Yale University Press (Footprint) $38.95 hb, 192 pp, 9780300218794
No one should be surprised that Terry Eagleton has written yet another book about the excesses of academic postmodernism. Railing against the pretensions and deceptions and phony jargon of postmodernism has been a favourite sport of his for more than twenty years. In this latest book, Culture, his specific target is that sinister creeping project, cultural studies, a conceptual field which currently dominates the humanities and social sciences and which Eagleton claims is a crucial obstacle to the ultimate overthrow of capitalism.
Like King Canute, Eagleton sets up his armchair on a shingle beach (Morecambe Beach if we're within spitting distance of his professorial home at Lancaster University) and orders back the tide. Culture, he says, needs to be put back in its place: not everything is cultural, and culture should not be a site for analysing all the world's problems. Instead, he proposes a return to a more modest concept of culture. For Terry Eagleton, it is much handier if culture is understood as a combination of shared habits of mind, patterns of behaviour, and emotional disposition. Culture is what gives life meaning, although it is not to be equated with life. Eagleton imagines culture as a kind of social unconscious or communality of the psyche. His central idea is that we can only completely understand political and economic systems – and ultimately revolutionise them – if we first cotton-on to the shared psychology that underlies them and gives them significance.