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After Theory

3.83  ·  Rating details ·  869 ratings  ·  59 reviews
As heralded everywhere from NPR to the pages of the New York Times Magazine, a new era is underway in our colleges and universities: after a lengthy tenure, the dominance of postmodern theory has come to an end. In this timely and topical book, the legendary Terry Eagleton ("one of [our] best-known public intellectuals."-Boston Globe) traces the rise and fall of these ...more
Paperback, 240 pages
Published 2004 by Basic Books (first published 2003)
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Feb 16, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Notwithstanding the constraints that Eagleton's Marxist mores place upon the socio-cultural interpretation herein, this is lucidly expressed and soundly reasoned stuff, if a touch too diverse and unfocused. It's curious how much Eagleton's polemical tenor reminds me of the French intellectual Pascal Bruckner—of whom I've recently read—though the latter's political stances would only intermittently be in accord with those of the author; while Eagleton's reasoning about the reversed ...more
Jan 16, 2014 rated it liked it
Shelves: theory
When the very foundations of your civilization are literally under fire, however, pragmatism in the theoretical sense of the word seems altogether too lightweight, laid-back a response.

After Theory begins as an intellectual history and concludes as a cautionary tale. Unfortunately in between there is a messy didactic midriff where Eagleton labors to define Truth and Morality. Such an exploration undercuts the wonderful narrative of the opening chapters where Eagleton paints with tremendous skill
Surly leftist ponders the demise of high theory, which has been perhaps greatly exaggerated.

Starts with the proposition that “if theory means a reasonably systematic reflection on our guiding assumptions, it remains as indispensable as ever” (2), which is consistent with the author’s other twenty or so books, all of them serious monographs on theory.

And then moves into assorted kvetching about the types of things into which theory has gotten itself, such as sexuality, colonialism, and so on—as
Stef Rozitis
The difficulty I have with giving this book stars is I enjoyed and agreed with it more than the two star rating expresses. Eagleton comes across as sarcastic, creative in his metaphors, passionate and well read as he strives for meaning in the modern context (and largely in opposition to post-modernism but nearly every other way of thinking also gets criticised). I like a bit of coherent, passionate criticism and I enjoy sarcasm. If this was a ranty sort of a person at a party I would probably ...more
Rally Soong
Nov 12, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Having unfortunate to be in college during the "cultural critique" era of the 80's, I had lots of fun with but ultimately useless (except as good training for reading and writing and thinking) literary theories. Eagleton is a must read. As with all (post)collegiate life, one sheds these ideas as one dispose the mullet, the soul patch, and the MC Hammer pants. Here Eagleton brings the urgency of politics and chastise the culture vultures for having lost the original vision of the purpose of ...more
Oct 20, 2012 rated it did not like it
I really hated this book. I got halfway through, tried to read the rest about four times, and finally am adding it to my "abandoned" shelf. Eagleton's representations of postmodern theory are shallow, overly pessimistic, and often just plain wrong. Very disappointing considering his standing and his rather engaging writing style.
Aug 03, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: artbooks
Although I don't always agree with Terry Eagleton, this book was a great read. Eagleton's writing allows the everyman access to artistic theoretical views. Informative and humorous, Eagleton makes theory much less boring

I love about 90% of this book. Towards the middle to late middle he began to ramble a bit and his thinking is perhaps over-spiced with Aristotelian thought (which really isn't the worst thing in the world, I'd just prefer not to get it second hand for all that) and perhaps a little bit too redundant at times.

However- and this is a big however- most of the book is brilliant. He is well-versed in what he diagnoses and criticizes and he can illustrate his points with wonderful, clearly-wrought
Oct 16, 2008 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Amateur Philosophers/Literary Critics
Recommended to Richard by: Dr Ording.
Eagleton takes on the previously verboten topic of ethical living in day to day for politically progressive left wing people. Believing that the good life is more than material satisfaction, but something best defined by living a life that allows one to flourish in a society that allows others to fulfill themselves as well.

Eagleton is reacting against Post-Modern and relativist scorn of morality, ideology, and clear thinking, "grand narratives."

So too, does Eagleton think America is overrun
May 26, 2015 rated it really liked it
The subtitle could very well be: "Are we still postmodern? Were we ever?" Eagleton's illusionless approach to such passé concerns as truth, morality, and faith is refreshing. The first half of the book provides a bit of stocktaking, the latter branches out into comparatively "plebeian" themes. A brisk, edifying, but still unpredictable read.
John David
Being a theorist – cultural, literary, or anything else – could be intimidating if you’re doing it after the impressively productive years of the ‘60s and ‘70s. These were the acme years of people like Habermas, Derrida, Bourdieu, Foucault, Lyotard, Rorty, Jameson, and several others who played a major role in completely reshaping what theory means inside and outside of academic discourse. In “After Theory,” Eagleton confronts a world where many of these people’s ideas, once considered ...more
The question of how we should make sense of our world "after theory" is indeed an interesting one. And while Eagleton doesn't really answer it, he does a good job of providing us with some very interesting avenues of thought to pursue, and gives us some ideas of what the intellectual discourse he calls "theory" has failed to address.

Like Marshall Berman, his vision is of a pluralistic sort of modernism with a strong ethical and humanistic backbone based on principles of solidarity. It's not the
This was my first Eagleton book and I appreciated it. Here he is writing about how his fellow critics have to get beyond postmodern lightweight concerns and start dealing with some meaty issues, like poverty, the fate of the earth, the impact of the form of capitalism that’s reigning supreme currently, etc. He wasn’t out to solve anything, just to offer a post-9/11 interesting, insightful and humorous discussion to direct the conversation. I liked it quite a bit, it was informative just to ...more
Aug 22, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Great book for students of theory; Eagleton offers an astute synthesis of the "big metaphysical questions" that often go overlooked because of disciplinary boundaries....

Okay, I just finished this book. I was having a hard time getting through the last pages because Eagleton relies so heavily on theory, but then I got to the PostScript and it made the book worth it. Don't read this book if you're conservative, it will make your head spin. If you have even a moderately progressive bent to your
Jul 13, 2010 rated it really liked it
Shelves: read-2010
I found this book a great tonic. Very readable and filled with passion. Eagleton has some serious theoretical chops, but here he's trying to both make clear the stakes and also urge, in non-jargon, greater engagement with the world from our Postmoderns and our Left.

Postmodernism does not equal relativism.
Feb 04, 2008 rated it it was ok
Eagleton's a good stylist, but often it feels like he's tilting at windmills... his critiques of "theory" would have been far more compelling if he'd actually linked the theoretical ideas he's criticizing to particular theorists. Still, he's probably right in arguing that "theory" fails to address a lot of Big Questions.
Maughn Gregory
One of the most satisfying philosophy books I've read in a long time. Eagleton's critique of cultural theory, his construals of objectivity and morality, his defense of socialism and even his anti-US diatribes, are not merely clever and playful, but deeply humane.
Sam Uglow
Nov 30, 2013 rated it liked it
Easy read that makes plenty of standard unsubstantiated claims and over-generalizes all other view points.
Chris Waraksa
Dec 17, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: criticism, philosophy
It is a little difficult to decide between three and four stars. There are many things to like. Eagleton writes in a clear, even transparent, style that conveys just what he wants to say without any need to circle back or for the reader to puzzle about what he really means. He writes the way I wish more of the cultural theorists and philosophers would write. For that alone he ranks praise. Other virtues include a modesty in how he builds his argument without denying anyone else their right to ...more
Jun 11, 2019 rated it really liked it
Well-written, lively, and full of good humor. Covers much (though by no means all) of the same intellectual ground as the writings of Frederic Jameson (one of my personal favorites), but is seemingly meant for a more general audience and therefore somewhat easier to read.

I wouldn’t say this book is ground breaking, but it is such a well thought out argument that it brings clarity to the history of "theory", what has happened to it, and how the left can recover from landing amid the wreckage on
Oct 23, 2017 rated it it was ok
Read this twice now and although it is full of five-star ideas, overall it is a bit messy and unfocused. It's as if Eagleton has too many ideas and comments and can't pare them down and stay on point. Admittedly he states in the preface that he's writing for a general rather professional audience, but that is really a horrible aim as this is written way above the "general reader" pay-grade. Nonetheless, tons of good arguments and history of cultural theory warfare. Probably deserves more than ...more
Apr 13, 2018 rated it it was ok
so my dude disparages the usual group of "postmodern thinkers" with special antipathy for rorty, then goes on to reassert all of their fundamental claims as true. frankly i don't get it, i don't see the point of this book
Andrei Sandu
Jun 23, 2017 rated it really liked it
Excellent book, full of brilliant quips and quotable lines. It's just that it's too erratic, disorganised, and devoid of any palpable overarching argument.
Jesse Thorson
Jan 18, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: philosophy, theory
Amazing. A great introduction to Terry Eagleton.
Brendan Coke
May 25, 2019 rated it really liked it
Abe Brennan
May 17, 2007 rated it it was amazing
After Theory, Eagleton’s cogent and often hilarious critique of postmodernism, in the end amounts to a post-postmodern defense, or, more accurately, re-assertion, of socialism. He traces the major strains of philosophic thought and literary theory down through the ages, rather like a gun barrel tracking a clay pigeon, and finally sets his sites on postmodernism in general and Cultural Studies in particular, which he then peppers with salvo after salvo of intellectual buckshot. His most damaging ...more
May 09, 2013 rated it really liked it
Do not expect a step by step debunking of the critical-theoritical dogma : as often with Eagleton, the overarching 'theme' of the book (here, the dominant conjecture of identity politics, cultural relativism and thinking-small know as post-modernism) is a mere excuse for the author's developing his own view, only lightly touching on what and why he finds himself to differ from the established pomo cannon.
If not for his analysis or even his critique, why, then, should one read this book, you may
Sam Eccleston
Jul 11, 2016 rated it it was amazing
This is a fantastic discussion of the genesis of post-modern thought, and how the peculiar circumstances of its origin as a theoretical movement leave it, and those who embrace it, unable to meet the challenges of neoliberalism on the one hand and Islamism on the other. Throughout, Eagleton writes from an acknowledged, although somewhat reconstructed, Marxist perspective which proves surprisingly fertile ground for critiquing the inadequacies of cultural theory. Many of his criticisms hit the ...more
Jul 12, 2010 rated it liked it
There is a lot to like about Eagleton. He is generally careful in his judgments and has fresh ideas that at times bother both the left and the right. He is an engaging and often witty Brit. I thought his chapters at the end about death and fanaticism had keen insights.

The one thing I didn't like was his treatment of America. Clearly he doesn't like us - or at least the 2003 Bush White House incarnation of us. That's fine - there's a lot not to like about us. What I mind is that he seems to leave
Jan 21, 2015 rated it it was amazing
A modest introduction to literature and literary/cultural theory is very helpful when reading this book. If one has that and an interest in looking at the large questions both stimulating and stifling theory today, then I imagine that this book would be enjoyable. Not every word is to be taken as truth and I believe the text itself argues against doing that, but to be thinking about the kinds of questions this book raises is the most important aspect. Whether or not you agree or disagree with ...more
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Widely regarded as Britain's most influential living literary critic & theorist, Dr Eagleton currently serves as Distinguished Prof. of English Literature at the Univ. of Lancaster & as Visiting Prof. at the Nat'l Univ. of Ireland, Galway. He was Thomas Warton Prof. of English Literature at the Univ. of Oxford ('92-01) & John Edward Taylor Prof. of English Literature at the Univ. of ...more
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“The golden age of cultural theory is long past. The pioneering works of Jacques Lacan, Claude Lévi-Strauss, Louis Althusser, Roland Barthes and Michel Foucault are several decades behind us [ … ] Some of them have since been struck down. Fate pushed Roland Barthes under a Parisian laundry van, and afflicted Michel Foucault with Aids. It dispatched Lacan, Williams and Bourdieu, and banished Louis Althusser to a psychiatric hospital for the murder of his wife. It seemed that God was not a structuralist.” 3 likes
“Another anti-theoretical stratagem is to claim that in order to launch some fundamental critique of our culture, we would need to be standing at some Archimedean point beyond it. What this fails to see is that reflecting critically on our situation is part of our situation. It is a feature of the peculiar way we belong to the world. It is not some impossible light-in-the-refrigerator attempt to scrutinize ourselves when we are not there. Curving back on ourselves is as natural to us as it is to cosmic space or a wave of the sea. It does not entail jumping out of our own skin. Without such self-monitoring we would not have survived as a species.” 1 likes
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