Terry Eagleton, the Wanderer

Jeffrey J. Williams in the Chronicle of Higher Education:

Literary theorists, and probably other scholars, might be divided into two types: settlers and wanderers. The settlers stay put, “hovering one inch” over a set of issues or topics, as Paul de Man, the most influential theorist of the 1970s, remarked in an interview. Their work, through the course of their careers, claims ownership of a specific intellectual turf. The wanderers are more restless, starting with one approach or field but leaving it behind for the next foray. Their work takes the shape of serial engagements, more oriented toward climatic currents. The distinction is not between expert and generalist, or, in Isaiah Berlin’s distinction, between knowing one thing like a hedgehog and knowing many things like a fox; it is a different application of expertise.

Stanley Fish, for instance, might seem a protean public commentator, but he has actually “hawked the same wares,” as he once put it, returning to certain issues of interpretation as well as to the texts of John Milton over the course of his career. J. Hillis Miller, on the other hand, has morphed over a long career from a traditional commentator on Dickens and 19th-century British literature to phenomenological readings of modernist poets and novelists, then shifted again to become the primary American proponent of deconstruction, and more recently has taken on the role of defender of the humanities, ethics, and the future of literary studies.

While the difference between the two types might seem a conscious choice, it is probably more an expression of disposition. Settlers gravitate toward consistency, stability, and depth, looking for different facets of the same terrain, whereas wanderers are pulled toward the new and the next, finding the facets that motivate them in different terrain. It is perhaps a relation to time: Settlers are drawn to Parmenidean sameness, wanderers to the Heraclitean flux.

Terry Eagleton has been a quintessential wanderer.

More here.