Back to: Literary Theory in English Literature
Born in a working-class family in England, Terry Eagleton was a Marxist literary theorist and critic. His writing includes a wide range from the 19th and the 20th centuries to 1970s Marxist tradition and from Marxist literary-cultural analysis to the need for theory. His historical materialist approach makes him a Marxist critic.
However, he, in his writing, considers other critical trends that become compatible with his Marxism. This compatibility becomes possible because modern literary theories are somehow a reaction against the ideas of New Criticism such as literary texts are autonomous and self-contained.
Eagleton’s work Literary Theory: An Introduction is a study of literary approaches. He reflects on theory as essentially political. He views that no literary or artistic work is apolitical since it serves the interests of the ruling class of society. His approach despite being that of Marxist tradition is open to new critical traditions such as structuralism, psychoanalysis, and deconstruction.
However, he thinks that theories such as New Criticism, Formalism, Post-Structuralism, Psychoanalysis, and Deconstruction are ahistorical and ideologically suspicious because they rather complied with the interests of the ruling system than challenged them.
Eagleton emphasizes that literature be considered one amongst cultural phenomenon. His advice to his readers is that the study of literature should focus on social issues. He further says that the goal of literature is to produce better people while taking into consideration the social transformation.
Eagleton wrote after theory after the period of High Theory which is a period Foucault, Derrida, and postmodernists. In his After Theory, he talks of the achievements and defects of the cultural theory.
He views that cultural theory reflected upon social issues such as gender, sexuality, race, power, and environment. He sees defects of cultural theory in the inability of cultural theorists to deal with important social issues. Another defect is that cultural theorists preach transgression which he thinks is a capitalist phenomenon.
The second part of After Theory contains ideas derived from Aristotle and Marx that human beings are essentially political. They are political in terms of their need for the community to survive and of their activities which do not have meaning outside the human community.
He argues that the realization of human capacity can only be possible in a good society and when society is oppressive, the thorough development of an individual is not possible. His After Theory not only studies aspects of cultural theories such as achievements and defects but also offers new paths to be explored as ethics and politics tied together.