For many enlightened, liberal-minded thinkers today, and for most on the political left, evil is an outmoded concept. It smacks too much of absolute judgments and metaphysical certainties to suit the modern age. In this witty, accessible study, the prominent Marxist thinker Terry Eagleton launches a surprising defense of the reality of evil, drawing on literary, theological, and psychoanalytic sources to suggest that evil, no mere medieval artifact, is a real phenomenon with palpable force in our contemporary world.
In a book that ranges from St. Augustine to alcoholism, Thomas Aquinas to Thomas Mann, Shakespeare to the Holocaust, Eagleton investigates the frightful plight of those doomed souls who apparently destroy for no reason. In the process, he poses a set of intriguing questions. Is evil really a kind of nothingness? Why should it appear so glamorous and seductive? Why does goodness seem so boring? Is it really possible for human beings to delight in destruction for no reason at all?
Terry Eagleton is Professor of English Literature at the National University of Ireland, Galway, Distinguished Professor of Cultural Theory at Lancaster University, and Professor of English Literature at Notre Dame. He is the author of many books, including Reason, Faith, and Revolution: Reflections on the God Debate.
Terry Eagleton, in his jaunty and surprisingly entertaining book on the subject, takes the unfashionable view that such a thing as evil does existHis argument is subtle, intricate, provocative and limpidly expressed.
-John Banville, Irish Times
"We Christians have had a lot to thank Terry Eagleton for. Not only did he write, in Reason, Faith and Revolution, the most enjoyable response to the new atheism, but hes now published another thoroughly enjoyable book that all but restores evil to its rightful place."
-Richard Coles, The Observer
"Eagletonhas scoured the worlds of literature, psychiatry and politics in a heroic attempt to come up with an all-encompassing definition of what constitutes true evil...On Evil is suffused with many such shafts of mordant wit, which makes it much more en-joyable to read than its subject matter would suggest."
-Dominic Lawson, The Times
"A marvellous and enjoyable gallop through the subject."
-David Wilson, Tribune
An engaging if ultimately unsatisfactory argument in favor of the reality of evil by one of Britains most distinguished Marxist literary critics. Analyzing some of Western literatures 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 Freuds 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 books 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 authors 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.
- Publishers Weekly
Eagleton here distinguishes wickedness, i.e., doing bad things, from genuine evil. The latter, he holds, is a rare phenomenon that involves a will to nothingness; the individual embodying evil views existence as repulsive and desires pure annihilation. By contrast, wickedness is a not unusual phenomenon that may stem from bad historical conditions, and we ought not to judge the potential of humanity by what takes place under the repressive social systems that exist today. Eagleton does not discuss in detail the nature of social repression, as he conceives it, but instead devotes most of the book to evil as portrayed in works by, among others, William Golding, Thomas Mann, and Shakespeare. In particular, his sensitive analysis of Macbeth, which concentrates on the three witches, is well done. Eagleton, who displays a wide knowledge of philosophy and theology and draws on both Schopenhauer and Freuds death drive to draw out his account, combines a Marxist and a liberal Catholic sensibility in an unusual way. VERDICT Highly recommended for anyone interested in the intersection between literature, philosophy, and religion.
- David Gordon, Bowling Green State Univ., OH