The Event of Literature by Terry Eagleton
My rating: 2 of 5 stars
I don't do the crossword puzzle. I'm not much for games, generally. I enjoy a hand or two of rummy once in a long while, but the friend who tried to teach me bridge eventually gave up in tears. In junior high, the basketball coach taught me chess during practices. I was the team manager. We were bored. I was never very good at it, but at least it was more interesting than boys running drills -- for the coach, anyway. I had my own interests there.
Reading Terry Eagleton is sudoku for me. Just as sudoku uses numbers but doesn't actually involve arithmetic, so with Eagleton and literature. Oh, the name of a novelist may pop up now and then, but it doesn't signify. One no more has to have read Melville to enjoy Eagleton than one has to remember algebra to play sudoku. (If you want to know who actually matters in Eagleton, who the writers are he's reading, other than Marx who always comes out on top for citations, check the index. More importantly, who are the writers with whom Terry Eagleton is arguing? Just check the index for critics, familiar and otherwise. Pretty safe bet that if the name's unfamiliar, Terry's got his number. Ultimately, you're more likely to find Stanley Fish served up than Moby Dick.) The game Eagleton plays happens to use literature, but I don't doubt he could play it just as well, and every bit as divertingly with The Old Farmers Almanac, or reports from the Department of Agriculture. Books are the clues, but substitute "crop yields" for "semiotics," and what might be lost in meaning wouldn't be so very much, and the result would be just as much fun.
Really what this particular puzzle book is meant to be I suppose is something of an elegy for the faded charms of theory in general, which Eagleton seems to feel have lost their rosy glow. Hadn't noticed. Still, he would know, wouldn't he? Now, the Professor never really approved of all that stuff anyway, it seems. There's a right way and a wrong way. Every game has its rules, and so on. Seems all those theorists were atheists or something. Who remembers? Doesn't matter. The game, and great fun it is too, is all to do with the logical progression of Eagleton's argument, not with whom he's having it, what it might be about or whether it matters to anyone else. Trying to guess Eagleton's next move is always fun, but frankly I'm no better at this game than I was a bridge. Doesn't matter. Terry Eagleton's a grand master of this nonsense. Every performance is about equally dazzling.
In fact, Terry Eagleton is the Will Shortz of this kind of puzzle-making.
It doesn't really pay to study this kind of book with the idea of understanding how Moby Dick -- just for consistency's sake -- works or doesn't works, why one ought to read it in preference, for instance, to any other novel, or why one ought to read novels at all, for that matter. (I don't know that Professor Eagleton thinks we should. Don't know what Professor Fish would say.)
Meanwhile, at least between novels, for the exercise if to no other or better purpose, I will now and again find myself sucked in by the goofy magnetism of Eagleton's witty, giddy gamesmanship. I can't recommend it highly enough for those long winter afternoons, by the space-heater. If there's no one around for backgammon and you're not ready for your nap, give the old boy a try.
Perfectly harmless fun.
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