The Illusions of Postmodernism by Terry Eagleton

As it may be gleamed from Eagleton’s political affiliation, he is no friend to non-materialist ideological discourses. So “postmodernism/ postmodernity” is pinned to his shit-list like you or I hold onto our grocery list. The prose of his 1996 short book, The Illusions of Postmodernism, attest to this fact; fiery language intermixes with an unrelenting, fierce assault on everything postmodern. Humor, tact wit, and highly amusing diatribes are fused with keen argumentations to provide a sober alternative to the infantile practice of “plurality of pluralisms.”

Eagleton divides his book into several sections: Beginnings, Ambivalences, Histories, Subject, Fallacies, and Contradictions. Each provide an insight into the function of the Frankenstein-esque contraption known as postmodernism. “Beginnings” obviously simply chart out the origin of the theory and its general stance; setting the tone for the rest of the book, this section can be a bit tedious to read if only for its purposeful repetition and swift dissemination. “Ambivalences” is the natural outgrowth of the introduction with the author developing the perceived qualities of postmodernism and traditional Enlightenment thought which exist in a state of flux regarding postmodernism proper. This area is, again, quite dense as it restlessly throws out huge quantities of information without the hand-holding of other writers: Eagleton expects you to know, by and large, the topics he is discussing. “Histories” deals concretely with the origins of postmodernism and how its past made it today; what separates this section from the ambivalences section is that the latter dealt with theory, while this handles the perception of temporal advancement. “Subject” is a straightforward enough part dealing as it does with autonomy and personal identity within a postmodern society. “Fallacies” is the final full length chapter where Eagleton, at length, argues how the inherent logic of postmodernism itself, with its inability to decide on practical materialist programme, is destined to fade away into obscurity. “Contradictions”, in this same vein, is simply the final few pages by where the assertion is made that once the progressive liberal veneer of postmodernity fades, the only alternative, in light of a revolutionary movement, to decaying bourgeois society, is fascism; and so the book ends on a conventional materialist note.

As previously said, the book is dense. Eagleton writes at a breakneck pace and does not let up. Expect to re-read many paragraphs several times before you understand the thesis. Literary focus is extremely important in this sense as he inserts a variety of clever jokes into the body which, unless you are able to directly identity as jokes, through understanding the theory itself, you may mistakenly associate with the theory itself- a big mistake! So it is recommended you have a working conception of postmodernism before cracking open this brief, but mentally taxing, read.

Over all I enjoyed this Eagleton book. Due to its condescending, even insulting style, I do not think many postmodernists will be swayed to read, and much less be converted, to Marxist understanding; however, since I was already among the “faithful,” and have found postmodernism for some time now to be highly egregious, the project hit me well. In any case, being the author’s only definitive work on the subject, and the author himself being a well-respected literary critic, I would highly suggest buying a copy of this book and giving it a read anyway. Even if the only reason is to argue against it, Eagleton’s orthodox leftist position is something to be seen in order to be believed.

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