Terry Eagleton loomed large during graduate school, but I confess I haven’t read anything he’s written since then, or had any dreams about him. It was, however, surprisingly entertaining to see and hear him last night deliver the The Edward Said Memorial Lecture, “Terror and Tragedy,” before a giant banner of Said’s handsome visage in the fabulous Oriental Hall at the AUC downtown campus. (Photo by Aras Ozgun–or, probably–he took some pictures with his camera and so did I, but its likely that the legible ones were his.)
I think that what Eagleton said about terror and tragedy was not unlike what Susan Sontag and other American intellectuals said in the immediate wake of 9/11 (for which they were completely trounced)–i.e. that it might be a good moment for the US take a look at the man in the mirror (“…transcend darkness by the courage of the act of acknowledgement…”) Sontag, of course, was far more gutsy, saying what she did, how and when, but Eagleton’s talk benefitted from time and distance, an elegant interweaving of the modern concept of terror as a political act, with notions of the sublime and the effective invocation of a chorus line of tragic figures, political theorists, and rock stars of the western canon: from Marx to Michael Jackson, King Lear to Edmund Burke, Beckett to Brecht, Nietzsche to Madonna, Freud to Faust, Aristotle to Adorno, Oedipus, Jesus, Schopenheur, Acquinas, Hegel and Pinochet.