The Idea of Culture / Edition 1

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Terry Eagleton's book, in this vital new series from Blackwell, focuses on discriminating different meanings of culture, as a way of introducing to the general reader the contemporary debates around it.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
It is a little disconcerting, after reading the elegant and precise first chapter of Eagleton's overview of political, social and cultural concepts of culture, to find him stating at the outset of the second one: "[I]t is hard to resist the conclusion that the word `culture' is both too broad and too narrow to be greatly useful." But his evaluation proves accurate. Drawing upon a wide range of sources, theories and disciplines--from Raymond Williams's Marxist criticism to Ruskin's aesthetic theories, Richard Rorty's pragmatic political philosophy and Althusser's political commentary--Eagleton (Literary Theory; Myths of Power; etc.) surveys the far-ranging and often conflicting ways "culture" might be defined and used to interpret or interact with the material world. In the first two chapters, Eagleton delivers a clear but essentially academic pr cis of a complicated concept. Yet in his later chapters--on the culture wars, the tension between nature and culture and the possibilities for creating a common culture--he breaks out of a purely descriptive mode and into a provocative, entertaining one, noting, for example, that Americans use the word "America" far more than Danes use the word "Denmark," commenting, "this is what happens when your view of other countries is for the most part through a camera lens or from a bomber." In this brief volume, Eagleton has produced both a thoughtful analysis of cultural theories as well as a shrewd, liberal dissection of current social and political trends. (Mar.) FYI: This is the first book in the Blackwell Manifestos series. Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.|
Library Journal
Eagleton's latest book promises to be an important addition to the field of cultural studies. A prominent literary critic and Marxist theorist, Eagleton writes in a style that is somewhat rambling but always colorful and lively. Placing the notion of culture in historical, philosophical, and political context, Eagleton describes the emergence of today's mass culture, with its perceived threat to traditional values. To illustrate the changing meaning of culture, he notes the views of such thinkers as Nietzsche, T.S. Eliot, and Matthew Arnold. He also quotes liberally from the works of his former teacher and mentor, Raymond Williams (Culture and Society, 1780-1950). The initial offering in Blackwell's new "Manifestos" series, this book is recommended for advanced undergraduate collections.--Ellen Sullivan, Ferguson Lib., Stamford, CT Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.\
Times Literary Supplement
Early in The Idea of Culture, Terry Eagleton suggests that the word "culture" is perhaps "both too broad and too narrow to be greatly useful". "Culture" has, however, proved immensely useful to Eagleton himself. Like "ideology", "capitalism" and "politics" - other terms he has played with, danced around, pronounced on, for several decades - the word, precisely by virtue of its protean meanings, opens a space into which theorists worth their salt can pour pretty well anything they like. . . .

The opening sentence of The Idea of Culture repeats, without attribution, Raymond Williams's observation that "culture" is one of the two or three most complex words in the English language. Williams is a good place to start; for pretty well everything of real substance in Eagleton's book was better expressed by Williams in the luminously clear pages on "Culture" and "Civilisation" in his erudite Keywords.

Williams notes that the notion of "culture" is derived from "husbandry, the tending of natural growth". From the sixteenth century on this was extended to a process of human development; in Bacon's words, "the culture and manurance of minds". Williams identifies Herder's Ideas of the Philosophy of the History of Mankind as a key moment in the evolution of the term. Herder argued the necessity of speaking of "cultures" in the plural, attacking the assumption of the universal histories that "civilisation" or "culture" - the historical self-development of humanity - was what we would now call a unilinear process, leading to the high and dominant point of eighteenth- century European culture.

And so multiculturalism was born and, along with this, the anti-universalist and in some respects counter-Enlightenment emphasis on national and traditional cultures and the concept of folk-culture. This, and factors such as the brutalities of early industrialization, precipitated something of a crisis in the hitherto friendly relations between the notions of "culture" and "civilization", and they jostled for supremacy. On the one hand, (organic) culture could be seen as superior to (mechanical, inhuman) civilization; on the other, (spiritual) civilization could be seen as superior to (material) culture.

"Culture" itself acquired several distinct meanings: variously, "a general process of intellectual, spiritual and aesthetic development"; "a particular way of life - of a people, a period, or a group"; and "the works and practices of intellectual and especially artistic activity". Ranging from the aesthetic to the anthropological, its meaning could encompass everything from the least conscious behaviour to the highest expression of consciousness.

From the Publisher
"In this brief volume, Eagleton has produced both a thoughtful analysis of cultural theories as well as a shrewd, liberal dissection of current social and political trends."Publishers Weekly

"Eagleton's latest book promises to be an important addition to the field of cultural studies." Library Journal

"A magnificent reassertion of timeless cultural values." The Observer

"A voice of sanity amid the roar of turbo-capitalism."Independent

"As always, Eagleton shows a provocative wealth of learning. He is able to see the many sides of a problem, to put it in context and suggest new ways of viewing it, a healthy corrective to the soundbite society."Times Higher Education Supplement

"Stimulating and very readable. The Idea of Culture is a book which challenges our attention."The Irish Times

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780631219668
  • Publisher: Wiley
  • Publication date: 5/26/2000
  • Series: Wiley-Blackwell Manifestos Series, #19
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 168
  • Sales rank: 1,092,035
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 0.52 (d)

Meet the Author

Terry Eagleton is Professor of Cultural Theory and John Rylands Fellow at the University of Manchester. His numerous works include The Illusions of Postmodernism (1996), Literary Theory: An Introduction (second edition , 1996), The Ideology of the Aesthetic (1990) and Scholars and Rebels in Nineteenth Century Ireland (1999), all published by Blackwell, as are his dramatic writings, St Oscar and Other Plays (1997), and the Eagleton Reader (1997) edited by Stephen Regan. Terry Eagleton is co-editor (with Stephen Regan) of The Blackwell Companion to Literary Theory, forthcoming in 2001.

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Table of Contents

1 Versions of Culture 1
2 Culture in Crisis 32
3 Culture Wars 51
4 Culture and Nature 87
5 Towards a Common Culture 112
Notes 132
Index 138
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