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158 the minnesota review strength of the masses, how can we be defeated?" (p. 160) But the political question he insists be silenced is the identity of this "we." It was clear to Benjamin that all history is not only the struggle for the material products of labor, but equally for the political strength of the masses. The common threat of Stalinism, fascism and bourgeois liberalism is that each has found a way of mobilizing the strength of the masses which alienates that power from its political identity. The myth that a transcendent truth guarantees that this enormous force wiU necessarily move in the direction of those interests out of whose torment it springs has produced a complicity in monstrosity which has small right to scorn Benjamin as "meditative, courteous and unworldly, temperamentally unfitted for the public rancour of class politics" (p. 114). The great tragedy of purposeful, rationalist socialism which cannot hear the false ring in the honeyed promise of progress, in the "worker's state," and a politics which thinks it knows how to get there, but is so careless of where it is going, is all present in Eagleton's final appropriation of Benjamin. The critique of Messianism to be read here is not in the form intended, but rather the ease with which it can be corrupted. Despite it, progress may yet entice the dragon of proletarian resentment to settle like the firebird at its oppressor's side: No revolutionary movement can afford to ignore signs of steady progress, rhythms of gradual development, or (in a non-metaphysical sense of the term) questions of teleology; Benjamin's 'homogeneous time,' thought from the standpoint of Bolshevism, looks somewhat less repellent. If not even the dead are safe from fascism, not even the Messiah is safe from socialism, (p. 177) For Benjamin, it is just those "signs of steady progress' that, like the Blendwerk of causal, scientific historiography, bring a false image of the future down to paralyse and obliterate the real traces of a present from which true revolutionary emancipation might spring. This cannot be absorbed into the form of a promise, a program or a contract, for revolution consists in the speech of history coming to a class whose mouths were previously filled with silence. His determined critical labors to uncover and read those traces — lost to a perspective swept along in progressive time, and covered over by the noise of false speech — constitute the achievement for which Benjamin's work is read today. It is carelessness and inattention which leaves the immanent power of a text stranded in silence. And it is such flaccid critical practice that enables Eagleton to misread and pass by, for example, the profound difference for Benjamin between the historical sphere and function of storytelling and photography (pp. 61-62). While there are indeed critics who will open up Benjamin's writings for us, Eagleton must be counted among those who fail to grasp that potential, and only quote him in ways he would not have approved. MARCUS BULLOCK NOTES 1XVIII A ofthe "Theses on the Philosophy of History," Illuminations, trans. Harry Zohn, ed. Hannah Arendt (New York: Schocken Books, 1969), p. 263. 2IWd. Mikhail Bakhtin, The Dialogic Imagination: Four Essays, trans. Caryl Emerson and Michael Holquist (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1981). Pp. 477. $25. The four essays translated in The Dialogic Imagination will fuel recent interest in Mikhail Bakhtin's contributions to criticism and to literary theory.1 The most significant aspect of Bakhtin's writing in these essays lies in the way it enters into a dialogue with itself as it attempts to establish a hierarchy of literary genres. At the same time that he sets up a hierarchy , he indirectly reveals that distinctions among genres are ultimately inappropriate, and that the dialogic nature he discovers in one genre, the novel, characterizes literature as a whole. Dialogue is the model for Bakhtin's theory ofthe novel. In dialogue, the words of one in- 159 reviews dividual are conditioned to some extent by those of another. In a similar way, the novelist's dialogic language exists in relation to other discourses. In its attempt to express a particular idea...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2157-4189
Print ISSN
0026-5667
Pages
pp. 158-162
Launched on MUSE
2011-07-06
Open Access
No
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