Altar ego

An iconoclastic scholar on the modern value of a very old-fashioned idea

The dedication note at the front of a book can be a revelatory glimpse into the intellectual posture the author is going to take in its succeeding pages. Terry Eagleton dedicated his 2010 work On Evil “To Henry Kissinger,” displaying both cheek and moral sobriety. The opening page of Eagleton’s latest work, Radical Sacrifice, reads “For the Carmelite Sisters of Thicket Priory.” The inscription echoes a passage from Eagleton’s thoroughly excellent and entertaining memoir, The Gatekeeper. Recalling the start of his service to “a convent of enclosed Carmelite nuns” as a ten-year-old altar boy, Eagleton observes the modus vivendi of these cloistered lives:

In living their own lives, they were saying something about ours. In divesting themselves of the world they were prefiguring their own deaths, dying every moment; so that the ultimate self-abandonment of death, which for the rest of us is a matter of...