Friday Ephemera

Great Minds

[Cough] Classic sentence. [Cough]

Terry Eagleton has been one of the great minds of the European left seemingly since Cromwell.

This addition to our ongoing series comes from the author and Nation columnist Dave Zirin. It’s his opening line. The second line, however, notes Eagleton’s “absence of understanding” and subsequent sentences explain why the professor’s most recent article, discussed here, is a dusty old trope and “elitist hogwash” - a polemic that’s “more about Eagleton’s alienation than our own.”

I’m sure Professor Eagleton would have some achingly clever reply, given his ability to compare suicide bombing with “avant-garde theatre.” And bearing in mind our recent discussion, it’s perhaps worth noting the professor’s belief that, “being a champagne socialist is better than being no socialist at all.” This was said while gushing over the “great communist poet Hugh MacDiarmid,” a man who wrote a series of Hymns To Lenin, who renewed his party membership in 1956, and whose death, according to Eagleton, spared him from the “dark night of Thatcherism.” An elected Conservative government being so much worse than, say, Soviet tanks in Budapest and hundreds of thousands of fleeing dissidents.

Those who’ve followed Eagleton’s pronouncements will have spotted that the professor is often hostile to dissent, in particular to those whose thinking and experiences take them away from the boneyards of the left. According to the professor, the knighting of Salman Rushdie was “the establishment’s reward for a man who moved from being a remorseless satirist of the west to cheering on its criminal adventures in Iraq and Afghanistan.” No evidence for this dastardly conspiracy was deemed necessary and Rushdie’s supposed “fondness for the Pentagon’s politics” is apparently all that needs to be said, signalling as it must the man’s innate wickedness.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Eagleton’s umbrage on the subject was shared by Iran’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Mohammad Ali Hosseini, who told the world that the decision to praise “the apostate” had “insulted Islamic sanctities” and was “a blatant example of anti-Islamism.” While the Guardian’s Priyamvada Gopal railed against Rushdie’s apostasy as only a lecturer in postcolonial studies can. Rushdie’s divergence from Ms Gopal’s own cartoon worldview - including his dislike of tyranny and his defence of such heresies as intellectual freedom - had apparently reduced the author to “a giggling hack corralled into attacking his ruler’s enemies.” 

Eagleton also hissed at Christopher Hitchens, denouncing him as an “establishment groupie” who has “made his peace... with capitalism” and “learned how to stop worrying about imperialism and love Paul Wolfowitz.” Like his Guardian colleague Bidisha, our esteemed literary theorist imagines he has some proprietary claim on proper, radical thought. Such that radical thought must entail “questioning the foundations of the western way of life,” which in turn must entail having opinions almost exactly like his own. Norm Geras, a lefty in an altogether different league, took apart Eagleton’s assumptions with admirable patience. A venture for which Norm will no doubt be condemned and cast out in due course.