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After Theory Paperback – November 30, 2004

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

The author of the seminal cultural studies primer Literary Theory now levels an equally trenchant critique at the field in this brilliant and provocative reassessment. Writing in a valedictory mood, Eagleton traces the rise of cultural theory through its golden age (c. 1965-80), and bemoans its decline into a shallow, depoliticized preoccupation with sex and pop-culture ephemera. As grad students churn out "reverential essays on Friends," latter-day cultural theorists espouse a "dim-witted" postmodernism that dismisses as hegemonic claptrap all talk of common values, objective truth and coherent historical narratives; they have thereby, he contends, turned away from the great socialist project of collective action in support of universal human liberation, and aligned themselves with the nihilistic thrust of a capitalism they pretend to oppose. Alongside Eagleton's indictment of the sorry state of cultural studies is a ringing defense of its potential to address grander subjects than The Matrix or nipple piercing, which he demonstrates by weaving in deft and illuminating commentaries on such topics as Aristotle's ethics, the tension between law and morality in St. Paul and the link between the body and social justice in Lear. The book stands as both rebuke and example to the kind of academic writer who deploys turgid abstractions to flesh out meager ideas; virtually every paragraph crackles with fresh and compelling insights, conveyed in a style that's intellectually sophisticated yet lucid, funny and down to earth. In rescuing cultural studies from some of its less thoughtful practitioners, Eagleton confirms its continuing importance to our understanding of the world.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

Prolific and influential British cultural theorist Eagleton begins his newest treatise, a marvel of speedway wit, vivifying thinking, and humanitarian concerns, by assessing the direction criticism has taken in the wake of such intellectual giants as Derrida, Foucault, and Barthes. His take on academic concerns is acute and deliciously ironic, but he soon turns to the conundrums of everyday life in the global village, thus marking the populist path he believes cultural theory itself must follow. Eagleton defines theory as nothing less than "the taxing business of trying to grasp what is actually going on," then performs this invaluable feat by tackling such complex matters as our vision of the "good life," the specter of poverty, and the nature of morality. Along the way he cogently tracks the failure of socialism, the coalescence of revolutionary nationalism, and the concurrent rise of unfettered capitalism and violent forms of fundamentalism. Scathingly critical of America's current administration and passionate in his advocacy of knowledge and rational and independent thought, Eagleton is a welcome breath of fresh air in stifling times. Donna Seaman
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 231 pages
  • Publisher: Basic Books (December 1, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0465017746
  • ISBN-13: 978-0465017744
  • Product Dimensions: 5 x 0.6 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.5 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (20 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #320,025 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Rm Pithouse on February 11, 2004
Format: Hardcover
Terry Eagleton's After Theory was hailed as philosophically serious and important on arrival and is destined to be far more popular that anything he has written before. It's not the first book to be titled After Theory, but it is the first book to take on the pretentions of `high theory', especially as articulated through postmodernism and cultural studies, explain its claims, evaluate them and offer alternative ideas and projects in plain language and with lots of excellent humour. With three or four stand alone one-liners on most pages and ideas concretized with examples from popular culture (as well as Aristotle, the Book of Isaiah, Shakespeare and Marx) and ordinary life, it is a rollicking good read and a welcome corrective to the laborious Derridean obscurantism that some still mistake for wisdom.
Eagleton is happy to concede that high theory has entrenched some useful if not original insights such as the ideas that human beings are about desire and fantasy as much as reason, that ordinary life is an important focus of critical attention and that seriousness and pleasure are not necessarily separate. But he also argues that it has a disabling tendency towards the valorisation of the experiences of elites and the disregard for the experiences of ordinary people. He is deeply skeptical about, say, an Indian academic moving between Oxford and Harvard who celebrates cosmopolitanism and hybridity as the vanguard of post-coloniality while saying nothing about the children sewing Nike shoes in Delhi. He is equally skeptical about academics who reject the idea of progress without rejecting dental anesthetics. And he shows that post-modern arguments are very easily deployed by overtly reactionary agendas.
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Format: Hardcover
I picked up this book after it had been mentioned on the Chicago NPR station as being hailed as 'critical bomb' being dropped on critical theory. This it was not.
Eagleton's work--at least all that I have read--is always lucidly written and adorned with insights of wide-breadth and importance. This book is not an exception. It is, however, not a book that seems to me likely to be read for eternity.
What I enjoyed most about was its fireside wisdom quality. In a sense, this book resembles a series a letters from your mentor about academic work, its potential, failings, and excesses, and some words about his view of life in general.
Thus, the claimed philosophical importance of the work is an exaggeration attached for pushing the work forward for publishing. It is by no means a definitively new alternative course for critical theory. It is nevertheless an enjoyable book full of numerous worthwhile insights.
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Format: Hardcover
This book has been somewhat mis-categorized by sellers as literary theory. Chapter 1 covers that ground admirably, and Eagleton's no-nonsense historical tour will be bracingly refreshing to anyone who has studied literature at university in the last twenty years. Of course, he doesn't quite toss out everything from structuralism to postmodernism, but he does probe their limits with his customary humour and flair and give a convincing explanation of the academic interest in pop culture that followed them. But all this is merely a prelude. Eagleton's real project here is the recovery of the intellectual Left which, since the 1970s, has been burrowing ever deeper into arcane academic specializations under the banner of "cultural theory", and simultaneously becoming ever more politically remote. As Eagleton puts it, Marxism is now just a mildly interesting way of talking about "Wuthering Heights". This won't do. By and large, cultural theory has been massively evasive on such central topics as Truth, Objectivity, Morality, Virtue and Evil, preferring to take a contingent, relativistic, culturally-informed non-view on the rare occasions when it got around to raising such issues at all rather than just shunning them in embarrassment at the prospect of having to stand for something. But the period when this was more or less acceptable may be coming to an end. The Left, he maintains, has a lot to offer in an age of resurgent far-right extremism - a malady afflicting both the West's enemies and its self-proclaimed defenders. Most of "After Theory" consists of an attempt to rehabilitate the Left - to lure it down from the ivory tower (if not smash its foundations) and to reapply it to those Big Questions.Read more ›
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Format: Hardcover
I agree with those who find this book preaches to the converted. In this case, the radical (as opposed to the liberal) left. I remain skeptical of all such world-changing agendas, but if you're needing a sharp rejoinder to the capitalist hegemony that permeates even this electronic screen you're reading, then this book's a sensible collection of somewhat scattered thoughts on the need for kindness, humility, and idealism. Getting back to the roots of Marx rather than Marxism, and the socialist imperative to assist what Eagleton updates to be "reciprocal self-realization", he argues that cultural theory must revive itself through an embrace of Aristotle's ethics of flourishing, and that freedom and autonomy can be achieved by attending to others' needs rather than our own, as capitalism demands.

Of course, as with many works in both philosophy and critical theory, how this is to be practically accomplished cannot be found in these lively if self-congratulatory pages that take on the current Bush administration, the selfish and hypocritical psuedo-Christian contigent, and those pursuing profit so that, as Eagleton notes in an aside that seems to be more true each day, capitalism can appropriate our very senses. Even if this is more inspiration than information, Eagleton, by his use of examplars as disparate as George Best, Lady Macbeth, Mick Jagger, the anawim of the book of Isaiah, and especially Lear on the heath makes his points engagingly and wittily. I noticed a strong anti-Americanism permeating nearly every page, especially as the book went on, but his postscript assures readers that he only means those in charge right now, not the rest of us presumably much better educated and more sensitively altruistic!
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