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Eagleton on the Blueprint


Worthwhile piece by Eagleton in the Nation a little ways back – a review of Russell Jacoby’s Picture Imperfect: Utopian Thought for an Anti-Utopian Age.

Eagleton engages in a bit too much of the point/counterpoint stuff – annoying tic found in much of his “journalistic” stuff… But I found this “on the other” very useful:

Nor is the opposition between the blueprinters and the visionaries as absolute as Jacoby imagines. Like most of us, he is attracted by the kind of utopian thought that sees the future in terms of sensuous luxury rather than Spartan virtue; but he does not see that sensuous fulfillment can be planned for by, say, shortening the working day or other highly practical measures. We must indeed beware of arid blueprints; but the truth is that conservatives dislike utopia because they find the whole idea of social engineering distasteful, in contrast to spontaneous social growth; and leftists need to insist that social engineering can undoubtedly be progressive. Blueprints are not always symptoms of a primly hygienic rationalism. Charles Dickens poked fun at the utilitarian social engineering of his own day, but it did a great deal more for the Victorian poor than his own Romantic spontaneity.

And sometimes, I think, the world could even use some primly hygienic rationalism… When the fester of insanity is creeping up the walls, rotting out the supports… PNAC and so much else, spectral contradictions in flight, heading home to roost.

In my own work – work that owes quite a lot, nearly everything to the “Jewish, poetic, ‘iconoclastic’ utopian tradition” that Eagleton discusses quite eloquently later in the piece – Benjamin, Adorno, Derrida, etc.. – in my own work, I feel myself heading in the other direction. What can actually be said, planned, clearly and distinctly articulated? What would a blueprint of egalitarian society look like today… I am deeply unsettled by a sense that “spontaneous social growth” is exactly both what we have and what we hope for…

But where does literature, and the study of literature, enter into this? It’s half clear what poetry might have to do with visionary (blank) utopianism – but what about the blueprint? More difficult to see, to say…

Written by adswithoutproducts

June 16, 2005 at 10:18 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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