Terry Eagleton, born into a working-class family in England, established himself as a prominent Marxist literary theorist and critic. His diverse body of work encompasses literary analysis spanning the 19th and 20th centuries, as well as a focus on the Marxist tradition from the 1970s. Through his historical materialist approach, Eagleton firmly aligns himself as a Marxist critic.
Compatibility of Critical Trends
While rooted in Marxism, Eagleton's writings also embrace other critical trends that align with his perspective. These trends emerge as a reaction to the ideas of New Criticism, which posited that literary texts are autonomous and self-contained. Eagleton, however, considers modern literary theories as somehow compatible with Marxism, recognizing their shared critique of the New Criticism's autonomy claims.
Political Nature of Literary Theory
Eagleton's work "Literary Theory: An Introduction" delves into various literary approaches, viewing theory as inherently political. He contends that no literary or artistic work can be apolitical, as it inevitably serves the interests of the ruling class in society. While his approach is grounded in the Marxist tradition, Eagleton remains open to engaging with new critical traditions such as structuralism, psychoanalysis, and deconstruction.
However, he does express suspicion towards certain theories, such as New Criticism, Formalism, Post-Structuralism, Psychoanalysis, and Deconstruction, deeming them ahistorical and ideologically aligned with the ruling system rather than challenging it.
Literature as a Cultural Phenomenon
Eagleton emphasizes that literature should be studied as one among many cultural phenomena, with a primary focus on social issues. He believes that the purpose of literature is to produce better individuals while considering the potential for social transformation.
After Theory: Evaluating Cultural Theory
Eagleton's work "After Theory" comes after the period of High Theory, during which influential figures like Foucault, Derrida, and postmodernists made significant contributions. In this work, he assesses the achievements and drawbacks of cultural theory.
He acknowledges that cultural theory delves into critical social issues such as gender, sexuality, race, power, and the environment. However, Eagleton also highlights the flaws of cultural theorists, pointing out their failure to adequately address crucial social matters. He criticizes the cultural theorists' inclination towards preaching transgression, which he considers a capitalist phenomenon.
Human Beings as Essentially Political
The second part of "After Theory" explores ideas inspired by Aristotle and Marx, asserting that human beings are essentially political. Their need for a community to survive and their actions, which find meaning only within the human community, emphasize their inherent political nature.
Eagleton contends that the realization of human potential can only occur within a good society. When society is oppressive, individuals cannot fully develop. "After Theory" not only examines aspects of cultural theories, including their achievements and flaws, but also offers new paths of exploration, particularly in the realms of ethics and politics tied together.