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Theory is as dead as irony

Cultural theory is dead! (Link from David Fiore.)

In this age of terrorism, he [Terry Eagleton] says, cultural theory has become increasingly irrelevant, because theorists have failed to address the big questions of morality, metaphysics, love, religion, revolution, death and suffering.” … The postmodern prejudice against norms, unities and consensuses is a politically catastrophic one,” he writes.

Now this is apparently a standard criticism of postmodernist theory, that it rejects norms and consensuses. You so crazy, Terry Eagleton! What postmodernists reject norms and consensuses? Stupid ones, I guess? I don’t. I say, as a postmodernist, we have nothing but norms and consensuses. But see, (some) non-postmoderists seem to think something like, “If we see a consensus among humans, that’s probably indicative of some kind of absolute or truth or something like that.” But postmodernists, or postmodernists who think like I do anyway, think more like, “Well, we have this consensus, so we’d better deal with that and not worry too much about whether it’s a universal absolute truth or whatever.” See how that’s different than a rejection of norms and consensuses consensi? It’s a loving embrace of them.


  1. David Fiore says:

    I agree Steven–although, of course, I don’t think you’d care to deny that there are stupid postmodernists out there fiddling with their favourite theories while the world screams “fire”…

    That said–Eagleton is clearly overreacting, but he’s an old fool and the Proletariat has really let him down. We’ll just have to cut him some slack…or cut off his bar tab next time there are reporters around.

    Maybe he should read some Habermas.


    — 9 January 2004 at 5:56 am (Permalink)

  2. Steven says:

    Oh, there are stupid postmodernists out there… A fun thing about postmodernism is, it’s so polysemic, there’s no one thing that postmodernism is. I say yay for polysemy, but people like Mr. Eagleton seem to prefer a single definition of the term “postmodernism” which they can easily argue against.

    — 9 January 2004 at 11:47 am (Permalink)

  3. Rose says:

    Has he really been bad enough to warrant the Habermas? Admittedly, I should probably read more Habermas. I’m very much the Gadamer type instead (and we share a birthday, so there must be some magical significance to it, too!).

    Anyway, “Whoa! Terry Eagleton says cranky, provocative things!” is not, as far as I know, any kind of new and exciting headline, but a continuation of the longstanding status quo. The interview did make me think I should read the book, though. I’d better sort things out with the library.

    Now, I’m a postmodernist too, but not as idealistic as Steven. I don’t really have a problem with Eagleton trying to summarize a postmodernist opinion, although his claims about it are somewhat unhelpful, since saying that “there’s no one thing that postmodernism is” hints at the idea that no one can argue against postmodernism because it just can’t be pinned down. That said, Eagleton’s argument isn’t without merit, but I don’t think people who aren’t postmodernists are doing much better at handling the Big Questions of our world head-on.

    Then again, given a few of the stupid postmodernists I’ve known, maybe it’s not a bad thing that they’re not involved with the way things work. But that’s true of stupid Marxists as well, and stupid people in general. I’m also not sure why Eagleton thinks all academic theorists are equipped to handle the questions he wants them to answer. I’d rather read a new analysis of Swinburne than another book on The Problem of Evil, which was what basically all the senior philosophy majors I knew wrote about. Then again, I’m really into Swinburne. But my point still stands.

    — 9 January 2004 at 12:40 pm (Permalink)

  4. Steven says:

    Well, it is no fair if people can’t argue against postmodernism. But there must be some centralish idea to the whole mess. But that centralish idea isn’t a prejudice against norms and consensi.

    And I think there needs to be a moratorium on books about The Problem of Evil.

    — 9 January 2004 at 12:52 pm (Permalink)

  5. David Fiore says:

    I’d say that a skeptical attitude toward all narratives (especially monsters of progression-toward-telos like the Marxist scheme of history) is the “centralish concern” of postmodernism… is it any wonder Terry’s mind is showing the strain?

    anyone who understands that we don’t need Platonic Ideas to help us live in harmony (quite the opposite in fact) can get by without Habermas–but Terry seems like he needs a dose.

    about the problem of evil–you guys are right…we gotta get rid of it! (the treatises I mean–not evil itself… I don’t know how you’d accomplish that)

    I haven’t read Swinburne, but I know I should.

    Gadamer is a pretty interesting guy.


    — 9 January 2004 at 4:53 pm (Permalink)