The prison-house of criticism

Summer 1987

Terry Eagleton’s claims for the function of criticism have been influential. His Marxist approach sees criticism as a means of ‘struggle’ against the state, and he laments the incorporation of criticism within universities rather than in the Habermasian public sphere of coffee shops, public journals and the like. Where Habermas sees eighteenth-century criticism as the bourgeoisie reacting against the aristocracy, Eagleton views them as in alliance. He believes that criticism must break free of its institutional basis in universities to recover its social and political power. Bennett disagrees, arguing that the move to universities has led to a radicalization of education, as well as subsidizing other left-wing enterprises such as publishing houses and theatre companies. He believes that to envisage a ‘counterpublic sphere’ outside the state is ‘incoherent’ and that it is a mistake to speak of ‘the’ (singular) function of criticism, when criticism’s functions should be seen as plural and varied, according to the different domains in which it operates.

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