The Event of Literature

The Event of Literature

Copyright Date: 2012
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 256
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  • Book Info
    The Event of Literature
    Book Description:

    In this characteristically concise, witty, and lucid book, Terry Eagleton turns his attention to the questions we should ask about literature, but rarely do. What is literature? Can we even speak of "literature" at all? What do different literary theories tell us about what texts mean and do? In throwing new light on these and other questions he has raised in previous best-sellers, Eagleton offers a new theory of what we mean by literature. He also shows what it is that a great many different literary theories have in common.

    In a highly unusual combination of critical theory and analytic philosophy, the author sees all literary work, from novels to poems, as a strategy to contain a reality that seeks to thwart that containment, and in doing so throws up new problems that the work tries to resolve. The "event" of literature, Eagleton argues, consists in this continual transformative encounter, unique and endlessly repeatable. Freewheeling through centuries of critical ideas, he sheds light on the place of literature in our culture, and in doing so reaffirms the value and validity of literary thought today.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-18259-0
    Subjects: Language & Literature, Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. viii-ix)
  3. Preface
    (pp. x-xiii)
  4. CHAPTER 1 Realists and Nominalists
    (pp. 1-18)

    Let us begin with what might seem like a pointless diversion. Like many of our theoretical wrangles, the dispute between realists and nominalists is of ancient provenance.² It flourishes most vigorously, however, in the later Middle Ages, when a number of eminent schoolmen of opposite persuasions line up to do battle. Are general or universal categories in some sense real, as the realists claim in the wake of Plato, Aristotle and Augustine, or are they, as the nominalists insist, concepts which we ourselves foist upon a world in which whatever is real is irreducibly particular? Is there a sense in...

  5. CHAPTER 2 What is Literature? (1)
    (pp. 19-58)

    We may now descend from the Supreme Being to the more profane question of whether something called literature actually exists. The point of this brief excursus has been to demonstrate just how much is at stake, intellectually and politically, in the apparently arcane question of whether there really are such things as common natures in the world.

    Almost thirty years ago, inLiterary Theory: An Introduction, I argued a strongly anti-essentialist case about the nature of literature.¹ Literature, I insisted, has no essence whatsoever. Those pieces of writing dubbed ‘literary’ have no single property or even set of properties in...

  6. CHAPTER 3 What is Literature? (2)
    (pp. 59-105)

    We can turn now to the moral dimension of literary works. I use the word ‘moral’ to signify the realm of human meanings, values and qualities, rather than in the deontological, anaemically post-Kantian sense of duty, law, obligation and responsibility.¹ It was literary figures in nineteenth-century England, from Arnold and Ruskin to Pater, Wilde and – supremely – Henry James, who helped to shift the meaning of the term ‘morality’ from a matter of codes and norms to a question of values and qualities. It was a project consummated in the twentieth century by some of the age’s most eminent...

  7. CHAPTER 4 The Nature of Fiction
    (pp. 106-166)

    The theory of fiction is perhaps the most difficult aspect of the philosophy of literature, as well as the one that has attracted the most sustained scholarly attention. For some curious reason, commentary on the subject has produced not only some penetrating insights but also more than its fair share of embarrassing banalities. Gregory Currie, for example, informs us that ‘we say that an inference is reasonable when it has a relatively high degree of reasonableness, unreasonable when its degree of reasonableness is very low’.¹ Peter Lamarque impresses on us the fact that ‘fictional characters, like Mr. Allworthy or Miss...

  8. CHAPTER 5 Strategies
    (pp. 167-225)

    It is now time to shift the question of whether things share a common nature from literature itself to the theories which investigate it. What, if anything, do literary theories have in common? What links semiotics and feminism, Formalism and psychoanalysis, Marxism and hermeneutics or post-structuralism and reception aesthetics?

    One answer might be that they are alltheories. This means that they have at least one (negative) feature in common: a shared opposition to empiricist or impressionistic criticism. Even so, the distinction between theoretical and other kinds of criticism is far from clear. It cannot be that the former deploys...

  9. Notes
    (pp. 226-239)
  10. Index
    (pp. 240-252)