After Theory

Yes, I found Terry Eagleton's After Theory some time ago from the Waste Books in some remote shopping mall. In the book Eagleton traces the roots of cultural theory, and identifies three reasons why “cultural theory must start thinking ambitiously once again”: Capitalism has entered its most totalizing phase by becoming ruthless and global, “The gang of predatory, semi-literate philistines” and “semi-fanatical fundamentalists” who rule the United States are in danger of ending history as we know it, and, The West is under pressure to justify its way of life in the face of the Islamic fundamentalist challenge. And it is ironic, according to Eagleton, that “at just the point that we [as postmodern cultural theorists] have begun to think small, history has begun to act big.”

In reviewing Eagleton's book in Philosophy Now (http://www.philosophynow.org/issue55/55aoudjit.htm), Abdelkader Aoudjit writes as follows:

"After he has treated the fallacies of postmodernism, Eagleton proceeds to put forward his own version of cultural theory in the second part of the book. Drawing on both Aristotle and Marx, he argues that, like everything else in nature, man has a distinctive end to achieve or function to fulfill, which is to be good and happy. Eagleton also takes from Aristotle and Marx the idea that humans are political by nature, not only in the sense that one needs others to survive, but also in the sense that nothing one does has any meaning outside the human community. To fully realize one’s capacity as a human being therefore, Eagleton contends, one needs a ‘good society’, because “nobody can thrive when they are starving, miserable or oppressed.” It follows that only socialism ensures that everybody can develop their full potential, because socialism makes “human solidarity an end in itself,” and also because class division and exploitation undermine people’s abilities to live happy and fulfilling lives. “In class society,” he writes, “even those powers and capacities which belong to us as a species – labour, for example, or communication – are degraded into means to an end. They become instrumentalized for the advantage of others.” Eagleton finds support for his ethics in both Christianity and Islam.
Eagleton does a good job of introducing his readers to the current state of cultural theory, and in particular of laying out the historical and political elements which have shaped and continue to shape its development. Furthermore, his case for socialism is well argued and thoughtful. However, I think the most important insight of the book is the idea that morality emerges from corporeal weaknesses, needs and interests, so that if we had a different body, our experience of the world and morality would also be different."


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