concerned primarily with matters other and more important than literature, and a Marxist critical practice is not something which emerges spontaneously from an understanding of Marxism, but rather requires elaboration. One still, just occasionally, gets this line trotted out in student essays. It is not that Eagleton was the first to challenge such a perspective, but leftist discussions prior to Myths of Power tended merely to celebrate its passionate challenge to dominant Victorian social conditions and orthodoxies.

Whilst the gentry and aristocracy were ideologically at loggerheads with the industrial bourgeoisie in some respects, they also invested in and profited from industrial projects, just as many wealthier industrialists aspired to join the ranks of the landed classes by buying up estates, though it also took time — normally a few generations — for the nouveau riche to be assimilated. Moreover, this process of buying into the estates of the gentry was not new — we find it referred to in Jane Austen, for instance. Moreover, these dominant classes were, if anything, united in their opposition to that working class radicalism of the time — principally Chartism — which threatened both their interests.

We will see shortly the significance for the novels of this tense, but increasingly stable convergence of interests. Eagleton is not interested in some form of literary critical empiricism, with proving that the novels contain direct or even oblique references to the turbulent events of these years. This is immediately qualified, though, since Eagleton also stresses that each of the novels is distinct and is not simply reducible to that prior structure: literature has its own relatively autonomous formal traditions from which the author selects that 27 28 Te r r y E a g l e t o n material which apparently serves her purposes, a selection which is itself ideologically determined.

Eagleton is working with a complex model, then: fiction is at a second remove from history, since it is a literary production of an ideological structure determined by that history, a model of the relationship between ideology and literary text which will be further and more carefully elaborated in Criticism and Ideology. Unlike Emily, Charlotte produced more than one novel, so the underlying categorial structure can be perceived through a number of realisations of it. The embodiment of these roles is complex, though, since they are not necessarily allotted straightforwardly to individual characters.

Jane Eyre, for instance, is the eponymous protagonist but also exhibits both Romantic radical and conservative traits which vie for dominance in her just as the characters who more directly exhibit those qualities, Rochester and St John Rivers respectively, compete for her hand in marriage. The superiority of Wuthering Heights is a consequence of its more uncompromising presentation of conflicts, something which marks it out as less dishonest and manipulative and therefore more objective in its working through of its material. Moreover, though Wuthering Heights does end with the union of Hareton and Catherine, it nonetheless refuses to dilute the conflictual forces at work: unlike Jane Eyre and Rochester, who manage to resolve their differences, Heathcliff remains unassimilable to the end and, indeed, his death is necessary to the union which does eventually provide closure though, as Eagleton also points out, the spirit of Heathcliff and Cathy — and their love, after all, is rendered essentially spiritual — appears to live on in the ghostly sightings of them by locals.

It is he that presents Catherine with the dilemma that she is unable to resolve: she has to choose between him and Edgar Linton, an essentially social dilemma since it is a choice between wealth and impoverishment. But what does Heathcliff represent for Catherine? The answer to this is again bound up with his social position, since it is his lack of origins or determinate rank which make him significant in a close-knit community in which familial belonging and class are paramount.

Let us be clear, first of all, about the nature of the society, such as it is, which the novel presents to us. On the one hand, we have Thrushcross Grange, 29 30 Te r r y E a g l e t o n the residence of the wealthy landowning Lintons; on the other, we have Wuthering Heights itself, inhabited by the Earnshaws, representatives of the yeomanry, a class of independent farmers whose economic position was particularly precarious at this time — Eagleton records that many were either bought out by the gentry or moved off the land to throw in their lot with the industrial bourgeoisie the first of these historical processes provides the novel with its resolution.

What Eagleton means by this is that the novel, for all its grasp of dialectical oppositions, can only posit an alternative world of freedom as myth since the social freedom which the novel gestures towards — one which would not require the impossible choice forced on Catherine — has not been historically realised. One of the reasons Wuthering Heights has been such a key text for Eagleton is because of its concern with the relationship between nature and culture, and it is to reflections on this relationship that I want to return throughout this book.

Moreover, it is nature that provides the connection between the apparently dissimilar child and adult Heathcliffs, since Heathcliff is transformed from being natural in the sense of being non-social into a figure who is naturally competitive. This incorporation of Hareton into the Grange — symbolising the assimilation of the remaining representative of the yeomanry into the capitalist landowning class — signals for Eagleton the ultimate triumph of the gentry, rather than any compromise, though this is a point to which we shall return.

Heathcliff, who acquires his fortune outside that close-knit community with which we are presented, ultimately combines cultural elements of the Heights — its violence and lack of civility — with the acquisitive capitalist methods of the Grange, thus placing him in different ways at odds with both: from the 32 Marxism, Culture and English Studies 33 perspective of the Grange, he is culturally a malevolent churl, reflecting the cultural affinities between yeomanry and bourgeoisie in opposition to the refined gentry; from the perspective of the Heights he is an overreacher, reflecting the objective alliance between bourgeoisie and landlord which, as we have seen, developed in the period in which the book was written.

He can thus be presented only as a conflictive unity of spiritual rejection and social integration; and this, indeed, is his personal tragedy. It is this latter realist assumption which Eagleton corrects in his next book, Criticism and Ideology, in which all texts — including realist ones — are regarded as aesthetic transformations of ideology. It is perhaps easiest to begin this reconsideration of the novel by quoting from a contemporary review of it: There are scenes of savage wildness in nature which, though they inspire no pleasurable sensation, we are yet well satisfied to have seen.

The elements of beauty are found in the midst of gloom and danger, and some forms are the more picturesque from their distorted growth amid so many obstacles. A tree clinging to the side of a precipice may more attract the eye than the pride of a plantation. The principle may, to some extent, be applied to life. The uncultured freedom of native character presents more rugged aspects than we meet with in educated society.

Its manners are not only more rough but its passions are more violent. It knows nothing of those breakwaters to the 34 Marxism, Culture and English Studies 35 fury of tempest which civilised training establishes to subdue the harsher workings of the soul. They have all the angularity of misshapen growth, and form in this respect a striking contrast to those regular forms we are accustomed to meet in English fiction.

They exhibit nothing of the composite character. There is in them no trace of ideal models. They are so new, so wildly grotesque, so entirely without art, that they strike us as proceeding from a mind of limited experience, but of original energy, and of a singular and distinctive cast. Unsigned review, , —4 There is an assimilation of land and people in this description which is revealing of the relations between politics and aesthetics typical of the period.

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In all senses, the vicinity of the Heights is considered primitive. But in the politically febrile atmosphere of the s — a decade dominated by consciousness of the political revolution in France — aesthetic debates made explicit political connections. The neatness, simplicity, and elegance of English gardening, have acquired the approbation of the present century, as the happy medium betwixt the wildness of nature and the stiffness of art; in the same manner as the English constitution is the happy medium betwixt the liberty of savages, and the restraint of despotic government.

Repton, , The comparison being made in the first sentence here is between picturesque aesthetics and the ideas of Jean-Jacques Rousseau — one of the philosophical influences on the French Revolutionaries — whose defence of the noble savage rejected both Christian and Hobbesian denigrations of the natural condition of humanity as either sinful and depraved or selfish. For Rousseau, humanity in its natural state was possessed of a natural compassion which was the source of all 35 36 Te r r y E a g l e t o n virtue.

After , reactionaries in England looking across the Channel saw in the violence and disorder of the French Revolution what they regarded as evidence of the natural sinfulness of humanity unrestrained by either social conventions or State force. The view developed that England, by contrast, had avoided revolution by rejecting the political absolutism characteristic of the French ancien regime whilst simultaneously suppressing excessive liberty hence, in part, that peculiarly English fetishisation of the value of compromise.

This is the view expressed by Repton, and the association of the picturesque with primitivism gained ground in the first half of the nineteenth century. A cultivated person was both learned and, as a consequence, in some sense more human, certainly more humane. Moreover, the imagery of cultivation — both literal and metaphorical — is crucial to the novel. The ending of the novel famously sees Catherine and Hareton cultivating flowers at the Heights, symbolically replacing the blackberry bushes that had formerly grown there.

Nature in its raw and even malign state — think of the thorns — is replaced by something that requires tending and whose value resides in its aesthetic properties rather than its utility. But the language of cultivation is used of characters too. Still, I thought I could detect in his physiognomy a mind owning better qualities than his father ever possessed. Good things were lost amid a wilderness of weeds, to be sure, whose rankness far over-topped their neglected growth; yet, notwithstanding, evidence of a healthy soil that might yield luxuriant crops, under other and more favourable circumstances.

He had grown a tall, athletic, well-formed man, beside whom my master [Edgar Linton] seemed quite slender and youth-like. His upright carriage suggested the idea of his having been in the army. A half-civilised ferocity lurked in the depressed brows and eyes full of black fire, but it was subdued; and his manner was even dignified, quite divested of roughness though too stern for grace. This became crucially important in the period of European revolutions —, from which Britain emerged, virtually alone of European nations, reformed but far from revolutionised.

Edmund Burke, the father of modern Conservatism, is most 38 Marxism, Culture and English Studies 39 often associated with the gradualist position, one which he articulated in his response to a speech given in support of the French Revolution of Burke sanctioned the social and political order — still at this time dominated by a landed elite — in the following way: By a constitutional policy, working after the pattern of nature, we receive, we hold, we transmit our government and our privileges, in the same manner in which we enjoy and transmit our property and our lives.

The institutions or policy, the goods of fortune, the gifts of Providence, are handed down, to us and from us, in the same course and order. Our political system is placed in a just correspondence and symmetry with the order of the world, and with the mode of existence decreed to a permanent body composed of transitory parts; wherein, by the disposition of a stupendous wisdom, moulding together the great or young, but in a condition of unchangeable constancy, moves on through the varied tenour of perpetual decay, fall, renovation, and progression.

Thus, by preserving the method of nature in the conduct of the state, in what we improve we are never wholly new; in what we retain we are never wholly obsolete. By adhering in this manner and on these principles to our forefathers, we are guided not by the superstition of antiquarians, but by the spirit of philosophic analogy. In this choice of inheritance we have given to our frame or polity the image of relation in blood; binding up the constitution of our country with our dearest domestic ties; adopting our fundamental laws into the bosom of our family affections; keeping inseparable, and cherishing with the warmth of all their combined and mutually reflected charities, our states, our hearths, our sepulchres, and our altars.

Burke, , The development of natural organisms, then, is one which proceeds whilst leaving the form of the whole in tact, and unlike those revolutionary doctrines which aspired to revise social organisation in the light of rational first principles, this analogy insists on the maintenance of a connection between past, present and future, each of which would be co-present at any time in the various generations. These affective bonds are necessarily 39 40 Te r r y E a g l e t o n complex and, since they have developed over the centuries, are not amenable or reducible to rationalisation or systematisation.

Consequently, for Burke and for the English tradition of organic thought, attempts to change society systemically on the basis of abstract ideas such as liberty and equality are pernicious or even mad Alderson, , 34—9. First of all, it is a legitimating perspective.

In other words, it renders legitimate a particular historical process and set of values, and it does so, moreover, by naturalising them. This, though, is not how the various defeated radicals of English history experienced things. Those who were transported, imprisoned, spied on, ruined, or killed by the forces of the British State hardly experienced historical change as just as natural, ineluctable and smooth as the passing of the seasons. The description of British historical change as organic, then, is ideological in the sense that it is also a misrepresentation, or at least a partial representation, helping to obscure the reality of what happened in the very process of legitimating it.

As we have already seen, though, ideology is not usually simply a fiction, and organicism in its falsifications of actual historical processes makes a kind of sense because of the lack of a successful and sustained revolution in British history. Finally, note the complexity of this point: the ideology of organicism is determined by actual historical events — and to that extent bears a certain fidelity to them — but the claims that it makes about history are nonetheless false. In writing his best-known work, Culture and Anarchy , Arnold was intensely conscious of the class divisions which characterised 40 Marxism, Culture and English Studies 41 nineteenth-century British society.

In other words, culture would help to secure that harmonious social totality which was necessary for the continued organic development of British society. But Arnold was writing in a different historical context from Burke, since his work was principally an assault on the now dominant middle class. As we have seen in our discussion of Marx, the utilitarian brand of rationalism espoused by this middle class had a demystifying effect on the ideological legitimations of a previous social order, and this created a problem: how might this philosophy, based on self-interest, win the allegiance of society as a whole, including those who palpably did not benefit from it?

When Arnold does feel the need to be more specific than this, he can only hold up an example of culture for our admiration by counterposing it with an instance of the mechanistic ideas dominant amongst the middle class. If it is doubtful whether Marx and Engels themselves would have agreed with this reformulation of their thesis, it is also doubtful in my view whether it matters much.

Eagleton, , 83 However, this simultaneity of base and superstructure as embodied in certain institutions should not tempt us to abandon the distinction, which remains significant, and is the basis of the extraordinarily complex theory of literary production which Eagleton advances in the rest of Criticism and Ideology. Since this remains his most rigorous and complete theoretical statement for reasons to which we shall return, I want to outline its arguments here in some detail. An instance of what Williams means by this phrase can be found in his account of the Romantic artist in his first book, Culture and Society, in which he discusses the various related, though uneven, transformations which helped to give rise to this figure in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.

Crucially, he notes the increasing — though not complete — commercialisation of publishing which led to a greater sense, on the one hand, of autonomy on the part of the artist — a freedom, that is, from direct patronage — but a greater sense also of the tyranny of mass taste, which was thereby discountenanced as uncultivated. Increasingly, the Romantic artist was perceived as a figure apart, which in this respect he mostly literally was, though this separation encouraged the belief that he had privileged access to a set of insights which were critical of the increasingly utilitarian society which was emerging Williams, , In responding dialectically to the very different influences of both Williams and Althusser, then, we see Eagleton articulating a position which is indebted to but distinct from both.

The GMP refers to the dominant mode of production — in the classically Marxist sense of the forces and relations of production — at the time when the text was produced. The LMP refers to a specific mode of production within the GMP — in other words, the forces and relations of production involved in producing a piece of literature. This would include all those right the way through from the author s , the mechanical producers e. Each of these categories — and not just the authorial one, as our post-Romantic assumptions would lead us to believe — is important in determining the form and even, to some degree, content of the literary text.

The relations between each stage in the literary productive process would differ according to the mode of production being described.

Those I have labelled here the mechanical producers, for instance, transform an authorial manuscript into the final form it will take — a commodity in the shape of a book, for instance — prior to the process of dissemination. This is not the only possible relation, and in certain, highly specific cases — e.

Moreover, any given social formation is likely to include a number of different LMPs — our own, for instance, might include private publication, prestige publishing which may be uneconomic as is the case with some poetry , ordinary commercial publication, and internet publication — though one of these, determined principally by the GMP, will be the dominant one.

Each LMP prescribes particular social relations of literary production, and this again will impact on the literature produced. Important, in this respect — at least in the developed GMP of capitalist formations — is the role literature is made to play in education. When Eagleton wrote Criticism and Ideology, for instance, he saw the role of an education in literature as being, at least in part, the dissemination of liberal humanist values which were considered under threat from a mechanistic society. Its ideological import was therefore in some respects at odds with the capitalist base, though it also, by preserving a privileged space for those liberal humanist values, paradoxically contributed to the reproduction of the dominant GI.

Such liberal humanism is not likely to go unchallenged in contemporary English Departments, and to that extent some reassessment of the role of education within the GI is necessary, though it seems to me debatable that this role has changed radically. Here again, the picture is complex, since in some respects an authorial ideology may differ from the GI, yet in other respects conform. Moreover, the 46 Marxism, Culture and English Studies 47 reasons for this difference will vary: an aristocratic writer would clearly have different reasons for being at odds with the GI of a capitalist social order than would a working-class writer.

But for Eagleton nor is the author merely a kind of cypher, since she is individual in the sense that her perspective is likely not merely to be a distillation or transmutation of already-extant discourses. It makes a difference, for instance, that Jane Austen, was the daughter — and daughter rather than son — of an Anglican clergyman who died relatively young.

However, the literary text is not to be read as merely an expression of AuI, since the AuI is only one — though a highly significant one — of the ideological determinations of the text. Another of these is AI, that aesthetic region within the GI which exists in various possible relations to the other elements — religious, political and so on — of the GI, relations which are themselves determined ultimately of course by the GMP. Specifically, we need to think about the various kinds of determination at work between these levels which are not always predictably one way or simple.

Through its general organisation of society — for instance, into scattered rural communities with low levels of literacy and only rudimentary communications between those communities, or into densely populated urban centres with high levels of literacy at least among certain classes and frequent traffic between them — the GMP will inevitably affect the LMP.

But at the level of relations of production — that is, class relations — there may also be points of contradiction between the two which themselves will be ideologically important. How many readers of Evelyn Waugh, for instance, encounter his work as consumers of a commodity, whilst thereby participating in forms of transaction — mass production and distribution — and being from social classes mostly held in disdain by those novels? I have done little more here than outline the various categories discussed by Eagleton and give some sense of the ways in which they might account for various aspects of literary production, but it should of course be stressed that the effects of the different determining levels, and their relative importance will vary historically.

Marxist aesthetics traditionally has struggled with the complex problem about the relationship between literature — not to mention art more generally — and ideology. Two propositions have tended to be forwarded. The first is that literature simply reproduces ideology, whereas the other suggests that literature calls ideology — or, at least, bourgeois utilitarian ideology — into question. Eliot — or the historical contexts in which they wrote.

But there are other problems with these propositions. The first refuses to engage with the specificity of literature as a mode of discourse — its processes of production, its formal organisation of its material, its particular mode of realising ideology, and even the ideological function it plays in broader society.

The second does at least recognise some distance between literature and ideology, but its sense of that distance is far too simplistic. The French Marxist philosopher, Louis Althusser, and his follower, Pierre Macherey — in this brief summary, I will conflate their arguments — attempt to solve this problem by allotting to literature a particular relationship to ideology, one which situates it in some sense between ideology and scientific knowledge.

Instead, it achieves a distantiation of ideology — that is, it sets itself at a distance from ideology — by giving it a form, and thus rendering ideology all the more visible for us. So, literature is not entirely deluded, but nor does it represent enlightenment. Religion, for instance, is part of the ideological superstructure of a society, but, whilst it involves the dissemination of rather grandiose fairy stories, it also comprises sacred buildings, potent symbols, and meaningful and affective rites, all of which bear significantly on the way individuals actually live out their lives.

Moreover — again, as we have already seen — ideology inheres in some of the very phenomenal forms of capitalist societies, such as the commodity form. The dramatic performance, whilst retaining some kind of relationship to the text, entails a transformation of it into something else quite distinct, and Eagleton argues that we should, therefore, consider the relationship between ideology and literary text in a similar way.

The text, then, is a specific production of ideology. So, for instance, realism is not to be treated as giving us a greater access to reality than, say, fantasy, but as a particular production of ideology which is itself ideologically determined.

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The task of Marxist criticism is to consider, on the one hand, what kind of ideology informs the text and, on the other, the particular mode s by which that text processes its ideological information. The specific way in which texts transform, or produce, ideology is through their attempts to find solutions to particular problems. But things are even more complex than this, since the text, in transforming ideological problems into those aesthetic terms for which it possesses a resolution, may then generate further problems at the aesthetic level which in turn require ideological resolution.

Rather, the text manifests a restless process of solution-seeking generated by its initial aesthetic casting of an ideological problem and the further problems that this form of resolution may precipitate. All of this requires some illustration, and we can perhaps best do this by turning to the account of George Eliot in the fourth chapter of Criticism and Ideology.

This reading of Eliot places her work in the context of a society moving away from the class conflicts which characterised roughly the first half of the century towards more corporate forms in the third quarter in which ideas of national or common purpose were increasingly valorised in contrast to the liberal individualist notions which had previously been prevalent in bourgeois ideology. Economically, this later period was one of growth, leading to higher wages and therefore some degree of assimilation of a formerly 53 54 Te r r y E a g l e t o n oppositional working class.

It was also a period of various forms of capitalist amalgamation and consolidation and, politically, of State centralisation. Ideologically, this gave rise to a renewed appeal to older organicist ideals of the sort we have seen in Matthew Arnold, but which are to be found too in the writings of Eliot.

The novels attempt to find aesthetic resolutions of this ideological conflict, though they do so in various ways. One of the central images of Middlemarch, for instance, is that of the web, a metaphor for society itself which provides an aesthetic totalisation of that society at the same time as the novel rejects any theoretical or ideological totalisation. Yet conversely, if action at any point in the web will vibrate through its filaments to affect the whole formation, a semi-mystical relationship to the totality is nevertheless preserved.

Eagleton, , It is in this way, then, that the novel proposes an aesthetic solution to ideological problems though there is a sense in which the ideological solution has already been so transformed, since the discourse of organicism which ultimately informs the image of the web is already an aesthetic one. This account also serves to indicate a further distinction between Macherey and Eagleton, since for Macherey, the literary text exposes the contradictions in ideology in the very process of giving form to that ideology.

This seems to me a rather too doctrinaire understanding of ideology, as there is surely no reason in principle why ideology should exclude contradiction. A less obvious case, though, would be the one examined in relation to George Eliot which treats those conflicts in search of an aesthetic resolution in her work as determined by changes within a particular capitalist social formation.

This is partly because I find it rather strained and partly because I want to return to the relations between Marxism and psychoanalysis in the next chapter. Literature in this later work was no longer assumed to be an objective category; rather, what counted as literature was seen to be determined by the ideological preoccupations of those who defined it as a discipline. This was not the only transformation that took place after Criticism and Ideology, though. To describe that book as being on Benjamin is in many ways something of a misrepresentation, since the book presses Benjamin into service both as theoretical resource and exemplum in its eclectic reflections on his preoccupations and those of subsequent literary and cultural theory.

After the tenacity of Criticism and Ideology, Walter Benjamin appears a remarkably, even bewilderingly, diffuse book. The shift itself is indicated by the greater attention Eagleton pays to the ideological properties of critical movements themselves, not merely in Walter Benjamin, but in other books written at this time, including The Function of Criticism and Literary Theory. His own work and that of other Marxists is not exempt from such scrutiny-it too is formulated in, not outside of, historical conditions-as his important introduction to Against the Grain and essays on Macherey and Fredric Jameson in that volume demonstrate.

The revolutionary criticism advocated by Walter Benjamin is an engaged criticism which recognises not merely the historical specificity of texts but the uses to which they are put today, including the uses to which they might be put by Marxists. Eagleton, , 97—8 The creation of a counter-public sphere — to put it in the Habermasian terms of The Function of Criticism — is the necessary precondition of a truly Marxist criticism, which, until the point at which this becomes possible, must largely be biding its time.

Today, these sound grandly and to some no doubt absurdly ambitious aspirations, but that must surely invite reflection — at least on the part of those who would lay claim to political radicalism — on the extent to which the investment of most of us in academia is more than simply tactical and provisional, as well as on what we envisage the ends of our activities as being. This would be to ignore such things as his affiliations with Field Day — a Derry-based theatre company and group of intellectuals which exists precisely to promote cultural and political dialogue in and about Ireland — but, more importantly, such scepticism misses the point that the historical conditions of possibility of the Marxist critic do not currently exist, since they would require both a transformation in social relations and a more coherent and radical working-class political movement.

Robert J. The assumption that there is a distinction is a product of the divisions of labour in our societies and of the academic institutionalisation of criticism from whose effects the Marxist cannot claim to be exempt, however conscious of them she may be. Hence, in his later writings he is as likely to invoke the terminology of deconstruction or Lacanian psychoanalysis as that of Marxism, though his reasons for doing so have less to do with mere eclecticism than a desire to point up both the positive potential of such thought — the extent to which it might enrich Marxist analysis — as well as its limitations and mystifications.

Of greater theoretical significance, though, is his anti-humanist collapsing of subjectivity and ideology — the claim that we become subject to ideology in and through the very process of becoming individual subjects. Taking its cue from this argument, literary critical practice either focused on the ways in which the reader was interpellated by the subject position created for her by the literary text e.

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Belsey, , or led to a scrutiny of the ways in which novelistic characters were themselves interpellated to become subjects. In his work on sexuality, for instance, Foucault argues that the sexological discourses which came into being in the late nineteenth century, giving names to the various perverse 59 60 Te r r y E a g l e t o n subjects it claimed to have discovered and encouraging them to confess to their conditions, set the terms for the sexual liberation movements of the twentieth century.

Foucault, a, 54—6. Clearly, Marxism was going to be a casualty of any such intellectual trend. The metanarratives he is referring to are philosophical — the Hegelian narrative of the evolution of self-consciousness — and political — that of human emancipation.


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The issues generated for Marxism by postmodernism are not just theoretical ones. If it were simply a matter of evaluation, the response — acceptance or rejection — would be relatively straightforward, but the term does not simply refer to a set of theoretical claims; it also refers to an alleged historical transformation, at least in Western societies. It is a matter of material changes, as well as a change in sensibilities.

For Marxism, as we have seen, the social totality is inevitably contradictory — its contradictions determining its movement forwards — and mediated. Most contemporary Marxists have also been keen to acknowledge the strong degree of autonomy rightly claimed by social movements not reducible Culture and Postmodernism 63 to class.

But postmodernism is suspicious of totalising claims, and its rejection of them may even stand as its definitive feature, stressing, for both epistemological and ethical reasons, the irreducibly plural nature of reality a term which nonetheless it dislikes because of its association with truth claims and the tyranny of identitarian thought. Plurality is — effectively, at least — both fact and value.

It is changing the meaning of the word knowledge, while expressing how such a change can take place. It is producing not the known, but the unknown. And it suggests a model of legitimation that has nothing to do with maximised performance, but has as its basis difference understood as paralogy. Lyotard, , 60 Resistance can exploit the paralogy generated by such science. However resistance exists at the level of and as a consequence of the micronarratives the system favours.

Lyotard even suggests that all invocations of a totality in politico-philosophical programmes will, if realised, necessarily — not, that is, in concrete historical conditions — produce totalitarianisms. Eagleton, , We have already seen something of this sensibility in Foucault, and will discuss in more detail its manifestations in Derrida; if Lyotard can be said to share in it, he nonetheless tends to forget there might be reasons for pessimism. I want now to attempt a sketch of the ways in which Marxism has accounted for this particular sensibility, as well as the postmodern valorisation of the plural, in materialist terms, and in doing so I want to draw on a more general Marxist discussion to which Eagleton has contributed and on which he has consistently drawn, but which, as Neil Lazarus notes, has tended not to be engaged in turn by postmodern theory Lazarus, , Inevitably, Marxism grasps postmodernism as the product of historical change.

To take the most recent changes first, the later decades of the twentieth century were ones of capitalist reorganisation and of mixed, but mostly negative, political fortunes for the left. And this context — the massive defeat of socialist forces — has been decisive. The economic liberalisation pursued by Reagan and Thatcher from the late s onwards has become the common sense of virtually all nation states — with, in the case of some nominally socialist governments, a few perfunctory genuflections towards the altar of beneficent state intervention — and the collapse from the late s of what was taken to represent the antithesis of capitalism the neo-Stalinist States of Eastern Europe helped to clinch the ideological correlation between capitalism and freedom.

The fall of the Soviet Union was greeted with triumphalism as the death of socialism, the triumph of capitalism and even — in an ostentatious return to Hegel — the end of history Fukuyama, The only aim of our company today is profit. If this is an ideological perception, it is not just this, rooted as it is in an awareness of the genuine weakness of organised opposition to capital as a consequence of material changes in capitalist structures and of the determined actions of nation states across the globe in suppressing such opposition through anti-union legislation and other repressive measures, something to which I will return in a moment.

If the emergence of postmodernism is in part an ideological response to defeat, hence its pessimism, its libertarian dimensions can be related to key features of contemporary capitalism. This, though, is only one of the ways in which postmodernism is indebted to capitalism. One of the further features of postmodern claims to radicalism lies in its turn to subjectivity, and in particular its theorisation of the subject as dispersed. I can do scant justice here either to regulation school theory itself or to the profundity of the change described by Harvey, but some account is necessary.

Under Fordism, large scale factory production characterised by minute divisions of labour, generated mass produced, standardised commodities directed largely at a market whose fundamental unit was the nuclear family, whilst at a certain stage in the evolution of Fordism, Keynesian state regulation of the economy aspired to full employment and a certain standard of living — ultimately guaranteed by welfare programmes — which ensured a continuing demand for such commodities. Even typical Trade Union activity of this period tended to be bound up with the particular regime of accumulation, for instance by delimiting the tasks for which its members might be responsible.

Such constraints on capitalism were tolerable whilst the regime generally held up, but the crisis of made it imperative that these and other constraints should be broken. At the level of the state, and even of regional authorities, we have seen a transformation in roles, as each seeks to guarantee conditions conducive to capital in competition with other state or regional authorities.

There are many consequences attendant on the transformation which Harvey describes, not least amongst them a difficulty in our ability to grasp anything which might be described as a totality there was surely something about even the appearance of Fordist regimes of accumulation — the relative homogeneity they produced — which encouraged such a grasp.

Other effects include: greater cultural eclecticism across time and space , a greater emphasis on novelty rather than standardisation in the production and consumption of commodities, and a heightened awareness of cultural capital if only through the distinctions between branded goods , all of which accentuate difference and generate an intensified sense of individuality based on a multiplication of desires for commodities to the point where it is often difficult for people to make rational decisions about what they want or even need the remarkable fetishisation of the mobile phone is an outstanding example.

This new middle class in particular, argues Callinicos, constitutes the collective postmodern subject, the one whom Lyotard seems to have in mind when he notoriously discusses the eclectic cosmopolitanism of contemporary existence, thus mistaking a particular class experience for a universal condition. He simply claims that the conjuncture he describes accounts for the take up of postmodern ideas; it might even be suggested that it accounts for the way in which those ideas have been taken up. They both dispense and reflect contemporary taste and assert the class distinctiveness of their readership through the commodities — food, clothing, furniture, travel, films, music and so on — that they promote.

In contrast to Raymond Williams before him, though, this is not a role which Eagleton has conspicuously taken on for himself and his cultural criticism has unfortunately shied away from engagement with the culture industry, continuing instead to privilege literature. One might conclude from this summary that, as far as Marxism is concerned, that is postmodernism done and dusted: whilst there have been qualitative changes in the nature of capitalism, postmodern theory dwells merely on the surface of such changes — indeed, it tends to argue that the distinction between surface and depth is illusory.

Indeed, he has argued against the abruptly dismissive attitude of Marxists such as Perry Anderson. More than any other Marxist, he has explored the limits of any potential rapprochement between Marxism and certain forms of postmodernism. Indeed, its advocates doubt whether it can be spoken about as having an existence at all Wolfreys, , 1— In particular, it works to undermine the certainties, or foundations, of the texts on which it goes to work, those things which are required for any systematic thought to be viable.

It is not itself a system or set of beliefs, though it does possess consequences for belief, and arguably appeals to, indeed underwrites — despite its avowed distrust of underwriting anything at all — a certain mindset.

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It is useful to begin with that principal opposition which underwrites much philosophical discourse and whose absoluteness deconstruction has sought to disrupt: that between presence and absence. The opposition is translatable in various ways as, for example, that between meaning and non-meaning, the essential and the inessential, the necessary and the contingent, inside and outside, voice and writing, life and death — in short, between that which is privileged in a philosophical system as the very ground of that system and that which is secondary, derived, dependent or antithetical.

Deconstruction demonstrates that such prioritisations are reversible, though never definitively so. Rather, Culture and Postmodernism 73 deconstruction seeks, not in Hegelian fashion to invert an opposition as a stage in the process of reconciliation, but rather to valorise certain marks … that by analogy … I have called undecidables … which inhabit philosophical opposition, resisting and disorganising it, without ever constituting a third term, without ever leaving room for a solution in the form of speculative dialectics.

Derrida, , 43 This refusal of closure, the insistence on deferral, is crucial to deconstruction. Its invocation represents a refusal ever to allow meaning to be present in its purity or identity. Meaning, then, cannot be exploded, starting points cannot be dispensed with, and accounts of deconstruction — even of a figure called Jacques Derrida — can be provided even argued over , though usually only when accompanied by disclaimers of the viability of the project about to be undertaken see, for instance, Bennington and Derrida, , 1— To assert such a thing would be to essentialise the phenomenon.

Highly self-conscious — since the self is a metaphysical entity — and aware of the ineliminable contradictions which it produces, constitutively resistant to systematisation and even conceptualisation, deconstruction is unsurprisingly a formidable enemy. Hence such a declaration of opposition would be less problematic for deconstruction to handle than the dialectical evaluation to which Eagleton subjects it.

Possibly this accounts for the failure of many to understand what he is about in his first essay on deconstruction. Of course, polemic is to certain ears inherently, essentially vulgar, and in this essay Eagleton deliberately flaunts that vulgarity. Faced with the disavowals of deconstruction — its refusal to be constituted as Culture and Postmodernism 75 any kind of entity — he not only affirms but seeks to accentuate its identity by labelling it deconstructionism, something practised by deconstructionists. Eagleton, , A few years later, Eagleton was to revisit and somewhat refine this assessment: deconstruction is … a liberalism without a subject, and as such, among other things, an appropriate ideological form for late capitalist society.

Classical liberalism was always wracked by a conflict between the autonomy of the self and its plurality, seeking to fold back the latter within the regulative unity of the former; deconstruction takes up this contradiction, in a later stage of bourgeois society where the humanist doctrine of autonomy is increasingly implausible and discredited, and boldly sacrifices that traditional liberal shibboleth to the cause of a plurality which might just give ideology the slip. It is an ideology, Eagleton suggests, characteristic of times of working-class defeat or of classes who perhaps never had much faith in socialist politics it would appear Eagleton has both of these in mind at different times in the essay.

Eagleton has consistently argued for the ultimately social reformist nature of deconstruction as a consequence of its refusal to think in terms of a totality and therefore to conceive of the forces necessary for the transformation of that totality. In various meetings between deconstruction and Marxism, that signal failure has been evident. In fact, the argument that Marxism has traditionally not taken other political struggles seriously is not so much an allegation as a truism, though its truth has been impressed on the left over the years more by those movements themselves than by deconstruction.

In fact, though, post-Marxism — at least in the version which originated that term — has been more appropriately described as a fairly straightforward kind of ex-Marxism which relies on travestied versions of that which it claims to have superseded Geras, , 40— It also relies on a particular way of grasping the complexity of social formations. Even from this brief summary, we can begin to formulate questions which highlight the difficulty of reconciling postmodern thought with left politics. Famously, for Margaret Thatcher there was no such thing as society. Meaningful discussion of the social entails a recognition that there are certain necessities which require us to come together in the first place and certain forces and structures in place which organise the production of our needs — for instance, capitalism or patriarchy — providing some degree of coherence which can then become the focus of political struggle.

It is determinate complexities such as these — not an abstract, presumed and therefore idealist indeterminacy — that make politics difficult, including the attempt to construct hegemony. The assumption, on the other hand, that a proper grasp of complexity necessarily implies a refusal of determinacy might be said to be definitive of postmodern thought. Such arguments go to the heart of any attempt to reconcile deconstruction and other forms of poststructuralism with left politics.

Culture and Postmodernism 79 Indeed, if Laclau and Mouffe are true to their word, there can be no way of determining which social movements we might regard as detotalising in a good way. It is not finally clear, then, that the radical democracy advocated by Laclau and Mouffe necessarily underwrites a specifically left wing politics.

This pugnacious and witty Irishman—he would be Caravaggio if he painted in the seventeenth century—has noticed in his scholarly and political journey that many folks, ordinary and sophisticated, think that Marx was wrong about everything. For most, Marx is toast. This is a pretty bold strategy!

This really is a joke, is it not? In the neo-liberal form of capitalism strides the world like a colossus. They have, so far, escaped crises that appeared to take the capitalist system to the brink of the precipice. The ruling classes of the world just adore the idea that Marx is toast and irrelevant. O, how they wish this were so!

Identity politics was embraced and the core of our troubles, the Capitalist Mode of Production and Organization, simply accepted as the way it has to be, so it seems. Marxism is still on call. Eagleton intuits, correctly I think, that objections to Marx have congealed into a set of standard assertions and misperceptions. The gallant defender of Marx, however, has a less than easy time defending the accusations that Marx is a historical determinist.

It was moving inexorably and awkwardly towards the socialist future. Eagleton asserts that once we set aside the idea that Marx was captive to general laws of history, then we gain considerable insight into historical process. He raises the difficult questions surrounding the transition from capitalism to a humane socialism. The revolutionary class may not be ripe to make the revolution. There is no guarantee, as we have seen in our time, that a revolutionary agent is conveniently at hand.

Crisis crunches can arrive—and things just get worse! Marx did not have the ability to gaze into a crystal ball. However, Eagleton tackles the standard objection number 2 that socialism was a pretty damn awful experience for millions of people head-on with his gloves off. Capitalism, too, was forged in blood and terror. Anti-communist propaganda works over time, day after bloody day, to tar socialism with thick black paint.

Defenders of capitalism must face the acerbic and sour reality that capitalist prosperity has been achieved by traveling down the road of genocide, famine, imperialism and the slave trade. Eagleton reminds us that Marx and Engels never imagined that socialism could flower in such impoverished conditions. The task of building up an economy from very low levels and to do so under democratic control is an almost impossible task.

Socialism also requires a shortened working day. How can persons be fulfilled without leisure? How can men and women facing innumerable barriers inside their own country and fierce hostility from the US fashion slowly and carefully political and economic self-government? They died for lack of oxygen in these grim conditions. Ah, what an irony for those of us on the Left! He believed that political representatives should be accountable to their electors, and castigated German Social Democrats of his day for their statist politics. He insisted on free speech and civil liberties, was horrified by the forced creation of an urban proletariat in his case in England rather than Russia , and held that common ownership should be a voluntary rather coercive process.

At the level of individual enterprises, cooperation would ensure increased efficiency, since the evidence suggests that it is almost always as efficient as capital enterprise and often much more so.



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