Life inside two mental boxes

Anthony Grayling nails Terry Eagleton (who has written a new book pretending to say something about evil).

[H]e sets off on one of those complexifying journeys, like the route of a pinball bouncing backwards and forwards among a thicket of pingers, from William Golding to St Augustine, Macbeth to Pseudo-Dionysus, original sin to the Holocaust, Shakespeare to Freud, Satan to Thomas Mann, Arendt to Aristotle, and so copiously on – a verbal pinball ride among the entries in the telephone book of Western culture, to tell us what evil is. But do not expect, by the end, a conclusion, still less a definition, nor even a summary. Eagleton has been too long among the theorists to risk a straightforward statement. You have to grasp at fragments as you bounce among the pingers, not always quite sure whether he is agreeing or disagreeing with this or that author, even whether he is still paraphrasing an author or speaking with his own voice. That’s a technique, of course.

That’s the guy all right – copious name-dropping, energetic showing off by means of style and a bogus kind of erudition, and no actual argument at all. That last bit about not being able to tell if he is paraphrasing or speaking with his own voice applies exactly to Stanley Fish, too. The snail-trail of ‘Theory.’

As we are dealing with Eagleton here, note that this is of course not a mish-mash of inconsistencies, as it appears to be; this is subtlety and nuance. It is, you might say, nuance-sense.

It may not be clear if you haven’t read the whole review: that first claim is pure irony.

Eagleton has spent his life inside two mental boxes, Catholicism and Marxism, of both of which he is a severe internal critic – that is, he frequently kicks and scratches at the inside of the boxes, but does not leave them.

Now that’s a great line. Funny that Eagleton, for all his showing off, can’t write anything as good.

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