Terry Eagleton’s Twilight Struggle Against Truth, Intelligence, Honesty, Etc.

As Josh brilliantly posted yesterday, time's effacing fingers have quite finished their work on Terry Eagleton's cortex. In a much-bruited belch in Comment is Free, Eagleton wrote that the radical left was completely devoid of literary talent now — unless … Read More

By / July 12, 2007

As Josh brilliantly posted yesterday, time's effacing fingers have quite finished their work on Terry Eagleton's cortex. In a much-bruited belch in Comment is Free, Eagleton wrote that the radical left was completely devoid of literary talent now — unless those salad days of Virginia ("I do not like the Jewish smell") Woolf and the Scottish poet Hugh MacDiarmid. Who's Hugh MacDiarmid? Oliver Kamm will tell you:

Yes, Eagleton really did eulogise the old fraud, describing him as "the great communist poet Hugh MacDiarmid [who] died just as the dark night of Thatcherism descended". Conservative government, to Eagleton, was a "dark night"; Soviet tanks don't warrant a mention against such a nightmare. The best description of MacDiarmid I have come across was Kingsley Amis's, when he referred in a review to "vole-faced, red-shirted Hugh MacDiarmid, arguably (as one tribute has it) the greatest Scottish poet since William McGonagall, inferior to him only in sense of irony". (The reference is cited in a footnote in The Letters of Kingsley Amis, edited by Zachary Leader, 2000, p. 817.)

Substantiating Amis's judgement is the work of a moment. My copy of the selected poems (I've never run to more than that) of MacDiarmid includes the execrable "First Hymn to Lenin", published in 1931, which assures the dead tyrant: "Christ's cited no' by chance or juist because/ You mark the greatest turnin'-point since him/ But that your main redress has lain where he's/ Least use – fulfillin' his sayin' lang kep dim/ That whasae followed him things o' like natur'/ 'Ud dae – and greater!"

Robert Conquest – a real poet, a great friend of Kingers and an even better friend of another real poet called Philip Larkin – once noted that an anthology of Pablo Neruda's verses neglected to include the strophes that hymned Joseph Stalin as "the noon, the maturity of man and the peoples" and that reassured nail-biting fellow travelers, after the demise of murderous tyrant, that "Malenkov would finish his work." (He also approved the hanging of his chum, the Prague author Zavis Kalandra).

At the most generous, it could be argued that Neruda had talent when it was divorced from ideology. It might even be ventured that he had talent when dilating ideologically on the plight of his native Chileans, which Czeslaw Milosz credited him with doing. But what price MacDiarmid's unintelligible sub-Burnsian caws?

Another of one T-Bird's quarry was Salman Rushdie, who has had to endure an unending spate of obloquy due to his receipt of what has come to be a prosaic and meaningless honor (that arch Scottish nationalist Sean Connery has a Knights Bachelor, placing him in the service of the imperial British realm). Rushdie has now replied in the Guardian's letters section to Eagleton's accusation that he'd been "cheering on [the United States'] criminal adventures in Iraq and Afghanistan" — an accusation that wasn't even half-true given the word "cheering," and also the words "criminal" and "adventures." But I digress. Here is Rushdie:

As to Afghanistan, it is true that I, in common with many others, not all of them on the right, and many of them in the Muslim world, believed that the hold of al-Qaida and the Taliban over Afghanistan needed to be broken. Eagleton may be the kind of "radical" who would prefer those fascist, terrorist gangsters to have retained their hold over a nation state, but that is his problem, not mine.

As to Iraq, it is true that I wrote, before the beginning of the Iraq war, that there was a case to be made for the removal of Saddam Hussain. In the same article, however, I also wrote that the American plans for regime change, unsupported as they were by a broad international coalition, were not justifiable.

Now what, praytell, does Terry Eagleton cheer these days? Also a waste of good wood-pulp in The Guardian is this observation about suicide-bombers in Baghdad and Jerusalem made two years ago:

Ordinary, non-political suicides are those whose lives have come to feel worthless to them, and who accordingly need a quick way out. Martyrs are more or less the opposite. People like Rosa Luxemburg or Steve Biko give up what they see as precious (their lives) for an even more valuable cause. They die not because they see death as desirable in itself, but in the name of a more abundant life all round.

Suicide bombers also die in the name of a better life for others; it is just that, unlike martyrs, they take others with them in the process. The martyr bets his life on a future of justice and freedom; the suicide bomber bets your life on it…"

The suicide bomber bets your life on a future of justice and freedom. Yes, well, I'll take the author of Fury, let alone The Satanic Verses or Midnight's Children, over such a dead-end "Marxist" who, not content to bestow the crown of thorns on his beloved Catholic savior*, now happily does so on the global replicants of Mohammed Atta.

Those who think the project of reclaiming the left from this sinister tendency is a fool's errand need only examine the gallery of fools they're content with calling real leftists.

*Yes, Eagleton's dirty little socialist secret is his belief in Holy Mother Church. He's like Graham Greene in that respect, and in that respect only.

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