On Evil

On Evil, by Terry Eagleton ($16.50)

I became interested in Terry Eagleton when I read an essay by him eviscerating Richard Dawkins book, “The God Delusion”.  — rls

An engaging if ultimately unsatisfactory argument in favor of the reality of evil by one of Britain’s most distinguished Marxist literary critics. Analyzing some of Western literature’s major pronouncements on evil from Thomas Aquinas to William Golding, Eagleton (Reason, Faith and Revolution) pieces together what he sees as the defining features of evil in a rather unsystematic way, before grounding his own vision of evil in Freud’s notion of the death drive, describing evildoers as suffering from an unbearable sense of non-being which must be taken out on the other. Despite its undeniably enjoyable verve and wit, the book’s claims are undermined by a rather arbitrary use of source material as well as a belated and inadequate articulation of its major theoretical claim. Muddy talk about different levels of evil and an undeveloped but evidently important distinction between wickedness and evil suggest that the author’s notions on the topic would be better served by a larger, more sustained work. Nonetheless, as an attempt to take seriously the reality of extreme wrongdoing without recourse to either religiously grounded certitudes or a total sociological determinism, it offers a promising alternative. (Apr.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

The author’s lectures on the “new atheism” at Yale are here. Really great if you have the time (and you do, just watch this for four hours instead of that damn ol’ tv. — rls

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