Marxism, Culture and English Studies

  • David Alderson
Part of the transitions book series (TRANSs)


It is impossible to understand Terry Eagleton’s work without some sense of the central tradition out of which it emerges, and this in itself is a complex phenomenon. Marxism is a tradition of thought which includes numerous interpretations, developments and modifications of the insights of Marx himself, some of which constitute necessary amendments to the inherent limitations of those insights whilst others result from attempts to be consistent to then in historically changed circumstances. Eagleton has drawn widely on this tradition and has contributed to it by demonstrating a degree of openness to contemporary theoretical and philosophical developments. For some Marxists, indeed, he is something of a heterodox figure. Donald Morton, for instance, rather sniffily refers to him as ‘by no means a classical Marxist’ (Morton, 2001, 36), a comment which would no doubt surprise those who think of him as a self-appointed keeper of the faith because he has maintained a degree of fidelity to key elements of classical Marxist theory, such as that of base and superstructure, which has distinguished him in the largely post-Marxist world of contemporary cultural and literary theory. Issues of fidelity and innovation are complex ones in Eagleton’s writings, though. His major work of the 1970s, Criticism and Ideology, for instance, is a dialectical response to the writings of two very different figures, the English left intellectual, Raymond Williams, and the French Marxist Pierre Macherey, which some have claimed is rather too derivative of the latter but which, in fact, in its grasp of the limitations of both of these thinkers, ends up being both more insightful than either and more orthodox in its Marxism. Some sense of both Williams’s and Macherey’s work is therefore crucial to an understanding of Eagleton’s project in that text which will be the principal focus of this chapter. But also necessary is some account of Marxism itself, not merely as a prelude to a discussion of that work, but also by way of introduction to the concerns of later chapters. The ideas of Marx have been rehearsed so many times, it might appear superfluous to do so again here,1 but one of my other intentions is to provide an account which may act as a corrective to the conveniently travestied versions which form straw targets in so much contemporary cultural theory.


Social Relation Literary Production Capitalist Society Gender Ideology Literary Text 
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© David Alderson 2004

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  • David Alderson

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