Second Stanza

And then fashion, chapter two. (You’ll think I’m obsessed. But then, it’s so important, isn’t it. We could label almost anything fashion. We learn from each other, we teach each other, and the more we learn and teach the better, yet it’s possible to call any of that teaching and learning ‘fashion’.) There is a very interesting interview with Terry Eagleton in the Independent, in which fashion plays a large though not quite explicit part.

But isn’t this a trend of his own making? The elusive pleasures of Barthes, Derrida, Foucault et al would surely have remained safely obscured from the masses if Eagleton’s passionate primer hadn’t burst on to student bookshelves and into their brains. “Well, I don’t think I’ve ever been on that particular bandwagon,” says Eagleton, breathtakingly. “Inevitably,” he adds, more convincingly, “those ideas grow out of or are developments of ideas that I’ve been involved in. Postmodernism grew out of Marxism and so on, so, to the extent that I’ve been involved in that whole game, I’m responsible. Of course,” he continues, with a huge grin, “I would say that I’ve been ill-served by my acolytes.”

As so often happens. One could argue that Marx was ill-served by his, Darwin by some of his (Herbert Spencer springs to mind, followed by Francis Galton and Ernst Haeckel), Nietzsche ditto; Rousseau, Blake, Byron, Carlyle, Emerson, Dewey – they all have a lot to answer for. But what then? One hardly wants to recommend that no one propound novel or at least unfamiliar ideas lest some talentless epigones come along and adopt them stupidly.

It is certainly true that Eagleton has been “ill-served by his acolytes”, those jargon-spouting, willfully obfuscating and, sadly, often not too bright purveyors of the kinds of arguments that prefer to loop endlessly rather than take the risk of any kind of original thought. Whoever bears the responsibility for this cultural mire – and only a conspiracy theorist could lay the blame entirely at Eagleton’s DM-shod feet – there is, he believes, an urgent need for fresh, and more profound, thinking about the world we are in. After Theory outlines just some of them. With his characteristic lucidity and wit, it charts the gains and losses of cultural theory and its refusal, or inability, to engage with the Big Issues: not just political, but moral and metaphysical, too.

There you are then. That’s all anyone can do – just keep talking, and if the trend goes wrong, offer a correction.

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