Here is a book that has taken a grand question and makes sure to possess the attention of its readers for a topic that has been central to humanity for ages – the meaning of life. Professor Terry Eagleton, an acclaimed British literary critic of our time, discusses whether it makes a good question to inquire about the meaning of life. Critically looking at language’s own limitations and the reifying character of the mind-language-tradition interface, Eagleton warily attempts to present a perspective on the meaning of ‘meaning’ and how it might lead to meanings of life – ‘meanings’ because stamping a single meaning onto the somewhat misleading singular term ‘life’, in itself, is a potentially erroneous approach.
Given the transitory nature of the experience of life, Eagleton allows the validity of multiplicity as well as elusiveness of meanings while acknowledging the importance of well-thought and rational views, whether in philosophy, literature, or other systems of meanings. A point worth-noting (and appreciating) is Eagleton’s ‘floating’ position on the topic he writes about; while we know the author as a Marxist critic, his personal viewpoint doesn’t show in his commentary on the nature of meaning and its alleged inherent versus derived characters in human language. Still, he does not leave his readers disorientated as he finishes his book with a chapter on the core values that stand as best candidates for life’s dominant meanings.
The Meaning of Life comes as a work of serious thought, one which puts the question of life in the background of its ethical significance. In an age of terrorist violence and nuclear weapons, carrying the force of destroying the planet and wiping out its life forms, we do need to consider what life means for us – not as a group of people but as a species on the whole. It is Eagleton’s aesthetic cum ethical venture to remind humans about the question for their species while they are encircled in the web of technological advance and commercial enterprise. It is a fresh start for human thought and hopefully will be carried farther to a meaningful conclusion.