On Evil

Terry Eagleton, Author . Yale Univ. $25 (176p) ISBN 978-0-300-15106-0

An engaging if ultimately unsatisfactory argument in favor of the reality of evil by one of Britain's most distinguished Marxist literary critics. Analyzing some of Western literature's 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 Freud's 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 book's 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 author's 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. (Apr.)

Reviewed on: 02/22/2010
Release date: 04/01/2010
Genre: Nonfiction
Paperback - 176 pages - 978-0-300-17125-9
Open Ebook - 187 pages - 978-0-300-16296-7
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