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15 of 17 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Evil: not glamorous but 'philistine, kitsch-ridden and banal', 26 Nov. 2010
This review is from: On Evil (Hardcover)
Is there a place for the concept of evil in a post-modern society? Eagleton believes there is, seeing human history as a tragic story requiring a redemption that is sufficiently realistic about what it is up against.

This is a powerful account of a subject that enjoys the contradictory status of being at once ignored and constantly paraded before us as the (apparent) subject of popular drama. The book, like Eagleton's others, is wide ranging and discursive, full of jokes and paradoxes and not always, as a result, clear. But I particularly liked the depiction of evil in its purest form as ascetic and dismissive of 'creatureliness'. The truly evil are not so much base as overly high-minded, dismissive of 'things', of the material world, driven only by an insatiable ego and the fear of the annihilation of the self. They will lay waste to everything rather than risk such a loss, lay down such a will. Although Eagleston does not make much of it I immediately contrasted this with the New Testament message that those who lay down their lives gain them - that a willingness to die is the prerequisite of real living. I felt challenged by the recognition of the extent to which this tyranny of the false self leads me - and maybe all of us - into trouble. I also liked the reclamation of the notion of solidarity. A notion of self-determination lies at the root of evil whereas goodness recognises its dependence and rejoices in limits. It is evil that imagines that there is nothing it cannot do.

He is strong also in debunking the modern idea that evil is glamorous. The vampires and monsters of modern gothic are mostly not so much evil as nasty and where they are not (e.g many film of TV vampires of the moment) it is because they are not really evil at all. "Evil here is just a banal theatrics". The real hell "is being talked at for all eternity by a man in an anorak who has mastered every detail of the sewage system in South Dakota".

Eagleton illustrates these and other themes with frequent reference to literature and some to philosophy and theology. The book is not entirely successful. The distinction between 'evil' and 'mere wickedness' (that is, behaving badly for more commonplace reasons) has its attractions but is hard to sustain. I would prefer to say that all 'badness' arises, in the end, from fear of death and loss. The apparent motives are merely ways of masking or sublimating these deeper drives. Eagleton seems to want it both ways. Evil must be treated seriously but it is a rather special, unusual case. Original sin is a reality yet it is not such a problem that it need get in the way of a sufficiently tough-minded socialism. Thus the author finds conclusions that suit his Marxism. The logic of the overall argument seemed set to arrive at a rather more Christian conclusion: that repentance and a true change of heart will be even more important and may need to come first. These reservations aside, this is a gripping argument for why evil should concern not only theologians but political thinkers too.
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