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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
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. 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. theory/ideology. In this latest book Eagleton has two main purposes in view. But he has never gone along with any version of that facile postmodernist wisdom which holds such talk to be hopelessly passe.nearer home .to attain some critical perspective beyond what is currently and contingently 'good in the way of belief. is an odd situation where 'radical' theories are scrambling to vacate the moral and epistemological high ground. as Eagleton wryly observes. 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. and .oxfordjournals. that there is no getting outside the goldfish-bowl (or 'hermeneutic circle') of received opinion. 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. 2010 . The result.org at TEL AVIV UNIVERSITY on October 2. in a society which traditionally prefers its ruling values to remain implicit and oblique'. the rise of various nationalist or militant separatist movements.266 IDEOLOGY: A REVIEW activist rhetoric and 'post-theoretical' scepticism that marked the concluding chapter of Literary Theory: An Introduction (1983). . and hence that we might as well give up on the effort . just a product of the old 'Enlightenment' ethos whose appeal to various categorical distinctions .truth/falsehood. 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. One Downloaded from ywcct.'the most ideologically aggressive and explicit regime of living political memory. etc. he suggests.especially the self-deluding Marxist effort . When things have reached this point.has now been revealed as nothing more than a piece of self-serving bogus rhetoric. 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. 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'. knowledge/belief.
on this theory.oxfordjournals. This twopronged approach enables him to cut through swathes of fashionable nonsense. 2010 . reality and truth. . some in-place set of conventional beliefs impervious to any form of reasoned or principled critique.espoused by philosophers like Richard Rorty and a whole current school of literary critics. . not even Jean Baudrillard's.including its indifference to the referential aspect of the sign . 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. to the antics of a postmodern guru like Jean Baudrillard. one for whom truthtalk is the merest of illusions. 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'. and any society which took this nihilistic road would be nurturing massive social disruption'. from its enlightenment origins to its complicated history in the recent (post-AJthusserian) context of debate.but which raises that purely heuristic precept into a high point of anti-realist dogma with Downloaded from ywcct. there is the line of supposedly knock-down neopragmatist argument . simulacra or signs without referents where 'reality' is whatever we make of it according to the latest (no matter how distorted) consensus view. 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. more a la mode versions of the same ultra-relativist creed: 'no individual life. The other . 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 . 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. 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. language-game or 'signifying practice'. as it might be called . Then again. How can anyone.is to show how postmodernists.following directly from this . can survive entirely bereft of meaning. 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 .org at TEL AVIV UNIVERSITY on October 2. since we now inhabit a world of freefloating signifiers.'travelling anti-theory'. ever be wrong?' And with reference to later.
It is not only postmodernists who are travelling this road.in Rorty's neopragmatist parlance . 'subject-positions'. Otherwise this whole line of argument will appear nothing more than a handy escape-route. in a familiar idealist move. 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. The obvious rejoinder. in accordance with some pre-given set of linguistic or intra-discursive categories. The contemplative analysis of a practice suddenly reappears as its very essence . eliding the distinction between thought and material reality. a means of embracing conformist ideas and values while neatly avoiding such old-fashioned topics as the 'political responsibility of the intellectuals'. 'enunciative modalities' and so forth.as remarked by realist opponents like Roy Bhaskar . Along with this goes a widespread confusion . Eagleton writes: is that a practice may well be organized like a discourse.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 .org at TEL AVIV UNIVERSITY on October 2.what is currently and contingently 'good in the way of belief. but as a matter of fact it is a practice rather than a discourse. Hence the patently absurd idea that since reality is always construed under a certain description.as with Baudrillard . . processes and events that exist quite apart from our current (wholly 'arbitrary') modes of conceptualization.oxfordjournals. Eagleton makes short work of such claims. Eagleton displays a firm grasp of topics Downloaded from ywcct. that is to say. A way of understanding an object is simply projected into the object itself. On the contrary. 2010 . And from here it is a short enough step to that point of extreme cognitive scepticism whose upshot . The category of discourse is. 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.268 IDEOLOGY: A REVIEW dire theoretical and political consequences. therefore we might as well junk the belief in a real world of material objects.between ontological and epistemological issues. or . together with the endof-ideology thesis that they are commonly assumed to entail. 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.inflated to the point where it imperializes the whole world. .who have set about recasting the political agenda through a process that reduces everything to the level of 'discourses'.
(1991). 'If a theory of ideology has any use at all'.a wholesale negative ontology .which treat that condition as a simply inescapable aspect of the way we live now. Literary Theory: An Introduction. Ideology: An Introduction. 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.since it only took place in the fantasy realm of simulated images. (1988). 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.which are pretty much ignored by the end-of-ideology ideologues.for all that we can know . sociology of knowledge etc.org at TEL AVIV UNIVERSITY on October 2. One could hardly wish for a clearer illustration of the common postmodernist fallacy. sublimely fatuous pronouncements on the Guff War as an instance of postmodern 'hyperreality'. Verso. . war-game scenarios. truth and critique.IDEOLOGY: A REVIEW 269 outside the charmed circle of postmodernist debate . Terry (1976). 'it is in helping to illuminate the processes by which liberation from death-dealing beliefs may be practically effected. more accommodating styles of thought. 'there is nothing outside the text'. and which ends up by endorsing a crudely literalized version of Derrida's cryptic statement. the habit of jumping from a valid diagnosis of contemporary social ills to a set of halfbaked antirealist doctrines . Downloaded from ywcct. 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. Basil Blackwell. 2010 References Eagleton.' Postmodernism requires that we treat such claims as just another showing of the chronic old realist illusion. Criticism and Ideology: A Study in Marxist Literary Theory. Nothing could be further from the narrow-minded orthodoxy that begins with a handful of Saussurian slogans wrenched out of context. Small wonder that Eagleton's writing should often take on a polemical tone. a war that perhaps never occurred . New Left Books. Anyone tempted to adopt this line might do well to consider Baudrillard's latest. philosophy of language.oxfordjournals. coupled with a species of quaint left moralism which rests on those same (nonexistent) foundations of reality. hi-tech 'saturation' coverage and so forth. Eagleton concludes. historiography.among them. issues in epistemology. .
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