Color and Brightness
by Terry Eagleton
Oxford University Press, 148 pp., $22To my knowledge, perhaps the most cogent words yet spoken or written about terrorism actually belong to Osama bin Laden, who issued a statement just before last year's election calamities in which, among other things, he asserted that if al Qaeda hated freedom, they would have attacked Sweden. A shame and a disgrace, really, since not only was this penetrating analysis delivered by a real asshole, but articulacy and critique are what we're supposedly good at, part of Western Civilization's greatness that concerned intellectuals like Christopher Hitchens believe the White House to be defending (keep clapping, Chris, and I'm sure you'll save Tinkerbell eventually).
But then again, the post-9/11 period has been marked by some dazzling displays of articulate incoherency, of which Terry Eagleton's new book is probably the most thought-provoking and entertaining example since Trey Parker and Matt Stone's misunderstood nihilist spectacle, Team America: World Police. What Parker and Stone did for Jerry Bruckheimer movies, Eagleton does for the great books, probing their latent content to tie himself up in the manifest contradictions, dualities, and desires of civilization's defenses against barbarism and itself.
Sure this slim little volume is pretty academic, assuming a passing familiarity with stuff a little more heady than Top Gun and Pearl Harbor as it tours from Dionysus to Aquinas to Freud and back with notable detours into bracing readings of D.H. Lawrence's Women in Love and Samuel Richardson's Clarissa. And while it doesn't have catchy songs or an adorable Kim Jong Il puppet, it does possess a readably convoluted and witty style, light on jargon and heavy on inducements to check out the texts that you're unfamiliar with ... and reread everything else. If he concedes the tragic inevitability of shock and awe in the project of civilization, this conflicted lefty does make a case that the best defense of our culture of freedom is the culture itself. To quote the sharpest contradiction from Team America, "freedom is the only way."