Friday, 15 January 2010

Terry Eagleton on Utopia

‘Actually, I’ve not done enough thinking about utopia’, remarks my former supervisor Terry Eagleton in his genial new book of interviews (The Task of the Critic, Verso, 2009, p.228). The volume, which has a strong biographical as well as literary-theoretical dimension, vividly recalls Terry’s long stint at Oxford University from 1969 to 2001 and our shared ‘Oxford English Limited’ campaign to get some radical reforms to the very conservative version of English studies taught there in the 1980s. See my blog entry for 21.02.09 for details of our journal, News from Nowhere (nos 1-9). Bliss was it in that dawn to be an Eagleton postgraduate!

‘Well, do some more then!’ Matthew Beaumont, who so skilfully conducts the series of interviews, might well have retorted to Eagleton’s remark on utopia. I’ve pressed Terry myself in the past to write in detail on Morris’s News from Nowhere, so far without success; and now that he has turned up on the doorstep as a Visiting Research Professor at my own institution, Lancaster University, I shall continue to do so. No one’s thoughts on Morris’s great socialist utopia could be more worth having, in my view.

But has the William Morris Society itself done 'enough thinking about utopia’, Terry’s remark prompts me to ask. In its celebration of the amazing range of Morris’s writings and activities, has it given the issue of utopianism, where to me the most enduring thrust of his work lies, enough weight and centrality? I suspect not. We have various academic societies devoted to the study of utopias and utopianism, and there’s certainly some overlap of membership between them and the Morris Society; but I would like to see the latter put utopianism at the very core of what it does, in a firmly socialist context, perhaps even setting up an official ‘Utopian Studies Sub-Group’ to formally acknowledge the fact.

If we set our own house in order, with the Morris Society in some sense serving as a utopias think-tank for a wider Left culture, then we will have the moral and political authority to badger Terry Eagleton about the question of utopianism even more than we have done so far.

1 comment:

Elrond said...

Eagleton does have some thoughts on utopia in two reviews in his collection 'Figures of Dissent' (Verso, 2003). See pp.24-32.