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reviews 135 Ideology: an introduction, by Terry Eagleton. London and New York: Verso, 1990. $13.95 (paper). In the introduction to The Ideology of the Aesthetic, Terry Eagleton apologizes for the book being "too little Marxist"(5). This is, he explains, because the work's function as a survey makes it impossible to adequately contextualize each of the writers discussed in the material determinants of their production. A similar criticism can be directed at the book under review here. Despite frequent gestures towards historicizing, Ideology: an introduction struggles between the poles of theoreticism and historicity, never adequately reconciling them through its use of thematic narratives and rhetorical examples. Despite this problem, the book is a useful intervention into theoretical discourse, mapping out new ground to be struggled over in the debates over postmodernism and the end of ideology. Eagleton claims, in fact, that the dual purpose of his book is to give a history of the concept of ideology and to serve as a "riposte to this latest treason of the clerks" (xii), i.e., the claims that there has been an end to ideology and the retreat from concepts of class stuggle and revolution. In the first chapter, he advances a number of definitions of ideology, pointing out the inadequacies of each, usually with simplistic, exaggerated examples such as "Ideology, like halitosis, is ... What the other person has"(2). The problem with the ending of this chapter exemplifies one of the problems that runs throughout the book. He ends the chapter with a claim that one can change a subject's ideological beliefs by means of "reason," which he defines in this way: "the kind of discourse that would result from as many people as possible actively participating in a discussion of these matters in conditions as free as possible from domination" (3 1 ). The problem here with the use of such terms as "free" and "domination" should be obvious after the great deal of attention given to the Foucaldian understanding of the relationship between discourse and power. In addition, Eagleton's example of such a conversion involves the presentation to a person who holds the belief that "all childless women are thwarted and embittered" of "as many ecstatic childfree women as possible" (30). Obviously, this is not an example of rational and free discourse, but of physical reality contradicting a belief. It would be simple enough, moreover, for this deluded person to argue that these women are lying, or that they are thwarted and embittered and don't know it. In his second chapter, Eagleton begins by setting up a polarity between material control of individuals' everyday lives and the importance of beliefs in producing subjects who work all by themselves. He goes on to list possible "ideological strategies" such as rationalization, naturalization , etc., and demonstrates the limited function of each. From there, the book follows a fairly consistant plot; in each section, Eagleton introduces a polarity, which is resolved by a synthesizing concept, which in turns calls up its own opposite. For example, his fourth chapter sets up an opposition, focusing on the works of Luk√°cs, between ideology as "material structures of the capitalist economy itself and ideology as "coherently organized consciousness" (112). The resolution comes with the work of Gramsci, which is then in turn subject to the critique of its being historicist. Although this narrative of thesis-antithesis is not quite convincing and sometimes oversimplified, it often succeeds in pointing out the interconnections between the discourses on ideology and power, as when he points out that the end of ideology theory of Baudrillard "is insultingly complicitous with what the sysem would like to believe" (42), or that "discourse theory provided the ideology of ... political retreat" (218). 136 reviews Eagleton consistantly elides the epistemological differences between different levels of knowledge (scientific, descriptive, ideological) because he ignores the differences between the content of ideologies and their form. Although he cites Slavoj Zizek, he seems to have failed to grasp one of Zizek's key points in The Sublime Object ofIdeology: What is at stake in ideology is not its content, but its form. Eagleton uses the example of racism as a lived relation to the conditions...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2157-4189
Print ISSN
0026-5667
Pages
pp. 135-137
Launched on MUSE
2011-07-06
Open Access
No
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