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In Ideology: An Introduction (Verso, 1991) Terry Eagleton returns once again to a topic that has often preoccupied his thinking, from the high Althusserian rigour of Criticism and Ideology (1976) to his recent major work on the history of aesthetics as a surrogate form of ideological discourse. Not that he is merely recycling old ideas in a different polemical context. On the contrary, Eagleton's analysis has deepened and evolved over the years through exposure to the various contending schools of post-Althusserian theory. Some of these arguments he has taken on board, albeit with a growing measure of critical reserve. Others he has berated - not without reason - as philosophically incoherent, politically bankrupt, or irrelevant to the practical Marxist interest in grasping and transforming our conditions of life in the late twentieth-century Western liberal pseudo-democracies. Certainly Eagleton has taken full stock of those challenges to the Althusserian paradigm that have come from so many quarters of late (poststructuralist, postmodernist, neopragmatist, anti-foundationalist etc.), and whose effect has been to generate a widespread suspicion of any such 'discourse' ultimately wedded to the concepts and categories of Marxist Ideologiekritik. In a series of skirmishing polemical rejoinders he has managed to appropriate some elements of this current linguistic turn without giving way on the basic point, i.e. the primacy of real-world socioeconomic conditions and the role of ideology as in some sense an alibi, a realm of false appearances or illusory knowledge-effects. To the obvious question - in what sense, precisely? - his books have returned quite a range of differing answers, from the scientistic truth-claims of that early Althusserian phase to the mixture of
In fact one could chart the various visions and revisions of Eagleton's intellectual trajectory to date by tracing the way that ideology has figured from one book to the next.to attain some critical perspective beyond what is currently and contingently 'good in the way of belief. For the upshot of this and previous variations on the end-of-ideology theme has always been to undermine any kind of argued oppositional critique by making out that consensus ideas and values go all the way down.'the most ideologically aggressive and explicit regime of living political memory. The result. the rise of various nationalist or militant separatist movements. knowledge/belief.nearer home .org at TEL AVIV UNIVERSITY on October 2. and hence that we might as well give up on the effort . One Downloaded from ywcct. while on every hand we witness a spectacular resurgence of ideologies ranging from Christian and Islamic fundamentalism to George Bush's vaunted 'New World Order'. is an odd situation where 'radical' theories are scrambling to vacate the moral and epistemological high ground. he suggests. When things have reached this point. just a product of the old 'Enlightenment' ethos whose appeal to various categorical distinctions . In this latest book Eagleton has two main purposes in view. as Eagleton wryly observes. etc. theory/ideology. it is time to revisit some of the old arguments and see what is at stake in the postmodern turn against theory and all its works. in a society which traditionally prefers its ruling values to remain implicit and oblique'. that there is no getting outside the goldfish-bowl (or 'hermeneutic circle') of received opinion. not least in those periods when his writing registered a sense of unease with any too confident beating of the bounds between theory (or Marxist 'theoretical practice') and ideology as the realm of false consciousness or imaginary misrecognition.has now been revealed as nothing more than a piece of self-serving bogus rhetoric. And nowhere are the signs more plainly to be read than in the current 'postMarxist' revisionist trend which claims to have thought its way through and beyond all the categories of old-style Ideologiekritik. Postmodernism is simply the latest name for this line of allpurpose conformist ideology whose uses have tended to become most apparent at times of widespread political retreat among thinkers of an erstwhile left or left-liberal persuasion.oxfordjournals. and .266 IDEOLOGY: A REVIEW activist rhetoric and 'post-theoretical' scepticism that marked the concluding chapter of Literary Theory: An Introduction (1983). But he has never gone along with any version of that facile postmodernist wisdom which holds such talk to be hopelessly passe.especially the self-deluding Marxist effort . . 2010 .truth/falsehood.
on this theory. These thinkers claim to demonstrate the sheer impossibility of advancing any truth-claims save those that make sense by the lights of some existing 'interpretive community'. . This twopronged approach enables him to cut through swathes of fashionable nonsense. one for whom truthtalk is the merest of illusions. from its enlightenment origins to its complicated history in the recent (post-AJthusserian) context of debate. Then again. more a la mode versions of the same ultra-relativist creed: 'no individual life. can survive entirely bereft of meaning. from the notion (as propounded way back by Barry Hindess and Paul Hirst) that the real is entirely a product of this or that discourse.'travelling anti-theory'. and any society which took this nihilistic road would be nurturing massive social disruption'. 2010 . What his book brings out with particular force is the extent to which postmodernism and kindred discourse-oriented doctrines trade on a drastically simplified conception of language.including its indifference to the referential aspect of the sign . as it might be called . there is the line of supposedly knock-down neopragmatist argument . reality and truth.oxfordjournals. since we now inhabit a world of freefloating signifiers. ever be wrong?' And with reference to later. neopragmatists and others have exploited those same confusions so as to make it appear that any talk of 'ideology' is hooked on a hopelessly naive set of doctrines about knowledge.org at TEL AVIV UNIVERSITY on October 2.following directly from this . among them the egregious Stanley Fish.IDEOLOGY: A REVIEW 267 is to clear away some long-standing sources of confusion by examining the various senses that have attached to the term 'ideology'. . one that takes over Saussure's synchronic-descriptive methodology .but which raises that purely heuristic precept into a high point of anti-realist dogma with Downloaded from ywcct. How can anyone. The other . not even Jean Baudrillard's. to the antics of a postmodern guru like Jean Baudrillard. simulacra or signs without referents where 'reality' is whatever we make of it according to the latest (no matter how distorted) consensus view.is to show how postmodernists. some in-place set of conventional beliefs impervious to any form of reasoned or principled critique. Thus: 'the thesis that objects are entirely internal to the discourses which constitute them raises the thorny problem of how we could ever judge that a discourse has constructed its object validly . Eagleton responds to all of this with a mixture of strong counterargument on philosophic grounds and straightforward appeal to the social and political realities which postmodernism so blithely brushes aside.espoused by philosophers like Richard Rorty and a whole current school of literary critics. language-game or 'signifying practice'.
therefore we might as well junk the belief in a real world of material objects.as with Baudrillard . Eagleton displays a firm grasp of topics Downloaded from ywcct.who have set about recasting the political agenda through a process that reduces everything to the level of 'discourses'. Eagleton makes short work of such claims. processes and events that exist quite apart from our current (wholly 'arbitrary') modes of conceptualization.org at TEL AVIV UNIVERSITY on October 2. It is needlessly obfuscating and homogenizing to subsume such things as preaching a sermon and dislodging a pebble from one's left ear under the same rubric.between ontological and epistemological issues.in Rorty's neopragmatist parlance . The contemplative analysis of a practice suddenly reappears as its very essence . . that is to say.as remarked by realist opponents like Roy Bhaskar .268 IDEOLOGY: A REVIEW dire theoretical and political consequences. On the contrary. Otherwise this whole line of argument will appear nothing more than a handy escape-route. Eagleton writes: is that a practice may well be organized like a discourse. a means of embracing conformist ideas and values while neatly avoiding such old-fashioned topics as the 'political responsibility of the intellectuals'. or . . in a familiar idealist move.what is currently and contingently 'good in the way of belief. Hence the patently absurd idea that since reality is always construed under a certain description. 'enunciative modalities' and so forth. And from here it is a short enough step to that point of extreme cognitive scepticism whose upshot . but as a matter of fact it is a practice rather than a discourse. For they will only seem convincing if one takes it as read that reality is just what we are given to make of it according to the dominant consensus view. One should not be misled by the joky analogies and the throwaway turns of phrase into thinking that this is just a piece of interventionist polemic which sidesteps all the deeper theoretical problems. 2010 .inflated to the point where it imperializes the whole world. The category of discourse is. It is not only postmodernists who are travelling this road. The obvious rejoinder.oxfordjournals. in accordance with some pre-given set of linguistic or intra-discursive categories.is an attitude of last-ditch moral and political retreat. as Eagleton reminds us in some sharply diagnostic pages devoted to those soi-disant 'post-Marxist' thinkers Ernesto Laclau and Chantal Mouffe among them . Along with this goes a widespread confusion . 'subject-positions'. together with the endof-ideology thesis that they are commonly assumed to entail. A way of understanding an object is simply projected into the object itself. eliding the distinction between thought and material reality.
' Postmodernism requires that we treat such claims as just another showing of the chronic old realist illusion. 2010 References Eagleton. issues in epistemology.among them. war-game scenarios. Small wonder that Eagleton's writing should often take on a polemical tone. (1991). a war that perhaps never occurred . sublimely fatuous pronouncements on the Guff War as an instance of postmodern 'hyperreality'.which treat that condition as a simply inescapable aspect of the way we live now. 'If a theory of ideology has any use at all'. Eagleton concludes. 'there is nothing outside the text'. . Terry (1976). That Ideology has received such a barrage of abuse from rightwing reviewers in the daily and weekly press is one sure sign that it raises questions conveniently shelved by other. Verso.a wholesale negative ontology .since it only took place in the fantasy realm of simulated images. Basil Blackwell. (1988).oxfordjournals.for all that we can know . New Left Books. Ideology: An Introduction. Downloaded from ywcct. hi-tech 'saturation' coverage and so forth.which are pretty much ignored by the end-of-ideology ideologues.org at TEL AVIV UNIVERSITY on October 2. especially when engaging with thinkers like Baudrillard who push these confusions to the point of a full-scale exercise in political and intellectual bad faith. and which ends up by endorsing a crudely literalized version of Derrida's cryptic statement. coupled with a species of quaint left moralism which rests on those same (nonexistent) foundations of reality. the habit of jumping from a valid diagnosis of contemporary social ills to a set of halfbaked antirealist doctrines . Anyone tempted to adopt this line might do well to consider Baudrillard's latest. Nothing could be further from the narrow-minded orthodoxy that begins with a handful of Saussurian slogans wrenched out of context. philosophy of language. historiography.IDEOLOGY: A REVIEW 269 outside the charmed circle of postmodernist debate . . It is among the great merits of Eagleton's book that it yields no ground to these modish variations on a well-worn sophistical theme. Literary Theory: An Introduction. 'it is in helping to illuminate the processes by which liberation from death-dealing beliefs may be practically effected. One could hardly wish for a clearer illustration of the common postmodernist fallacy. more accommodating styles of thought. Criticism and Ideology: A Study in Marxist Literary Theory. sociology of knowledge etc. truth and critique.