Reading notes

On the two cultures

A lot of scientists are fairly sceptical about science, seeing it as much more of a hit-and-miss, rule-of-thumb affair than the gullible layperson imagines. It is people in the humanities who still naïvely think that scientists consider themselves the white-coated custodians of absolute truth, and so waste a lot of time trying to discredit them.

Eagleton, After Theory, page 18

Of course, there are a few important differences:

Art encourages you to fantasize and desire. For…these reasons, it is easy to see why it is students of art or English rather than chemical engineering who tend to staff the barricades. Students of chemical engineering, however, are in general better at getting out of bed than students of art or English.

Eagleton, After Theory, page 18

Tragedy versus comedy

Tragedy is about wresting victory from failure, whereas comedy concerns the victory of failure itself, the way in which a wry sharing and acceptance of our weaknesses makes us much less killable.

Eagleton, After Theory, page 186


Comedy illustrates that survival depends upon our ability to change ourselves rather than our environment, and upon our ability to accept limitations rather than to curse fate for limiting us.

Meeker, The Comedy of Survival, page 21

On the difference between liberalism and socialism

One reason for judging socialism to be superior to liberalism is the belief that human beings are political animals not only in the sense that they have to take account of each other’s need for fulfilment, but that they achieve their deepest fulfilment only in terms of each other.

Eagleton, After Theory, page 122

I’ve heard whispers about rescuing the word “liberal” from the prison where the media have kept it these last forty years or so. But what of socialism? It would do us a lot of good to restore both terms to our political dialog. It’s infuriating that socialism has become synonymous with communism, which is, of course, synonymous with evil. (And what a renaissance that word has seen of late? Someone ought to study the frequency with which the word evil appears in public discourse both before and after the 2000 election. I’d lay money on an exponential increase.)

Eagleton tackles tattoos

It is, to be sure, no crime to tattoo your biceps.…But there can be more and less creditable reasons [for doing so]. The creditable reason is that it is fun; the discreditable reason is that it may involve the belief that your body, like your bank account, is yours to do what you want with.

Eagleton, After Theory, page 165

And, later:

“Personalizing” the body may be a way of denying its essential impersonality. Its impersonality lies in the fact that it belongs to the species before it belongs to me; and there are some aspects of the species body—death, vulnerability, sickness and the like—that we may well prefer to thrust into oblivion.

Eagleton, After Theory, page 166

I’m not so sure about this latter point. Haven’t tattoos historically been a way of identifying the body as part of a particular species body (read: tribe)? In that sense, tattoos are about demonstrating how you are alike, not how you are different. Claims of youthful rebellion aside, I don’t think much has changed in this respect.