Marxism, Culture and Irish Studies

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


If Eagleton’s career has been beset by controversies, these have largely been the fairly predictable consequence of a Marxist’s interventions in academic debates dominated by liberal assumptions, even if dressed up in contemporary theoretical language. His recent work in Irish Studies, though, has generated a range of controversies whose complexities are not easily reducible to left-liberal antagonisms. At the same time, his contributions to this field have been more consistently travestied than elsewhere as various hostile commentators have attempted to fix his image as the stereotypical ‘plastic Paddy’ or offspring of a sentimental and excessively romantic Irish émigré culture. There is something of this in Edna Longley’s reference to ‘Thomas Kilroy’s Double Cross, largely a play about residual inferiority complexes. (Though Kilroy’s scenario, in which Brendan Bracken and William Joyce strive to become “English”, might be complemented by another drama in which figures such as Michéal MacLiammoir or Terry Eagleton would reinvent themselves as “Irish”)’ (Longley, 1994, 223). Alternatively, his political affiliations with Irish nationalism have been represented as compensation for the decline of Marxism as a political and intellectual force. Thus R. F. Foster comments, not so obliquely, that ‘The old form of the [nationalist] narrative continued to exert a compelling attraction for lost souls from the larger island, beached by receding tides of intellectual fashion (structuralist as well as Marxist)’ (Foster, 2001, 20). A similar point is made in spruced up theoretical language by Martin McQuillan:

Given that history has been so undialectical as to produce Tony Blair and New Labour, Eagleton’s search for the New Jerusalem has taken him to the satanic mills of Irish history. It is easier to tell the goodies from the baddies in a postcolonial struggle, and the binary of coloniser and colonised bears a reassuring similarity to Hegel’s master/slave dialectic. In such a scenario the colonised Irish (Eagleton has never equivocated about whose ‘side’ he is on) become a substitute for the lost working class dispersed by the neo-liberalism of Mrs Thatcher. (McQuillan, 2002, 34)


Irish Study Irish Society Capitalist Modernity Postcolonial Theory Revisionist History 
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© David Alderson 2004

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  • David Alderson

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