Small mammals and celebrities

Another six months, another Terry Eagleton book… But who can wait to read it? Not me.


Culture and the Death of God continues Eagleton’s recent crusade against ignorance of post Enlightenment intellectual history (and subsequent wrong-headed assumptions about religion and its claims). This is a history of how in the West philosophers tried to get rid of God but were still burdened by the idea of the transcendent and so searched desperately for God’s replacement.

But Eagleton points out (here at odds with those like myself who blithely tend to lump everyone into categories such as “Enlightenment philosophers”) that there were various strands in Enlightenment thought, and not all actually wanted to get rid of God. Quite a few were simply trying to reconcile theology with that up-and-comer, reason. Some thinkers of course did tend toward atheism. Others, in the vein of Alain de Botton recently, thought that while religion was simply fairy-tale, it had its uses for the plebs. The fact that the pieces didn’t quite fit, at least in the way many wanted, has led to the situation we are in now. Where, according to Eagleton, we look to things like sport or art or nationalism for meaning and transcendence.

Eagleton’s book shows all his best and worst traits. He covers vast terrain, has plenty of his usual jokey examples of small mammals and celebrities, but also repeats ideas he has explored elsewhere (but who can blame him when there is so much misinformation out there?), and gallops from one thinker to the next, bouncing the reader uncomfortably. But we need Eagleton desperately – as Simon Critchley says on the jacket, “if Terry Eagleton didn’t exist, it would be necessary to invent him”.


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