T.Eagleton, _Ideology: An Introduction_ <READ>

John McCreery (JLM@TWICS.COM)
Wed, 14 Feb 1996 23:16:27 +0900

Returning to a project I've tried a couple of times, a year or so
ago as "generous readings" and more recently as "Do we read
what we write?" I will from time to time post messages with the
label <READ> to mark the introduction of a book or article that I
have found especially stimulating. Today's offering is Terry
Eagleton, 1994, Ideology: An Introduction. Verso: London, New

Imagine a Marx whose writing is informed by Wittgenstein, a
committed materialist who is sensitive to every nuance and
contradiction in postmodernist interpretations of thought and
language. Add unconcealed rage at Thatcherite politics and a
deep seriousness that plunges repeatedly into wickedly savage
humor, sophisticated argumentation interrupted periodically by
sudden bursts of The Spitting Image. Thus, for example,

"Very briefly I argue that three key concepts of postmodernist
thought have conspired to discredit the classical concept of
ideology. The first of these doctrines turns on a rejection of the
notion of representation -- in fact, a rejection of an *empiricist*
model of representation, in which the representational baby has
been nonchalantly slung out with the empiricist bathwater. The
second revolves on a epistemological scepticism which would
old that the very act of identifying a form of consciousness as
ideological entails some untenable notion of absolute truth.
Since the latter idea attracts few devotees these days, the former
is thought to crumble in its wake. We cannot brand Pol Pot a
Stalinist bigot since this would imply some metaphysical
certainty about what not being a Stalinist bigot would involve.
The third doctrine concerns a reformulation of the relations
between rationality, interests and power, along roughly neo-
Nietzschean lines, which is thought to render the whole concept
of ideology redundant. Taken together, these three theses have
been thought by some enough to dispose of the whole question
of ideology, at exactly the historical moment when Muslim
demonstrators beat their foreheads till the flood runs, and
American farmhands anticipate being swept imminently up into
heaven, Cadillac and all." (p. xi-xii)

Or, "Those who quite properly emphasize that language is a
terrain of conflict sometimes forget that conflict presupposes a
degree of mutual agreement: we are not politically *conflicting*
if you hold that patriarchy is an objectionable social system and I
hold that it is a small town in upper New York state." (p. 13)

Or, one more, "One reason why ideology would not seem to e a
matter of false consciousness is that many statements which
people might agree to be ideological are obviously true. 'Prince
Charges is a thoughtful, conscientious fellow, not hideously
ugly' is true, but most people who thought it worth saving
would no doubt be using the statement in some way to buttress
the power of royalty. 'Prince Andrew is more intelligent than a
hamster' is also probably true, if somewhat more
controversial...." (p. 15)

If you enjoy serious social thought leavened by subtle writing
and nasty, nasty wit, don't walk, run to your nearest bookstore or
library. This one's for you.

John McCreery
February 14, 1996