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Literary Theory: An Introduction Second Edition

Literary Theory: An Introduction - Terry Eagleton An introduction to literary theory?

Perhaps. Or perhaps this is more of an essay on theory from a Marxist slant.

Terry Eagleton's prefatory statement: "Hostility to theory usually means an opposition to other people's theories and an oblivion of one's own" seems ironic in a book, though innocuously entitled Literary Theory: An Introduction, that works instead to decimate most literary theory in the 60 years prior to the book's publication. Eagleton does spare Marxism (his own ideology) and feminism (not a politically tactful maneuver for a man).

Eagleton's incisive wit in part accounts for what blinds a reader to his deceptive menace. It is very hard not to laugh, for instance, when he encapsulates a notion of T. S. Eliot's by stating that "Somewhere in the seventeenth century, though Eliot is unsure of the precise date, a 'dissociation of sensibility' set in: thinking was no longer like smelling."

Eagleton's rhetoric is less funny when he loosely, without offering hard evidence, connects Heidegger's theories with the Third Reich, or - in a book where he himself is writing literary theory - moralistically denounces the theories of Roland Barthes by commenting, "There is something a little disturbing about this avant-garde hedonism in a world where others lack not only books but food."

Whatever Eagleton's polemic is, it is not, to my mind, a neutral introduction to literary theory. While Eagleton does provide some excellent synopses of critical theory, knowing he has an agenda is essential.