Elaine Showalter attack on Terry Eagleton


posted to www.marxmail.org on January 20, 2004


As some of you are probably aware, the Chronicle of Higher Education--nominally a trade publication--has lurched more and more to the right in the past year or so. The latest foray I noted here was the "symposium" on Ted Honderich, which was introduced by neoconservative Richard Wolin, who labeled Honderich as an anti-Semite. Honderich did not even know that this attack was being mounted and only found out about it after the fact from Jim Farmelant, a Marxmail subscriber.


The Chronicle also made the dubious decision to hook up with Denis Dutton's Arts and Letters website, a place that can best be described editorially as a mixture of the New Criterion and Frank Furedi's spiked-online. In other words, a call for a return to "standards" when the native knew his place and the blessings of DDT.


In the latest Chronicle, there's a rather nasty attack on Terry Eagleton by Princeton academic and middle-class feminist Elaine Showalter titled "A Champion of Cultural Theory?". Speaking of Furedi, her latest book "Hystories" makes comparisons between Gulf War Syndrome and belief in alien abductions--just the sort of thing that spiked-online is preoccupied with.


Although the Chronicle is generally restricted to subscribers, you can read her critique at http://chronicle.com/free/v50/i20/20b00901.htm. Nominally concerned with themes in Eagleton's latest work "After Theory", an attempt to rally the academic and literary left, the review is ultimately a counter-response to his assault on the "triumphalist right".


She faults him for calling Britain's Labor government "craven overseas lackeys of United States power". She also thinks that he is stooping to "insults" when he refers to the "gang of predatory, semi-illiterate philistines" and "semi-fanatical fundamentalists" who rule the United States. It also perturbs her that he ascribes "reckless, world-hating hubris" to George Bush.


The other day on Doug Henwood's list there was an interesting discussion about the rightward drift of some 1970s and 80s feminists that was prompted by Phyllis Chesler's newly published book on the "new anti-Semitism". It is basically a valentine to George Bush and prompted by the same reactionary politics as Wolin's attack on Ted Honderich. It is obvious that this process has affected Ms. Showalter as well.



posted to www.marxmail.org on January 29, 2004


Dear Professor William Deresiewicz,


I was very impressed with your hatchet job on Terry Eagleton in the latest Nation Magazine. (http://www.thenation.com/doc.mhtml?i=20040216&s=deresiewicz) It was much more polished and urbanely cynical than Elaine Showalter's smear job in the Chronicle of Higher Education--like a vintage Village Voice piece in many ways. With Yale (you) and Princeton (her) now having been heard from, I am waiting for the 3rd shoe to drop out of Harvard. It really takes a lot of guts to rip Terry Eagleton from the halls of ivy, I must say.


Both you and Showalter are equally put off by Eagleton's "anti-Americanism", a term that seems to be scotch-taped to him as much as "angry" was attached to Howard Dean (up until his recent political housebreaking). She says that "he seems to think that cultural theorists can defeat George Bush simply by fulminating about his 'reckless, world-hating hubris'", while you view him as "objectively" (as we used to put it in the Trotskyist movement) aiding the ultraright through his untoward swipes at Wolfowitz and Rice:


Anyone who thinks of Davy Crockett and Donald Trump as the paradigms of all things American, who blithely claims that pro wrestling is our most popular TV sport and who caricatures the current Administration as "semi-illiterate" (a grievous underestimation of people like Wolfowitz and Rice) only plays into the hands of the xenophobic, unilateralist right.


Now I wouldn't presume to speak for Terry Eagleton, but I don't think he was being *literal* when he spoke about the semi-illiteracy of Condoleeza Rice. She was, after all, the provost of Stanford University. I think he was using the term semi-illiterate in the same way I would apply the term psychotic to Thomas Friedman or homocidal to Christopher Hitchens. Neither of them literally belong in mental hospitals or prisons, but they certainly are not normal from the standpoint of civilized society. That they are regarded as the elite of American society is more a commentary on our standards rather than proof that language is being abused.


You also paint Eagleton as something of a hypocrite: "Eagleton wishes for capitalism's demise, but as long as it's here, he plans to do as well as he can out of it. Someone who owns three homes shouldn't be preaching self-sacrifice..." Do I note a hint of envy here? I won't worry too much about catching up to Eagleton. If you continue to write nasty screeds about "anti-American" Marxists in the liberal media, money will grow wings and fly to your door.