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Mike reviews: Terry Eagleton's Holy Terror

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  • Mike reviews: Terry Eagleton's Holy Terror

    Here's the review of Holy Terror which came out in last Saturday's Daily Telegraph...

    THE SOUL OF MAN UNDER TERRORISM

    Holy Terror
    by Terry Eagleton
    144pp
    Oxford University Press
    آ£12,99

    Reviewed by Michael Moorcock


    IN THE LIGHT of contemporary scientific theory �chaos’ has lost its Biblical meaning. A postmodern understanding of the balance between law and chaos has replaced our old sense of good and evil. A barren American public rhetoric revives words like �heinous’ to give spurious weight to empty speeches. Certainly mass murder is �evil’ but many remain uncomfortable with the word’s profligate use. The nihilist assassin longs for oblivion while the fundamentalist �martyr’ seeks eternal life. Their logic can bring them and us to the same ends. In the light of these notions, Terry Eagleton tells us he intends to examine terrorism in metaphysical terms. Unfortunately, though law and chaos might be sides of the same coin, his self-contradicting essay, while containing a number of sharp insights, hardly adds up to an argument.
    Suggesting that terrorism is a modern, even postmodern, phenomenon, Eagleton adds that the duality of law and chaos aren’t new. His first example is Dionysus whose perverse hedonism and bloodlust �could almost be a postmodern invention… If he is the god of wine, milk, and honey, he is also the god of blood… brutal, rapacious and monolithically hostile to difference – and all this quite inseparably from his more alluring aspects.’
    Eagleton says that the more we respond to terrorist assault with answerable illegality, the more we deplete the spiritual and political resources we believe we defend. We should begin by acknowledging not attempting to eradicate this duality. Pentheus in The Bacchae should have accomodated the worshippers of Dionysus not sought their eradication. Yet the author clearly disapproves of Weimar’s failure to suppress the Nazis whom he describes, in Freudian terms, as sublimating themselves to death and annihilation. Yet he persistently calls Nazism �fascism’ while never mentioning Mussolini who, unlike Hitler, had no evident death wish. Arguing at some length for socialism as being more benign than fascism, with no inherent will to annihilation, he ignores the fact that Stalin and Pol Pot embraced death even more readily than Hitler. If they nursed any metaphysical beliefs, moreover, they suppressed them thoroughly.
    This baffling book sometimes reveals a shallow understanding of both politics and metaphysics. Eagleton’s sympathies clearly remain with Marxism, which might be said to be his first love, even as he reveals a vision oddly reminiscent of Charles Williams, the Oxford theologian who wrote such good metaphysical thrillers with a fine sense of the nature and attractions of evil. Might he wish to reconcile these apparent contradictions in himself ? Clearly a self-impressed man, perhaps he should have chosen a narrower subject. While drawing on Thomas Aquinus, Milton, Burke, Nietzsche, Heidigger and others, his familiarity with German and French literature, for instance, often seems perfunctory, as where he refers to the �narrator’ of Balzac’s Illusions perdues, which actually has no narrator, save the author.
    His attack on American politics, too, would have been more convincing if he had shown deeper familiarity with American history or literature. Anarchism, which aims for government without leaders, is at the heart of much radical American politics (cf Tom Paine), informing the likes of Timothy McVeigh, but is by no means the same as nihilism, though Eagleton, like Conrad in The Secret Agent, confuses them. Scott’s tensions between practical Toryism and romantic Jacobinism are quoted but not Fenimore Cooper’s Hawkeye who combined the sublime and the savage, law and chaos in the same personality, and served as a model of the self-governing individual Americans still consider viable. I’m inclined to agree, however, that the worst service Reagan did for his country was to help it feel good about itself again.
    This is a very hastily written book. Here is an example: �Like the rest of us, he is dependent for his autonomy on the Other – which means among other things that he is woven out of the freedoms of others as well as out of his own. If the Other is as opaque as the Delphic oracle, it is among other reasons because these free actions are so intricately intertwined that it is hard to tell where one human agent stops and another begins.’ (p.80). A firmer editor might also have counselled against the awful jokes. In general Eagleton, a professor of Cultural Theory at Manchester, seems to represent a very narrowly-educated English middle-class, ignoring most of the popular literary and artistic movements of the last 200 years.
    There is a good argument to be made for correspondences between the mystical beliefs of, say, America, Europe, India and Islam and the way they inform modern terrorism. Sadly the case here is unclear. However, Terry Eagleton is to be congratulated for raising the issues. With luck, Holy Terror is the opening argument in what could become a useful debate.

    Pre-order or Buy my latest titles in Europe:
    The Whispering Swarm: Book One of the Sanctuary of the White Friars - The Laughter of Carthage - Byzantium Endures - London Peculiar and Other Nonfiction
    Doctor Who: The Coming of the Terraphiles - Kizuna: Fiction for Japan - Modem Times 2.0 - The Sunday Books - The Sundered Worlds


    Pre-order or Buy my latest titles in the USA:
    The Laughter of Carthage - Byzantium Endures - London Peculiar and Other Nonfiction - The Sunday Books - Doctor Who: The Coming of the Terraphiles
    Kizuna: Fiction for Japan - The Sundered Worlds - The Winds of Limbo - Modem Times 2.0 - Elric: Swords and Roses


  • #2
    Thanks Mike. Just out of curiosity, do you know in advance when something is going to appear in a paper? If so, would you be able to post details here? I'm sure some of us collectors would like to get our grubby hands on the originals.
    'You know, I can't keep up with you. If I hadn't met you in person, I quite honestly would NOT believe you really existed. I just COULDN'T. You do so MUCH... if half of what goes into your zines is to be believed, you've read more at the age of 17 than I have at the age of 32 - LOTS more'

    Archie Mercer to Mike (Burroughsania letters page, 1957)

    Comment


    • #3
      Generally, I don't know exactly when the piece will appear. I suspect the Theroux review I recently did will appear in next Saturday's Guardian, though maybe in the Saturday after that, which is more or less when the book is published. They generally try to bring reviews out around publication day. You can usually check on the sites of the publications. Mostly I review for Guardian and Telegraph, occasionally for London Magazine.

      Pre-order or Buy my latest titles in Europe:
      The Whispering Swarm: Book One of the Sanctuary of the White Friars - The Laughter of Carthage - Byzantium Endures - London Peculiar and Other Nonfiction
      Doctor Who: The Coming of the Terraphiles - Kizuna: Fiction for Japan - Modem Times 2.0 - The Sunday Books - The Sundered Worlds


      Pre-order or Buy my latest titles in the USA:
      The Laughter of Carthage - Byzantium Endures - London Peculiar and Other Nonfiction - The Sunday Books - Doctor Who: The Coming of the Terraphiles
      Kizuna: Fiction for Japan - The Sundered Worlds - The Winds of Limbo - Modem Times 2.0 - Elric: Swords and Roses

      Comment


      • #4
        Originally posted by Michael Moorcock
        Mostly I review for Guardian and Telegraph
        Whew! That's quite a diverse readership I should have thought. Do they ask you to review specific books, Mike or do you make suggestions to them?
        _"For an eternity Allard was alone in an icy limbo where all the colours were bright and sharp and comfortless.
        _For another eternity Allard swam through seas without end, all green and cool and deep, where distorted creatures drifted, sometimes attacking him.
        _And then, at last, he had reached the real world – the world he had created, where he was God and could create or destroy whatever he wished.
        _He was supremely powerful. He told planets to destroy themselves, and they did. He created suns. Beautiful women flocked to be his. Of all men, he was the mightiest. Of all gods, he was the greatest."

        Comment


        • #5
          Bit of each. Generally The Guardian gives you a list of upcoming titles for you to choose from, but they asked me to do the Theroux and the Dick biography.

          Pre-order or Buy my latest titles in Europe:
          The Whispering Swarm: Book One of the Sanctuary of the White Friars - The Laughter of Carthage - Byzantium Endures - London Peculiar and Other Nonfiction
          Doctor Who: The Coming of the Terraphiles - Kizuna: Fiction for Japan - Modem Times 2.0 - The Sunday Books - The Sundered Worlds


          Pre-order or Buy my latest titles in the USA:
          The Laughter of Carthage - Byzantium Endures - London Peculiar and Other Nonfiction - The Sunday Books - Doctor Who: The Coming of the Terraphiles
          Kizuna: Fiction for Japan - The Sundered Worlds - The Winds of Limbo - Modem Times 2.0 - Elric: Swords and Roses

          Comment

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