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EAGLETON, Terry



The Death of Universities

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What we have witnessed in our own time is the death of universities as centres of critique. Since Margaret Thatcher, the role of academia has been to service the status quo, not challenge it in the name of justice, tradition, imagination, human welfare, the free play of the mind or alternative visions of the future. We will not change this simply by increasing state funding of the humanities as opposed to slashing it to nothing. We will change it by insisting that a critical reflection on human values and principles should be central to everything that goes on in universities, not just to the study of Rembrandt or Rimbaud.

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The Meaning of Life

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In the pragmatist, streetwise climate of advanced postmodern capitalism, with its scepticism of big pictures and grand narratives, its hard-nosed disenchantment with the metaphysical, 'life' is one among a whole series of discredited totalities. We are invited to think small rather than big – ironically, at just the point when some of those out to destroy Western civilization are doing exactly the opposite. In the conflict between Western capitalism and radical Islam, a paucity of belief squares up to an excess of it. The West finds itself faced with a full-blooded metaphysical onslaught at just the historical point that it has, so to speak, philosophically disarmed. As far as belief goes, postmodernism prefers to travel light: it has beliefs, to be sure, but it does not have faith.

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How to Read a Poem

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The imagination is also sometimes commended for offering us in vicarious form experiences which we are unable to enjoy at first hand. If you can't afford an air ticket to Kuala Lumpur, you can always read Conrad and imagine yourself in South-East Asia. If you have been monotonously married for forty years, you can always lay furtive hands on a copy of James Joyce's letters. Literature on this view is a kind of supplement to our unavoidably impoverished lives - a sort of spiritual prosthesis which extends our capabilities beyond their normal restricted range. It is true that everyone's experience is bound to be limited, and that art can valuably augment it. But why the lives of so many people should be imaginatively impoverished is then a question that can be easily passed over.

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