As Terry Eagleton celebrates his 70th birthday today, there are certainly no signs of his extraordinary intellectual productivity slowing down at all. This sapient sutler of Marxism remains as polyphiloprogenitive as ever, and since I frequently find myself absorbing new ideas from him which can then be applied to William Morris, I for one am certainly glad of this.
How to Read Literature (a follow-up to his 2007 poetry book) comes out this Spring, closely followed by Across the Pond: An Englishman’s View of America. Then there’s one in the pipeline on culture replacing religion - or trying to, anyway; and one also hears of new writing projects under way on the politics of the scapegoat and on the idea of hope. There’s Morrisian mileage in that notion of the scapegoat, I should think. Perhaps we could imagine Ellen, immured in her Runnymede cottage in News from Nowhere, as a kind of scapegoat, whose reintegration into the utopian community at the Kelmscott church feast can only be won at the cost of the eventual scapegoating and expulsion from utopia of William Guest himself. Scapegoats of a feather flock together, in that text.
As for a book on hope, well, that sounds like a Morrisian theme in its own right, but after the bloody political history of the twentieth century – the crimes of Nazism, but even more the crimes of Stalin and Mao – the hope available to us is likely to be a much more straitened thing than the socialist hopes of the 1880s. For, as Eagleton puts it in a 2006 essay on ‘Political Beckett’: ‘Like Freud and Adorno, Beckett knew that the sober, bleak-eyed realist serves the cause of human emancipation more faithfully than the bright-eyed utopians’. So: I wish you a happy and in that politically chastened sense hopeful 70th birthday, Terry.