After Theory…what?

“As an academic pursuit, cultural theory seems to be more popular today than ever. But according to After Theory, a new book by the prominent left-wing literary theorist Terry Eagleton, ‘the golden age of cultural theory is long past’. While cultural theory has run out of ideas, Eagleton argues that in the wake of 9/11 and the war on Iraq, ‘a new and ominous phase of global politics has now opened, which not even the most cloistered of academics will be able to ignore…

Eagleton is at his strongest when puncturing the pretensions of cultural theory, perhaps because he has spent so much of his career having to wade through this stuff. Complaining about the use of postmodern jargon, he argues that ‘to write in this way as a literary academic, someone who is actually paid for having among other things a certain flair and feel for language, is rather like being a myopic optician or a grossly obese ballet dancer’. Such quips also fill the pages of Eagleton’s Figures of Dissent: Critical Essays on Fish, Spivak, Žižek and Others, published earlier in 2003 – in which he observes dryly that ‘post-colonial theory makes heavy weather of a respect for the Other, but its most immediate Other, the reader, is apparently dispensed from this sensitivity’.

Eagleton is also capable of mounting more serious arguments for rational and comprehensible thought. Among the highlights of After Theory are his lively defences of the concepts of absolute truth – ‘no idea is more unpopular with cultural theory’; and objectivity – ‘objectivity does not mean judging from nowhere…you can only know how the situation is if you are in a position to know’.” —sp!ked