terry eagleton - interview - terry eagleton

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  • 8/3/2019 Terry Eagleton - Interview - Terry Eagleton


    Interview: Terry EagletonAuthor(s): James H. Kavanagh, Thomas E. Lewis, Terry EagletonSource: Diacritics, Vol. 12, No. 1 (Spring, 1982), pp. 52-64Published by: The Johns Hopkins University PressStable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/464791

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  • 8/3/2019 Terry Eagleton - Interview - Terry Eagleton




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  • 8/3/2019 Terry Eagleton - Interview - Terry Eagleton





    LEWIS:RosalindCoward said that your Criticismand Ideology has had littleimpact on literarycritical practice in England.Is that true?EAGLETON:t is almost certainlytrue of practicalcriticism.Ithink what thebook did was to sketch in a possible method or set of methods, which are notseen reallyworked out in practice.Ido not thinkthat is true of the theory of the book. I thinkfor example thatthe notion of the literarymode of production (Chapter2) - that has been takenup. Not necessarily in a detailed way, but I think it has. Itis really importanttosee the book in its historical moment and context. Ithink that itwas a necessarytheoretical intervention at a point where things were brewing up in England nthe wake of the late 1960's Marxist revival. A lot of people were thinking inthose directions, but it needed to be formulated, and it was clear that the firstperson to formulate it on paperwas going to draw fire.And thatwas partof theintention of the book - a kind of puttingthe cards on the table. The book cer-tainlyattracted a lot of theoretical debate in Englandand elsewhere, and, to thatextent, Iwould have thought it did have an impact. Butitwas, as Isay, largelyatheoretical debate.

    LEWIS: o be fair to her and to you, she did mean at the level of practicalanalysis.EAGLETON: es, oddly enough Ihad included inthe book originallya longanalysisof Conrad'sTheSecretAgent that was tryingto show in some detail howthe thing worked out. Thatwas then taken out of the book because it looked abit odd structurally,and in fact appeared later as an article. So there would havebeen an example of that.KAVANAGH: think she also meant in radicalsignifying practices, like theindependent cinema. The suggestion was that people working in alternativeliteraryand cultural practices did not know what to do with your work.EAGLETON: es, Ican understandthat, but Ithink again that is relevanttothe book's historicalmoment; itwas very self-consciously a theoretical interven-tion. I think that since then, and perhaps as an effect of the book, argumentswithin BritishMarxistcriticism have shifted. Forexample, Tony Bennett'sbookis a strawin the wind. Butthey have shiftedaway from, say, a theoretical Marx-ist criticism that still in its methods and tones remainswithin the academy, as Ithink Criticism and Ideology does, towards a more politically-orientedcriticism- looking at institutions,looking foralternative culturalpractices, look-ing for a relation between culturaland political practices. I take that now to bethe emphasis, the trend. Signs of that, for example, are the shift from themoment of production to the moment of consumption. Again, if you comparemy book to Bennett's,that is marked. I think that'sthe direction things shouldgo.

    DIACRITICS Vol. 12 Pp. 53-640300-7162/82/0121-0053 $01.00 ? 1982 by The Johns Hopkins University Press

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    Iwould now be criticalof what seems to me the residual academicism of CriticismandIdeology, which did not tackle the questions that would now seem most relevant. Isupposeone could say these were questions of culturalrevolution,of the politicaluse and appropria-tion of artifacts n political struggle. I think it is also fair to say a lot of that concern has post-dated the book. There have been developments in radicaltheatre, in the work of Screen infilm, and so on, that were not as much available when the book was written. It wasnecessary to begin with a kind of puttingof the house in order- at once a critiqueof the pre-historyof Marxistcriticism,as Itryto do in the Williams'chapter, and then simplya specify-ing of the protocols and procedures of a science of the text. All that, as you are implying,remained very remote from cultural practice; but I think it was a necessary condition fordeveloping one.KAVANAGH:Maybe we can shift that to another level of generality, and ask what youthink now about the relationshipbetween theoretical and ideological or practicaltasks. Doyou think Althusseriantheory addresses this relationship adequately?EAGLETON: would say that the task of a Marxist critic was not primarily in theacademy, although that is where inevitablywe do most of our work. The task of a Marxistcritic is difficultto define, because we do not yet have the materialconditions for specifyingit. We would only have those given certain political circumstances, where we woulddiscover what has to be done. But I would now want to say that we are doing a kind ofholding operation, mainly working within the academy. It is necessary to engage inideological struggleat the level of the texts and artifacts hatthe establishment has selected asideological instruments, errainsof struggle; hat is not a task to be sniffedat. ButI have beentrying, in my own cultural work and political practice since Criticismand Ideology, tobecome much more involved with looking at the relevance of cultural studies to revolu-tionary political practice. Thatagain is not easy because the conditions do not fullyexist forit. But I think it is clear that, unless the cultural theory is brought to bear within theideological struggle in some way, then it is for a Marxistof no value, and it will be simplytheoreticist.On the point about Althusserian heory Isuppose Iwas alwaysto some degree surprisedby being described tout court as an Althusserian critic.LEWIS:Could you explain?EAGLETON:Well, in the sense that both Criticism and Ideology and MarxismandLiteraryCriticismare at various points criticalof central concepts of Althusseriantheory. Itwould be truer to say that, while there is no single major concept of Althusser's hat I wouldnot have serious reservationsabout, and did not have serious reservationsabout even whenwriting Criticismand Ideology, nonetheless, Althusserianismas a kind of style, or frame ofthinking, was then a valuable one-valuable not least in its opening of certain areas, in itsreaction against Hegelian Marxistcriticism.So Althusserianismwas the atmosphere and theframework out of which that work came.On the other hand, Iwould now, as then, feel seriouslycriticalof a lot of Althusser's en-tral concepts. The difference between my position now and then would be that I do notthink that in writingCriticismand Ideology I really saw at all what I would now see as therelationship between what is wrong or limited about Althusser'sconcepts theoretically andhis political practice. I would like to argue now that, whereas there is never any conflation ofthe theoretical and the political,there is, nonetheless, a real relationin all ways. What inter-ests me now in Althusserian criticism is how Althusser'sunsatisfactoryconcepts can berelated to the political practice of what I would still call Stalinism.

    KAVANACH:Could you specify some of the key concepts or moments in the theorythat you think show that relationship?EACLETON: es. Iwould choose three or four areasthat Ifound, on the one hand, pro-ductive in combatting various Hegelian Marxist heories, but on the other hand, related toStalinism.One is the clear theoreticism of Althusser'sat least early insistence on the effectiveautonomy of theoretical practice. Insofaras that is tryingto bend the stickagainsta historicistnotion of theory, whereby theory would be no more than the self-consciousness of therevolutionaryclass, it is a necessary insistence upon the specificityof theoretical production.At the same time, it raises grievous epistemological problems: for example, Althusser54

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    ominously draws many of his models of theoretical practice from mathematics;there is theSpinozan influence behind it; there is almost no concern with the problem of evidence inthe relation between theory and practice. Although I felt uneasy about that at the time ofCriticismand Ideology, I would now want to relate that much more firmlyto a very specifichistory of Althusser'sown fight within the PCF as a kind of closet left Maoist sympathizerattempting to establish a theoretical position within the PCFprimarilyby establishing theautonomy of theory, by appealing to Marx and Engels and Lenin in ways he could useagainst practice in the PCF.The other point is that in the writingof Criticismand Ideology Iwas much too uncriticalof the expansionist definition of ideology in Althusser, which I also think is related toStalinism;that is, if ideology becomes effectively coterminus with lived experience, as theearly Poulantzaswrote, then it seems to be essentiallydeprived of any politicalcutting-edgeas a concept. Ithas been removed from the terrainof class struggleto, firstof all, a primarilyepistemological category, and then one that could effectively be synonymous with culture,or with lived experience. That relates to the suppression of the class struggle in Althusser,which Ialso find mars the essay on the ISAs; here is an apparently inexorable subjecting ofthe subject to what looks suspiciously monolithic or super-ego-like ISAs,or set of ISAs.Thatseems a drasticsimplificationof the realcontradictory process of interpellationfound in anyparticularsocial formation.LEWIS: ut is that due so much to the theoretical formulation,or to the examples - suchas the church-that Althusser uses. Italways struck me that the elimination of theoreticalpractice as an autonomous fourth practice has been replaced in some places by signifyingpractices, that presumably correlate to aesthetic practices, autonomous from ideologicalpractice. But is not the purpose of limiting the social formation to three practices (as inHindess and Hirst)-ideological practice now including aesthetic and others-precisely torestorethe notion of contradiction and class struggleas taking place within ideological prac-tice?EAGLETON: es, that is right,and Iwould agree with that to an extent. But I think theexample of the church flows logically from the mistakentheory. Ithink, first,that Althussergets Lacanwrong with the categories of imaginaryand symbolic. Althusser'snotion of thesubject being subjected through interpellation looks very much like the censoring momentof the super-ego, what in Lacan's ystem would figureas the birth of the subject. But, in factAlthusser is talking about the imaginary;he's talking about the ego, which is obviously forLacanthe tip of the iceberg of the subject. So there are definite confusions in Althusser'sappropriationof Lacan.Nor do I think it is possible to develop a theory of ideology purelyfrom the category ofthe imaginary,and a lot of the work of Screen- the work clustered around AlthusserandLacan,includingthe work of Ellisand Coward- has suffered fromattemptingto generate upa theory of ideology purely from the imaginary.This, in turn, has its roots theoretically inAlthusser'smistakingof the ego for the subject. The question still remains:how are subjectscontradictorily inserted, interpellated in what are inevitably contradictorydiscourses?Althusser's notion of an ideological formation also still has a strong residual func-tionalism about it. One has to ask where are the contradictions in this. Macherey assertsstraightoff that ideology is non-contradictory.LEWIS:As do you, in Criticismand Ideology. Ifwe have got to restore notions of con-tradiction and class strugglewithin ideology, what then happens to the hermeneutic value ofa concept like absence? Does the whole notion of symptomatic reading just disappear?

    EAGLETON:That is another way of asking whether earlier and later Macherey areincompatible. EarlierMacherey is certainly primarilyabout absence, symptomatic reading,the presumption of the homogeneity of an ideology, and therefore the possibilityof embar-rassing it only by forcing it into a revelation of its silences. The later Macherey sitesideological discourse much more within contradictoryclass practices in the academic appa-ratus. I do not see why they should be mutually incompatible. FrangoiseGaillard used agood phrase when she said that ideologies were homogenizing but never homogeneous,that the thrust or tendency of an ideology is to attemptto unify, but itwon't quite crack it. Inthat sense, the need for symptomatic reading and the attempt to disarraythe ideology arestill importantbecause of ideology's continual attempt to homogenize, and its tendency todiacritics / spring 1982 55

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    succeed in doing so in a particularsituation. At the same time, one can equally look at anideological formationas an attemptat homogenization of elements thatare infact contradic-tory, and therefore the other kind of analysis would be appropriate,too.KAVANAGH:Would a criticalprogramor procedure flowing fromAlthusserian heory,then, still center on "symptomatic reading"and "absence"?EAGLETON: es. Iwould think so. I still find the notion of symptomatic readinga veryvaluable one, and not least the way in which it has been developed in the hands ofMacherey. It is less and less confined to Althusserianism,in the sense that there are manyrelationsbetween that and what is known as deconstruction. Itseems to me that Macherey'swork was an excellent work on deconstruction, but has not been taken up by the so-calleddeconstructionists, no doubt because he was talkingnot justabout presence but propertyaswell. Macherey was a known Communist, a known ally of LouisAlthusser,and therefore inmany ways less fashionable and acceptable than other actors, like Derrida,whose magnumopus appeared in the same year. So symptomatic reading is a valuable concept; it isAlthusser'sconcept, and it has been usefullydeveloped in other directions since. Going backto the previous point, if the notion of symptomatic reading is predicated upon the assump-tion of the homogeneity of the discourse, then that needs to be challenged, and other kindsof methods need to be developed, as the laterMacherey has done.KAVANAGH:How do you relate the attempt to develop what one might call a politi-cized theory of textualityto the other post-structuralistheoretical positions that are now aucourant: the Kristeva- Tel Quel position, the Derridianposition, and the Foucauldianposi-tion?EAGLETON:What has to distinguish the materialist reading of texts from a non-materialistone cannot ever just be a matterof technique, cannot be a matterof theoreticalor critical methods. It must be a matter, first, of the way you locate the text among andwithin other practices,and second, relatedly,a matterof why you are doing itanyway. What

    purposes, which are other than textual purposes, you hope to fulfill. Derrida himself, in arecent seminar, remarked somewhat to the scandalization of some of his acolytes whowere present- that deconstruction was not a textual practice. He said that deconstructionwas a political practice, and that unless it involved the analysisof the materialconditions ofpossibility of a text, it was simply being used wrongfully. It seems to me if that remarkofDerridais taken seriously, then most of his disciples have been systematicallymistakinghimmost of the time.Equally, it is fashionable (among many North American critics particularly),to runtogether Derridaand Foucault,as ifbecause they both live on the left bankor whatever, theycan be easily married. But this is almost a category mistake, because certainly Foucault is

    speaking all the time of the relation of discursiveto non-discursivepractices.Marxismwouldcertainlywant to interrogate he banal bourgeois pluralism hat backs Foucault'sposition onthat. The extreme nominalism of Foucault'sposition seems to me absolutely no differentfrom many strainsof bourgeois ideology. Indeed, it is necessaryto have at least two readingsof Foucault'swork. One would be for its deep value for a Marxismthat has in some of itsdevelopments become so concerned with general theories that ithas not had a realtheory ofconjuncture. The second and simultaneous one must be a readingof Foucault'swork as con-sistently and quietly anti-Marxist.The relations between those two things need still to bethought out.So I think the two distinct emphases for Marxismwould be: first,where you locate thetextual practice in the firstplace; and, second, why you are doing it. Ido not thinkthese aredifferences of theoretical approach- although I would like to qualifythat somewhat by say-ing that a study and calculation of the political and ideological effects of texts, is obviously acentral element of Marxist criticism, and is significantly absent from those forms ofdeconstructionism which, in a formal way, may look as though they are doing much thesame thing- maybe takingthe text apart, maybe showing itshidden points of limitationandweakness, and so on.The other point at stake is obviously the epistemological point. I would still want toassert that for Marxisma science- shocking word- of the text and of ideologies is possible,or is usuallypossible, given certain historicalknowledge that may or may not be availabletous, depending on which text we are taking.To say that a science of the text is possible is not56

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    necessarilyto say that it is the most importantthing; it all depends upon what you are doing.The most fruitfulway of using a text may actually be to talk about its mode of political inser-tion into the present and to tryto transformthat mode of insertion. It may not be.When we speak of the distinctness of theory and ideology, one thing we perhaps tendto forget is that nothing can be more ideologically efficacious than the truth. If,for example,in a teaching situation you are tryingto demystify certain ideological readings of a text byreinserting hat text into its ideological and historicalcontext, that itselfmay have one of themost powerfully transformativepolitical effects on the student you are teaching. But whatyou do depends on the situation.KAVANAGH:Do you still find some value, then, in relatively traditionalpolitical cri-tiques or interpretationsof texts, the traditionalMarxistdemystification?EAGLETON: es, Ithink so. Ido not go along with the argumentthat the Text, capitalT,is some unknowable Ding an sich. I think that it is possible to have something that we cansatisfactorilycall a knowledge, as against an opinion or a prejudice about the nature of ahistorical formation or a mode of production. I do not see why that does not apply also toideology. And certainly, as I said, sometimes, particularly n teaching practice, that'stheimportantthing to do. When, however, one, as Ithink one must, looks at teaching practicewithin the context of revolutionarycultural politics as a whole, then one finds oneself doingother sorts of things, one finds oneself being much more directly involved in the politiciza-tion of texts, in the transformationof the uses of texts, and so on.KAVANAGH:You mentioned Derridaand Foucault. How about Tel-Quel-Kristeva?EAGLETON:Whatever indubitablevalue there has been in the earlierwork, particularlyof Kristevaand of the Tel-Quelgroup, the culmination of that particular aga must inevitablythrow some retrospectivecriticallight. Butwhat has happened, what is happening, what willprobably go on happening, is that quite a lot of people who were from the outset petit-bourgeois idealists in materialistclothing, are being revealed in their, as it were, naked real-ity. And the suspicious alacritywith which one can zip into and zip out of Marxismas somefashionable stopping-off point, is grotesquely contrastable with what one regards as theMarxist radition.The Marxisttradition is not- and it is lamentable that it needs even to be said at thispoint- is not a traditionof "theoreticians."Bythe Marxist raditionwe mean a traditionthathas for one and a half centuries involved literallymillions of men and women in life anddeath struggles.And whatever we mean by Marxist heory, unless from the beginning we putit in that context, then we are no more than idealists. What is painfuland embarrassing orsomebody who allies him or herselfto that Marxist radition to the livinghistoricalstrugglesof men and women that are stillgoing on - in dealing with people like Kristeva nd Tel-Quel,is that one is inevitably forced into a theoreticist and idealist framework from the outset.Whatever one can take of value, and there are things that one can take of value from thatwork, has to be seen with that suspecting glance.LEWIS: s there-and if there is, would you define it-a difference between, theaesthetic effect and the ideological effect?EAGLETON: think the difference is useful just in this: that when one talks of theaesthetic effect, one draws attention to the multipleeffects of a particularkindof ideologicalpractice that we know as art given of course that "art"s an enormously historicallyvariableand relative term. It has at least the therapeutic effect of reminding oneself of the specificmodes of ideological effectivityof this practice rather han that. Itis simplya way of differen-tiating between different ideological practices.

    The danger obviously is that one may then begin to fetishize something known as "theaesthetic effect" as invariable, or relatively invariable. Again, the rather too easy way inwhich Althusseriancritics appropriatedthe essentially formalist notion of estrangement ordistantiation veers dangerously in that direction; one was tending to assume there wasalways one kind of aesthetic effect, called "estrangement."Raymond Williams has pointedout, Ithink rightly, hat at certain historicalperiods when avant-gardeart is in full-scalerevoltagainst certain traditionalist and realistic modes it will tend to privilege the estrangementeffect as its specific definition of the aesthetic; but that is by no means the only definition.I tried, in the "Science of the Text"chapter in Criticismand Ideology, to assert therelative autonomy of the aesthetic from the ideological, but to show that in the process ofdiacritics / spring 1982 57

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    analyzing a text- and this is reallywhat I meant by a "science of the text"- one was trackingthrough a very complex process of interaction, whereby the aesthetic is always overdeter-mined by the ideological, where there is no aesthetic device which is not always-already-ideological at some level, whereby, then, that device takes and processes ideologicalmaterials that do not justspringfromthe aesthetic regionof ideology, but come fromothersurrounding ideological discourses as well.So it is a vexed question to which I have no simple answer. I want to resist what seemsnow a dangerous tendency to overpoliticize texts, which again is a bending of the stickagainst Marxist academicism. This overpoliticization is, as it were, the most generous,perhaps the most productive of errors,but one which, insofar as it still speaks of somethingwe agree to call a text, inevitablyfinds itselfinvolved in a discussion of certainspecific effectsthat are traditionallyknown as aesthetic. We mightwant to change the word, and there's noreason why not, but that'swhat we are dealing with.Very simply, if one looks at the concrete practicesof a Brecht, say, then this distinctionlooks a bit different. There would not be a distinction for Brecht between saying: was theplay ideologically effective-did it actually transformthe subject in the direction of certainkinds of practice?and, was it aesthetically so? One would find that one could translateoneterm into the other, at least in the sense that one was talkingabout ideological effects in aparticular mode, utilizing particularkinds of devices. When one speaks of aesthetics ingeneral, one usuallytalks about some sort of relation between what are crudely called thepsycho-analyticaland the ideological, a relationthat we do not yet know very much about.The word "aesthetic" s a sign saying "Dighere." That'sabout as faras we can go.LEWIS:Is the trajectory of Althusserian criticism necessarily to become subject-centered? The analysis of literarytexts and the notion of ideology as interpellation func-tional, contradictory,or otherwise- is that what Althusseriancriticism isall about? To definethe ways in which particular exts attempt to construct social subjectivity?

    EAGLETON:One of the things wrong about Althusser's heory of ideology is that it isreduced to the subject. It is of absolute importance to claim that ideology among otherthings interpellatesthe subject; and insofaras that has never been formulatedas clearly andaffirmativelyas it has by Althusser,that is a very importantaspect of Althusserian heory. Atthe same time, what gets squeezed out in Althusser's heory, making it excessively subject-centered, is the whole traditionand area of work to be developed in Marxism,stemmingfrom Marx'sown work in Capital,concerning non-discursive deological practices- by whichI mean the way in which Marx shows that commodity fetishism itself, directly related toeconomic practices, is for himthe primarygeneratorof ideology, to the point where one canvalidly put to Marxthe question: Well if this is so, then why do you need ideological appa-ratuses at all? Althusser bends the stick the other way: there is now no longer a relationbetween economic and ideological practices, other than economic practices contributingand generating ideological ones. The only relation now is that ideological practices actuallyequip economic agents. It'sall in that direction.One wants to look at not only the relationof ideology to such non-discursivepracticesas economic practices, but also to political non-discursive practices; I do not find it veryhelpful to say that a classic piece of ideological discourse like Locke's Treatise on CivilGovernment is about interpellating he subject. Indeed, you can use it,and it has been used,to interpellatesubjects, the subject, but there are functions of ideological discourse that can-not be reduced to that. One could move relatively directly from a certain real politicalcon-stitution of society to an ideological discourse, or vice versa-without going through thedetour of the subject, without sayingthat this discourse can only be understood in terms ofits rhetoricaltechniques of hailing, its mechanisms for interpellating,the subject.LEWIS:What about fiction?

    EACLETON: here Althusseriantheory is on much strongerground, in that among thevarious ideological discourses and practices, what people have called literatureor fiction isthe one that is most obviously relevant to social subjectivities. It is just that one must thenbeware of reading every other kind of ideological practice through that optic, because thenone is in- as Ithink it is true to say of the useful but perhaps ratheruncriticalnotion of signi-fying practices-one is in danger of reducing the whole of ideology to discourse. Then weare in a familiarkindof epistemological bind:to say and to assertquite rightly hat there is no58

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    practice that does not happen and is not carried within discourse, is not the same as reduc-ing practices to discourse. And I think there has been such a tendency within theAlthusserianideological argument.If I could just add to that. It is also a tendency that has to be looked at historicallyandsocially. Because nothing will be more attractiveto a group of essentially petit-bourgeoisintellectuals than to know that, as it were, they are dealing at their own level. The socialityand materialityof discourse, which are two emphases that we vitallyhave begun to recover,as againsta Cartesianor Saussurean legacy, can then very easily stand in for politics. All thedrama, all the arguments,all the traditionalconfrontationsone has had within political prac-tices then occur cranked up a level, to the level of discursive practices. That,of course, hasthe very convenient effect of then repressingthe relation between discursive and politicalpractices.KAVANAGH:We talked about the notion of the over-politicizationof texts. Could yousay something about the notion of seeing certain forms as intrinsically reactionaryor pro-gressive- the notion of avant-gardeor distantiating exts as intrinsicallypolitically progressivefrom the point of view of Marxism,or of classical realism,representationalmodes of fictionaldiscourse and the representational aesthetic effect, as something intrinsicallyreactionarybecause of the way it constitutes the subject?I'm hinking especially of your remark n a NewLeft Review article suggesting that what we need now is a kind of "materialist ealism."EAGLETON: othing reveals so clearly the isolationof this kind of theoretical discoursefrom a practical politics as the rapiditywith which people have rushed to endorse thosealternative positions-either realism as progressive or realismas reactionary, or whatever.And I say that because I do not honestly think that in different materialconditions, whenactually confronted by a revolutionaryprocess, with the pressing business of using a text,that you could affordthat kind of luxury.One can adduce as evidence the practiceof Brecht,who is of course an incurable bricoleur, in the way in which he will pinch something fromevery position, but who does that because he sees that the revolutionarypolitical processsimply will not stop for those dogmatisms.And they are dogmatisms, in the sense that, curiously, on the one hand you get anextreme form of conjuncturalism,which assertsthat you can only ever measure or assess aparticular ext at all in a very limitedand specific historicalcircumstance, linked at the sametime to a very general theory assertingthat realismis always regressive. Ireallydon't see howthose can be combined; ifyou are takinga conjuncturalist ine, then itwould seem logicaltosay that a realisttext could indeed in some situationshave certain progressiveeffects, and anavant-gardetext conversely might have certain reactionaryeffects.In that New Left Review article, I tried to say that the whole argument suffers from adrasticshortage of history.The collective memory has repressed the moment of the revolu-tionary emergence and challenge of realismas a progressiveforce, as a rapidly secularizingand demystifyinggenre against the aristocratic orms of non-realism,the great feudalistandtraditionalistgenres. Itis only by virtueof such a repressionthat we can now look at realismin a universalizingway and say that it will always have a reactionaryeffect with the fixingofthe sign or whatever.Butwhether representationwill have a reactionaryeffect reallydoes depend on whereyou happen to be standing at the time. Itmay well be that the anti-realistargument is rightfor this politicalmoment, that it will be the formswe've received fromthe great revolutionaryavant-gardemovement, all the way from the Futurists hrough to Brecht, that will be mostviable. It may indeed be that intellectuals tend grosslyto overestimate the extent to whichthe masses are in the grip of realism. Indeed, if one looks around at many popular culturalforms, they don't use realismvery much. They use techniques that are certainly akin to thetechniques of modernism- in however debased and reactionary a way. It may be muchmore our problem- partlybecause we are havingto fightan academic right-wingestablish-ment which is still very deeply in the grip of realism.KAVANAGH:This relates to a problem that you perhaps slighted in CriticismandIdeology: the necessity of thinking the different moments of textual production and textualconsumption. One might have, for example, a textual practicewhich one could evaluate aspolitically progressive at the moment of its production, and it can become available atanother historicalmoment for consumption in the opposite way.diacritics/ spring 1982 59

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    EAGLETON:Quite. In that sense the necessity to cut any internal link between themoment of production and the moment of consumption is important. I do not think I wasever arguing for a fixed and inexorable relation between them, which would make themoment of production totally determinate of the various moments of consumption.KAVANAGH: meant, rather,that you put aside a little too easily the necessity of study-ing the moment of consumption.EAGLETON: bsolutely. I think that is a serious gap in Criticismand Ideology. I thinkironicallythat what has happened since is perhaps the reverse. There is now a kind of car-nival of consumption, a fetishism of consumption. The classic move now-while perhapsasserting parenthetically that, yes of course in some way the text does constrain thehermeneutical process- is to go on to a total hermeneutic plurality.The political point ofthat, I think, must be taken; because it is certainly one way of defusing potentially revolu-tionary texts to say that they can be dragged into any kind of ideological matrixthat youwant.KAVANAGH: n what sense, then, can we speak of an ideology as intrinsic to a par-ticulartext, or in what sense must we recognize that the ideological significanceof a text willalways be provided by some kind of critical-theoreticaloperation- the author perhaps beingthe first such actor, the first reader of the text? Does any given text have a certain intrinsicideological significancewhich constrainsinterpretation,or is a text always at any moment aninstantiationof a certain ideological operation given at that moment.EAGLETON:Well, no doubt, somewhere, somebody is claiming that you can readPilgrim'sProgressas an example of Hobbesian hedonist materialism.Ithink one wants simplyto be an old-style nineteenth-century rationalistabout that and say that, insofar as the word"knowledge"has any value at all, we can know that the text Pilgrim'sProgressstands in anextremely complex and transformative relation to an ideological subformation we callPuritanism.Now, that is not to say that one could not indeed construct the text within theideological frameof hedonist materialism one could. Itis to claim that texts are not clay inone's hands; that texts do, like objects in scientific experiment, offer certain resistances tocertain modes of appropriation.Itmay well be an interestingoperationto readPilgrim'sProg-ress in that way, but it would be interesting to see how it was done by systematicallytransposingor transforming lements in order to render them pliableto this kind of reading. Ithink you would find that that is what you were doing.KAVANAGH: utare we not now back to the ideological/theoretical relativeautonomy.To state that one can do something with a text in ideological practice, in teaching practicefor example, that one knows would be impermissible in a theoretical practice-does notallowing that possibilityimplicitlyreinvoke the distinction between ideology and science?

    EAGLETON:think there is a slightdifficultyhere again over the meaning of the word"ideology,"and I wonder again whether one is perhapstoo quickly expanding that term. Butcertainly, ifone is talkingabout literarycriticism,politicalcriticism as a process of transform-ing the subject, then that is not separate from theory because it has definite cognitiveelements. It would be a simple, in fact Stalinist,notion of literatureand ideology to see itmerely as affective, to carve the world up between cognition on the one hand, which istheory, and ideology on the other hand which is somehow wholly affective. Icertainlythinkthat literarytexts are not reducible to the cognitive, but they definitely contain cognitiveelements, a fact which prevents any such neat categorization. Perhapsteaching practice isnot the best example to take, because what one is by definitiontrying o do there is to articu-late the two. In that sense I think a Marxist s a Platonist.A Marxistbelieves that rhetoricandphilosophy, rhetoric and dialectic, go hand in hand, and that you cannot be a good rhetori-cian unless you are a good dialectician too-as against a notion that you can be a goodrhetoricianregardlessof the truthor falsityof what you are saying. Inthat sense Marxism s inline with a Platonic, rather than a sophistical tradition.But if one looks at other kinds of practice, such as Brecht on Coriolanus,one is in a dif-ferent situation,where the "originalmeaning"of the text iscertainly something that Brecht,inhis reflections on the text, is continually encountering, but where it is deliberately beingmade redundant for quite valid political reasons.KAVANAGH: Is there no sense, then, in which you think a relatively strictideology/theory distinction is relevant to this process? Perhapsone mustexplicitlystate:"This60

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    operation is, strictly speaking, theoretically impermissible, and may not give us anyknowledge of the text, but it is necessary and appropriate in this context for specific pur-poses." Is this not what Marxistpolitical movements often do in recuperatingpetit-bourgeoisnationalist historical figures as foreshadowing anti-imperialiststruggles?Must we not havesomething like the ideology/theory distinction precisely to understand the problems with, aswell as the necessity for, such operations?EAGLETON: es. Iwould defend that distinction, in the sense that knowledge is alwaysan asymptotic process, always a matter of approaching the object and never quite gettingthere. But that, it seems to me, is really the theory of knowledge carried within traditionalMarxism. One does not have to go to Derrida for that, one can go to Lenin'sphilosophicalnotebooks, for example, in order to demystify metaphysical notions of truth.A lot of peoplenow think that they've cracked that for the firsttime. Indeed, this is one of the most com-monplace emphases within the epistemology of Marxism,that a necessary struggle againstmetaphysical and absolutist notions of truthwas there from the outset. Deconstruction sim-ply has not taken the pressure of that at all.Of course, within the Marxist radition,within the materialist radition,there is thatstressupon the continually developing and open-ended process of knowledge. Indeed, asAlthusser rightlyasserts, this open-endedness and development is constitutive, or at leastpartlyconstitutive, of what counts as a process of knowledge, as opposed to the closure of anideology. Nonetheless, the claim that one reading is better than another is still being made;there is a clear logical distinction between asserting,on the one hand, that all knowledge isreading, is hermeneutical, and, on the other hand, in a despairing skeptical gesture, simplyequating every readingwith every other. Thatstep seems to me not at all a matter of logic. Itdoes not follow in the least fromassertingthat knowledge is hermeneutical to move directlyto a relativizationof discourse. Itseems to me one could only find the roots of that movepolitically; one would have to inquire what interests, what power, etc., was at stake inmaking this move.Puttingit a differentway, and putting it in a polemical way: it is certainly possible for aParisianpetit-bourgeois intelligentsia-or for an Oxford or Yale petit-bourgeois intelligent-sia- to be prettyrelativisticabout such matters. Itwas not possible for a nineteenth centuryproletariat o be skepticalor agnostic about whether what was at stake in the capitalistmodeof production was labor or labor-power. They needed to know. They needed to knowbecause they had interests. In that case, there is no sense in which ideology and theory areseparate, because without that knowledge they could not fulfill certain interests-such asphysical survival,such as the prevention of their children becoming fodder in the capitalistmode of production. So classical Marxismcontains definite articulationsof knowledge andinterests.LEWIS:How does your notion of a possible "science of the text"as objective constructrelate to phenomenological criticism'semphasis on the text as the interaction?EAGLETON: hat's a difficultquestion. One thing, not necessarily the most importantthing, is that for Marxism there can be a science of the text because Marxismattempts todevelop a science of ideological formations in general. Isaid in Criticismand Ideology that ascience of the text is predicated on that science of ideological formations in general. But ifyou are stuck at an idealist level of criticism, as I think phenomenology is, then indeed allyou can do to arrive at your text in itself is to distill it as an ideal type from a historyofreadings. That of course is not what materialistcriticism is doing. Its establishment of thematerialconditions generatingand constrainingthe text is what matters,and that is not justadistillation fromempirical readings.To thatdegree, of course, there is a distinctionfor Marx-ism: on the one hand, one holds to the moment of theoretical analysisthat studies how thematerialconditions which generate and constrain a text are, in some sense, inscribed withinthe text itself;on the other hand, one then wants to go on to assert that it would indeed berationalist inthe way in which Hindess and Hirstuse the word againstclassical Althusser) othink you could read off from that study the particular extual construct one gets in any par-ticular conjuncture.What one can do, what a science of the text is doing-and in a way it is a much moremodest proposal than has often been ratherparanoiacally interpreted is to delineate a fieldof possibilities,a field of a play of textual elements. But it is not at all attemptingto readoff ordiacritics / spring 1982 61

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    predict- to use the phenomenological language-the concretization or realization of thosein particular nstances. Again, obviously, it differsfrom phenomological criticism in that itlooks at the concretizations in a wholly different context. One way of puttingthe differenceis that it looks at them in terms of ideological context, not conveniently depoliticizedlebenswelt.KAVANAGH: n your last section of Criticismand Ideology you have a piece on theevaluation of literaryworks, where you argue that Marxism must confront the question ofliteraryvalue, the evaluation of literaryworks. Do you still hold to that position?Do you holdto a modified version of it?EAGLETON: certainly hold, probably even more now than Idid then, to the impor-tance of evaluation. Isaid then that there was a kindof curious Marxistpuritanism,almost aprudishnessabout the question of value. Given the way that Marxistcriticismhas developedsince, towards talkingabout political effectivity,the question of value is even more central,because we are talking about how people directly respond to, assess, and are involved incultural practices.There was an apparentcontradiction in that finalchapter in Criticismand

    Ideology. I do not reallythink it was a contradiction, although Ican understandwhy somepeople did. On the one hand, Iwanted to relatethe question of value back to the conditionof the text's production. On the other hand, Itried to make the question of value transitive,and asserted that value was value for somebody somewhere, and so on. Ican see how thatcan look like a contradiction. On the one hand value mightseem somehow immanent in theproductive conditions of the text, and consumption neither here nor there. On the otherhand, one could be runninga very consumptional argument.I really meant that the question of the conditions of production of the text, as they areinscribedwithin it, may be an importantconditioning factor in reception. Forexample, if, insome sense of the phrase, a common historyis shared between the moment of consumptionand the moment of production, ifsimilar deological motifs are dominant, or similarmaterialconditions, then one might say that one of the reasons, although not the only reason, whysome people find this text valuable, is because they can effect that kind of identification. Put-ting it simply, the text still speaks to them because there are still issues that are alive. I didnot, however, want to say that that was the only condition, the only constituent, of recep-tion; one can think of other kinds of texts where the productive moment is so remote andalien from the consumptional moment that that certainlywould not be the case.Now Ishould want to be extremely conjuncturalabout value. I would want to say thatwhen we analyze the question of value we are analyzing the ideological, psycho-analytic,and so on -questions of consumption. I would want however to add, in order to qualifywhat might may be an excessive conjuncturalism,that one of the factors that may well bedominant in that, is the moment of production- in the sense that it is because the text is pro-duced as such, that it speaks to certain people in a certain situation, however dispersed thetwo moments may be historically.So Iwas tryingvery inadequatelyto cling to both of thosepoles, and, while making value transitive, avoid what now seems to me an increasinglyfashionable position that thinks it can wholly disregardthe question of production whenlooking at the value question.KAVANAGH:What kind of work are you doing now?EAGLETON:'mwritinga book which started life as a study of Walter Benjamin,but isending up as a compendium of a great many topics, from Trotskyismto Feminism.That'sbecause Ibegan to write on Benjaminas Ithought there were ways in which his work couldbe appropriated and I use the word advisedly- for clarifyingwhat "cultural evolution,"orthe political use and readingof texts might mean. Therefore,the best way to use Benjaminisnot to provide an ordered exegis of his work; given his own deep political hostilityto suchordered exegeses, itwould be odd. The best way to use Benjamin s to tryand insert him intoour context, to ask what can he give us in termsof questions of value, questions of the multi-ple uses of texts, questions of the relation between cultural and political.One thing I think he can give us dominantly is his anti-historicism.That is to say, hisrejectionof any Lucasian eleology of value and of art; or Benjamin he question of culture isabove all a question of use-value, and the question of use-value is above all a question ofhistoricallydefined circumstances. At the same time, Benjamin,while rejectingthose sortsofhistoricist and teleological arguments about culture which have deformed much important62

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    Marxistcriticism,with his other hand rejectswhat Iwould take to be ultra-leftist nd indeed,as it were, proletkultistarguments about culture, which essentially asserted that class historyis bunk and one can somehow start anew. Benjaminseems to me a man who, while beingdeeply anti-historicist, s saturated in history and tradition, and Trotsky'sreminder that weMarxistshave always lived in traditionis one that strikes a resonance in the work of WalterBenjamin. Yet Benjamin is a quite uncompromising avant-gardist.One reason it is importantto work on Benjaminnow is that he strikinglyprefiguresa lotof the contemporary contentions between various formsof psychoanalysis, linguistictheory,deconstruction, avant-gardism,and Marxism.Benjaminis a figuredeeply engaged in all themovements I've ust mentioned, but from a materialistposition. To go back to Benjaminandlook at how he interrelates these motifs, and uses these various themes, is to see in a quitedifferentkind of lightthe need to do this in an era of politicalcrisis. One is not looking backto Benjamin for any kind of neat theoretical synthesis, but to see how those differenttheoretical positions shape up, interrelate,conflict, within the context of Benjamin'sconcernfor revolutionarypolitics. So in thatsense his work can shed some light upon our contentionstoday.KAVANAGH:How do you thinkMarxist iterary heory and criticismwill develop in thefuture, or how do you think it should?EAGLETON: think one of its primarytasks, and a task that I've very schematicallyattempted to begin inthis latestbook, is to look politicallyat its own history.I think that it hasnot done that on the whole. There has been something presumed as a Marxistaesthetics,which is often as not an imaginaryunity;the first ask, the ground-clearingoperation, is for usto look at that historyand to look at the interconnections between various theoretical posi-tions assumed from time to time by so-called Marxistaestheticians, and the political historyout of which those come.I think one thing we shall find if we do is that Marxistaesthetics has largely been theproduct of Stalinism,and on the whole the product of epochs of relativequiescence or sup-pression of class struggle. Ithas continually been in danger; it has continually been affectedby various forms of bourgeois idealism- not by any means always for the worse, becausesometimes that was the only discourse that could fend off a mere vulgarmaterialism.Ithinkwe have to understand that before we can see how a revolutionaryculturaltheory and prac-tice reallycould be constructed.We shall also find perhaps that many of the received meanings of Marxistcriticismwillhave to change. We'll see that many of the limitsof traditional so-called Marxistaestheticshave been its idealismand academicism. And rethinking hat, and tryingto transcend it, maymean, as it were, the death of Marxistaesthetics as we know it. Perhapsall we can do so faris signal that transitionin a change of language. Ifyou like, the slogan will be "fromMarxistaesthetics to revolutionarycultural theory and practice."Itis easy enough to say, but it is more difficult o do. And the reason it is more difficult odo is not because we cannot develop revolutionaryculturaltheory now. It is importantnotto underestimate the freedom given to us by still bourgeois liberal capitalist society asopposed to fascisticcapitalism- we still have institutionsin which to operate. Not only canwe develop that theory now, but we must at all costs develop it.On the other hand, we canalso increasinglysee the reasons why that theory is bound at this historicalmoment to over-shoot revolutionary cultural practice, since such practice is radically dependent upon apolitical context which cannot be thought or wished into existence by any of us.KAVANAGH: s that the general context under which you wrote your paper entitled'Why We Must Oppose MarxistLiteraryCriticism"?EAGLETON: think that is a reasonably provocative slogan. I wrote that paper verymuch under the impetus of student comeback on what they regarded as a Marxistcriticalposition. Students of mine who were variously politically engaged either in attempts atpolitico-cultural practice- radical theatre, street theatre, feminist theatre, and so on-orwho were engaged in non-cultural kinds of political activity, were alarminglycapable ofunderstandingand endorsing quite complex developments in Marxistculturaltheory, at thesame time as they were preparedto say "Sowhat?What has this changed, and what will it?"Confronted with that sort of questioning, which is by no means cynical, Iam constrained totryto addressthis in a different kind of way. One thingthat meant was justbacktrackingoverdiacritics/ spring 1982 63

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    what people have called Marxistaesthetics and seeing what its limitswere, but at the sametime seeing what it could still give to us, what concepts we could still disengage from it.KAVANAGH: o politicize Marxistliterary heory.EAGLETON:ndeed. The firsttask of any Marxist is always to tryand give a historical,political rundown of his or her own position, and Marxism tries to understandthe materialconditions of itsown birth,development, and hopeful future demise in a way quite differentfrom the self-universalizinggestures of ideologies. That task remains to be done within theimportantbut modest subset of Marxismknown as Marxistcriticism.KAVANAGH:nyour play, Brecht and Company, you have a nice fictional attribution oBrecht of a quote on the desirabilityof being in a political and historicized atmosphere.Perhaps you could end with that.EAGLETON: h yes: "I'd athersuffocate under historyin Berlin han stifleforthe lack ofit in LosAngeles." -June, 1980