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.\
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.
Times Literary Supplement
"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."
"Eagleton's latest book promises to be an important addition to the field of cultural studies."
"A magnificent reassertion of timeless cultural values."
"A voice of sanity amid the roar of turbo-capitalism."
"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