Terry Eagleton's "Literary Theory"I bought this book on a whim earlier because I found it in a bargain bin and it looked quite interesting. I’ve heard the name of the author before. If there is a nemesis to Dawkins and Hitchens, it’s this guy, and he actually does a fairly good and entertaining job of arguing against what he calls the Hitchkins-brigade.


What, one wonders, are Dawkins’s views on the epistemological differences between Aquinas and Duns Scotus? Has he read Eriugena on subjectivity, Rahner on grace or Moltmann on hope? Has he even heard of them? Or does he imagine like a bumptious young barrister that you can defeat the opposition while being complacently ignorant of its toughest case? Dawkins, it appears, has sometimes been told by theologians that he sets up straw men only to bowl them over, a charge he rebuts in this book; but if The God Delusion is anything to go by, they are absolutely right. As far as theology goes, Dawkins has an enormous amount in common with Ian Paisley and American TV evangelists. Both parties agree pretty much on what religion is; it’s just that Dawkins rejects it while Oral Roberts and his unctuous tribe grow fat on it.

Eagleton is a professor at Lancaster University and at Notre Dame, and from the first page I got more of his amusing style, which I do find engaging even though I don’t agree with him on Hitchens and Dawkins. That said, I don’t have the knowledge to argue against Eagleton, because I’m sure he could beat me senseless with his encyclopedic knowledge about the themes and issues of Augustine’s “The city of God” for instance. One must pick one’s enemies. I think I’ll pick someone that’s smaller, and less knowledgeable than me. Which means I should pick on first years in preschool.

However, here’s the style of this book which I’m enjoying quite a lot.

Perhaps one needs a different kind of approach altogether. Perhaps literature is definable not according to whether it is fictional or ‘imaginative’, but because it uses language in peculiar ways. On this theory, literature is a kind of writing which, in the words of the Russian critic Roman Jakobson, represents an ‘organized violence committed on ordinary speech’. Literature transforms and intensifies ordinary language, deviates systematically from everyday speech. If you approach me at a bus stop and murmur ‘Thou still unravished bride of quietness,’ then I am instantly aware that I am in the presence of the literary. I know this because the texture, rhythm and resonance of your words are in excess of their abstractable meaning – or, as the linguists might more technically put it, there is a disproportion between the signifiers and the signifieds. Your language draws attention to itself, flaunts its material being, as statements like ‘Don’t you know the drivers are on strike?’ do not.

Terry Eagleton, “Literary Theory”, pp 2