Swag

Terry Eagleton

  • Safe in the Kitchen by Aisling Foster
    Hamish Hamilton, 347 pp, £14.99, November 1993, ISBN 0 241 13426 9

In Neil Jordan’s film The Crying Game, a renegade IRA man ends up in the arms of a male cross-dresser. It is a typical Post-Modern drift – from politics to perversity, revolution to transgression, the transformation of society to the reinvention of the self. Revolutions are made in the name of wealth, freedom, fullness of life; but those who make them are the worst possible image of the world they hope to fashion. Because asceticism, self-sacrifice, ruthless utility are among the essential revolutionary virtues, there will be no place for the founding fathers in a truly transformed state. Indeed, their redundancy will be an index of its success. There will, however, be a place for the mothers and daughters; for their role, in a certain feminist conception, is to remind us here and now of the sensuous fulfilment their grim-faced menfolk must necessarily defer. If the women practise a utopia of the present, the men must forego that privilege in seeking to create the conditions in which it will become available for everyone. It is an antithesis ripe for deconstruction, if one thinks of the great women revolutionaries; but to relax the tension it outlines is either to lose grip on the values one is fighting for, or to indulge in a purely selfish prefiguring of the political future. That other Irish transgressor, Oscar Wilde, understood that his own indolence dimly portended the New Jerusalem in which nobody else would have to work either: just lounge on the couch all day and be your own communist society. But he had to pay a heavy price for this prolepsis, in guilt and morbid narcissism; and the transgressive heroine of Aisling Foster’s accomplished first novel must also reckon the political cost.

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