Academic Instincts

Academic Instincts

by Marjorie Garber
     
 

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In this lively and provocative book, cultural critic Marjorie Garber, who has written on topics as different as Shakespeare, dogs, cross-dressing, and real estate, explores the pleasures and pitfalls of the academic life. Academic Instincts discusses three of the perennial issues that have surfaced in recent debates about the humanities: the relation between

Overview

In this lively and provocative book, cultural critic Marjorie Garber, who has written on topics as different as Shakespeare, dogs, cross-dressing, and real estate, explores the pleasures and pitfalls of the academic life. Academic Instincts discusses three of the perennial issues that have surfaced in recent debates about the humanities: the relation between "amateurs" and "professionals," the relation between one academic discipline and another, and the relation between "jargon" and "plain language." Rather than merely taking sides, the book explores the ways in which such debates are essential to intellectual life. Garber argues that the very things deplored or defended in discussions of the humanities cannot be either eliminated or endorsed because the discussion itself is what gives humanistic thought its vitality.

Written in spirited and vivid prose, and full of telling detail drawn both from the history of scholarship and from the daily press, Academic Instincts is a book by a well-known Shakespeare scholar and prize-winning teacher who offers analysis rather than polemic to explain why today's teachers and scholars are at once breaking new ground and treading familiar paths. It opens the door to an important nationwide and worldwide conversation about the reorganization of knowledge and the categories in and through which we teach the humanities. And it does so in a spirit both generous and optimistic about the present and the future of these disciplines.

Editorial Reviews

Economist
Ms Garber is the queen of crossover. "Crossover", in case you haven't heard, refers to the way in which certain individuals or books manage to combine serious academic standing with wider non-academic popularity.
Katherine Govier
More compelling is her final essay on language. "What is jargon," she asks, "and why are they saying such terrible things about it?" She traces the word back to Aristotle, where it appears as the Greek barbarismos, meaning non-Greek. Schools have long been accused of dealing in language that is newly invented, unfamiliar, hard to understand. In Chaucer, the word turns up as the inarticulate chattering of birds. But, Garber argues, this is not bad. Jargon is merely language under stress, in process, being created. Shakespeare is full of jargon.
&3151; Globe and Mail
Boston Herald
Her tone is soothing, even therapeutic, as she delves into the meaning of professional terms of abuse such as "amateur" and "jargon," turning pejoratives into positive virtues.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
If leftist critics bash universities as sports crazy and profit mad, right-wingers often depict them as more interested in trendy multiculturalism than classic truths. How refreshing, then, to have Garber's perspective, according to which neither the left nor the right is asking the pertinent questions. Garber (Sex and Real Estate; Dog Love; etc.), a Harvard English professor, thinks like a cultural anthropologist as she looks beyond the surface products of academe and studies what academicians really do. The most effective of them, she finds, are "professional amateurs"; she offers the case of Harold Bloom, originally the author of footnote-encrusted, hard-to-read texts on Romantic poets and now an accessible authority on virtually everything literary. The various disciplines, too, are at their best when they push beyond their narrow boundaries, because "their desire is for genius, and genius... does not follow given rules or tread familiar paths." Disciplines keep a close eye on each other, writes Garber, both out of envy as well as the desire to commingle, as the great philosophers do with important figures of the past in Raphael's painting of The School of Athens. Recognizing this transcendent urge on the part of both the individual scholar and the various disciplines makes Garber much more sympathetic to jargon than other contemporary writers on academe, describing harsh-seeming technical terms as "language in action." Liberally sprinkling her prose with names ranging from Kierkegaard to Oprah Winfrey, Garber suggests that smugness and stasis are the real enemies in academe, not football and political correctness. The professor's life is not a position but a practice, and Garber practices, with gusto, everything that she preaches. Even better, she does so with commendable brevity as well as grace, and anyone interested in academic life or intellectual life in general will appreciate her fresh perspective. (Jan.) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
In this scholarly study, Garber (English, Harvard) explores her area of expertise--the humanities--through people, institutions, and language. Taking each part separately, she considers how each scholarly discipline can make its own mark and shows how contradictory the world of academia is. (The book title itself is meant to sound like a contradiction.) Garber begins by discussing what the terms such as "amateur professional" and "professional amateur" mean, how the lines between them can be blurred, and where they fit in higher education. She moves on to discuss the phenomenon of "discipline envy" found on many campuses and then considers the language used in individual fields of study. At one point, she states that "academic is one of the harshest things you can say about books written for popular and mainstream audiences, while journalistic is the kiss of death for scholarly writing." This work falls somewhere in the middle, although it leans more toward the former. While the author has a certain flair with words, she is often too erudite for the typical public library reader. Hence, academia will enjoy and appreciate this book the most.--Terry Christner, Hutchinson P.L., KS Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
New Scientist
Garber's own writing is, as you would hope, admirably clear. She does a fine job of persuading us that these controversies are a sign of cultural vitality. . . .
— Jon Turney
Ruminator Review
Academic Instincts reminds humanists and scientists alike that their professional languages require thoughtful attention, discussion, and scholarship.
— John Ramsey
American Prospect
More breezy than scholarly in this book, Garber straddles the divide between the academy and the popular press with aplomb. Reading Academic Instincts is like sharing the newspaper with a current events junkie who can't help but comment on everything that catches her eye.
— Leah Platt
The Economist
Seductively slim, witty . . .The book is, in effect, an elegant demonstration of the nature of dialectical thinking as applied to some of the hot topics of the recent culture wars.
Toronto Globe & Mail
It is sometimes more provoking than provocative, but it is always interesting. In her willingness to theorize on just about any subject and her delight in taking eccentric positions, I don't believe there is anyone like Marjorie Garber writing today.
— Katherine Govier
Toronto Globe and Mail

It is sometimes more provoking than provocative, but it is always interesting. In her willingness to theorize on just about any subject and her delight in taking eccentric positions, I don't believe there is anyone like Marjorie Garber writing today.
— Katherine Govier
Toronto Globe and Mail - Katherine Govier
It is sometimes more provoking than provocative, but it is always interesting. In her willingness to theorize on just about any subject and her delight in taking eccentric positions, I don't believe there is anyone like Marjorie Garber writing today.
New Scientist - Jon Turney
Garber's own writing is, as you would hope, admirably clear. She does a fine job of persuading us that these controversies are a sign of cultural vitality. . . .
Ruminator Review - John Ramsey
Academic Instincts reminds humanists and scientists alike that their professional languages require thoughtful attention, discussion, and scholarship.
American Prospect - Leah Platt
More breezy than scholarly in this book, Garber straddles the divide between the academy and the popular press with aplomb. Reading Academic Instincts is like sharing the newspaper with a current events junkie who can't help but comment on everything that catches her eye.
From the Publisher
"Seductively slim, witty . . .The book is, in effect, an elegant demonstration of the nature of dialectical thinking as applied to some of the hot topics of the recent culture wars."The Economist

"It is sometimes more provoking than provocative, but it is always interesting. In her willingness to theorize on just about any subject and her delight in taking eccentric positions, I don't believe there is anyone like Marjorie Garber writing today."—Katherine Govier, Toronto Globe and Mail

"Garber's own writing is, as you would hope, admirably clear. She does a fine job of persuading us that these controversies are a sign of cultural vitality. . . ."—Jon Turney,New Scientist

"Academic Instincts reminds humanists and scientists alike that their professional languages require thoughtful attention, discussion, and scholarship."—John Ramsey, Ruminator Review

"More breezy than scholarly in this book, Garber straddles the divide between the academy and the popular press with aplomb. Reading Academic Instincts is like sharing the newspaper with a current events junkie who can't help but comment on everything that catches her eye."—Leah Platt, American Prospect

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781400824670
Publisher:
Princeton University Press
Publication date:
01/10/2009
Sold by:
Barnes & Noble
Format:
NOOK Book
Pages:
200
File size:
2 MB

Read an Excerpt

Academic Instincts


By Marjorie Garber

Princeton University Press

Marjorie Garber
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0691115710


Chapter One

Criticism, is, I take it, the formal discourse of an amateur. —R. P. BLACKMUR

THE ELECTION of Jesse ("The Body") Ventura, a former professional wrestler and radio talk-show host, as governor of Minnesota was described by the New York Times as an example of "the lure of inspired amateurism."1 But of course American politicians have often tried to present themselves as amateurs, from George Washington to Ronald Reagan. Politics is a dirty business, and a professional politician an object of suspicion. Better to have a background in something, almost anything, else.

Like sports, for example. Former Senator Bill Bradley was a professional basketball player. Jack Kemp, a former housing secretary and candidate for vice president, was an NFL quarterback. Representative Steve Largent, the top draw for Republican fund-raisers in 1998, was a Hall of Fame wide receiver for the Seattle Seahawks. J. C. (Julius Caesar) Watts II was a college football star. "Let's hear it for the athlete as president!" said tennis player John McEnroe at a fund-raising rally in Madison Square Garden for candidate Bradley.2 Or consider, at least in the state of California, politicians from the world of entertainment. Not only Ronald Reagan but Sonny Bono, Clint Eastwood, GeorgeMurphy—and even, briefly, Warren Beatty. Or business. Think of the campaigns of Steve Forbes and Ross Perot, and even the trial balloon sent up by Donald Trump—all candidates who presented themselves as can-do men untainted by politics, bringing the power of their success in the marketplace to bear on national problems.

Disinterestedness seems to be an implied corollary of inexperience—or at least, inexperience in the particular profession to which the candidate aspired. Inexperience is just the experience the electorate often values most in its politicians. Amateur status, at least on the surface, seems to be a guarantor of virtue. Leave the rough stuff behind the scenes to the political operatives and the media consultants.

Still, it might be said, and quite properly, that politics is an unfair example. We don't so much value amateur surgeons, for example, or amateur lawyers. We live in a world of professionals and professionalization, from big league sports to massage therapy. Even something apparently impossible to professionalize, like "motivational speaking," is a high-paying job, performed by migrating professionals from other fields: Colin Powell, a retired army general and former chief of staff; Naomi Judd, a country-and-western singer; Terry Bradshaw, the former quarterback of the Pittsburgh Steelers; Mary Lou Retton, a gold-medal Olympic gymnast.

What I want to try to establish at the outset, though, is that, like the terms of any binary opposition, amateur and professional (1) are never fully equal, and (2) are always in each other's pockets. They produce each other and they define each other by mutual affinities and exclusions. One is always preferred to the other ("it's better to be an amateur"; "it's better to be a professional"), but the preference is not consistent over time. Indeed, what is most fascinating is the way in which these terms circulate to make the fortunes of the one rise higher than the fortunes of the other, while determinedly resisting the sense that one is always the necessary condition for the other.

Not only are they mutually interconnected. Part of their power comes from the disavowal of the close affinity between them.

Playing for Love

The apparent opposition of the terms "professional" and "amateur" is perhaps most familiar to us from the culture of sports, where until fairly recently "amateur" had a certain cachet and a certain association with the upper classes. The amateur was idealized as playing for "love"—love of the game, love of country, love of school. The professional, by contrast, played for advancement and for money.

In sport after sport, from football to boxing, the amateur/ professional distinction was once built in as part of the class structure of the sport. Amateurs were gentlemen; professionals were upstarts, class jumpers, and roughnecks. Aristocrats and gentry engaged in sporting events with the assistance of servants. Hunters had "gillies" or "beaters" to flush the game they shot, as well as gamekeepers to prevent poaching. Golfers were accompanied by "caddies," paid attendants who carried their clubs.

Here are a few examples of how this divide has been negotiated:

  • Rugby associations at the end of the nineteenth century took steps to root out the "veiled professional," by which was meant the working-class player. "The Rugby name, as its name implies, sprang from our public schools," remarked one amateur rugby player and cricketer. "Why should we hand it over without a struggle to the hordes of working-men players who would quickly engulf all others?" Under pressure from amateurs, the sport split into two, with different rules and spirits: English Rugby Union, "the game of the public schools, the universities and the professions," and Rugby League, "deeply embedded in its northern working-class communities," and becoming "an important form of working-class self-expression."3

  • Grace Kelly's father, John B. Kelly, was an outstanding oarsman who won an Olympic medal in 1920. But he was banned from the Henley regatta that same year because he was a bricklayer, not a gentleman. He was therefore not one who hoped to benefit financially from the regatta or competed for money was not an amateur—a definition that was ratified by a general meeting of rowing clubs in 1873. John Kelly, of course, earned a measure of revenge, since he made a fortune in the construction business and his daughter went on to become a princess. A road running along the Schuylkill River is now called "Kelly Drive."

  • At the turn of the century tennis was a signature sport of wealth and leisure. Amateur tennis tournaments sponsored by organizations like the All-England Croquet and Lawn Tennis Club date from 1877, when the first Wimbledon Championship was held. The U.S. National Lawn Tennis Association was founded in 1881, and Australian, French, and Canadian amateur associations all developed within the next decade. Professional tennis began in 1926, and by the late 1940s the leading amateur champions were turning pro. In point of fact, the best players, while playing as amateurs, were already making a living from the game, since lesser tournaments had begun to pay them to show up and attract the crowds. In December 1967 the British Lawn Tennis Association unilaterally abolished the distinction between professional and amateur. A few proudly "amateur" events continued, like the Davis Cup, and some players resisted turning pro in order to represent their countries in such events. But by 1997, after years in which top United States players declined to compete, the U.S. Tennis Association was offering $100,000 to those who would agree to join the team.

  • Popularized by the most celebrated "amateur" sports competition in the world, the Olympic Games, figure skating has become a major viewer draw, rivaling pro football for television ratings. It's difficult even for competitors to keep the lines between professional and amateur straight. Olympic gold medalist Tara Lipinski appeared in a show called Skate, Rattle and Roll, and former world champion Michelle Kwan in the U.S. Pro Championship. Both made money for skating, but Lipinski is no longer allowed to compete in Olympic or national championship events, while Kwan is aiming for the 2002 Winter Olympics. As a sports reporter observed, "In the world of figure skating, it's more correct to say Lipinski is more pro than Kwan, rather than to say Lipinski is a pro skater and Kwan is an amateur." And skater Elvis Stojko's coach said simply, "There doesn't seem to be much of a difference between amateurs and pros these days You just about have to be a Philadelphia lawyer to understand it."4

The founder of the modern Olympic Games, Baron Pierre de Coubertin, insisted in 1894 that his international association develop the spirit of amateur sport throughout the world. New bylaws adopted in 1976, however, allowed athletes to receive compensation while retaining their amateur status. Permissible forms of compensation included personal sports equipment and clothing, travel money, hotel expenses, and payment for what was called "broken time"—that is, time that would otherwise have been spent earning a living.5 So a competitor can in fact work full-time at his or her sport, while retaining eligibility as an "amateur." This is a good paradigm case of the "professional amateur." It may be worth noting that the amateur nature of the original games was to a certain extent Coubertin's fantasy. Athletes in ancient Greece received prizes for winning and substantial benefits from their home cities; they became full-time specialists, like their modern-day counterparts. The breakdown of the binary between amateur and professional was, that is to say, always (or even always already) present within the categories themselves.

"The line between professional and amateur sports is a joke," declared a sports and entertainment attorney. Amateur college athletes get free clothes from corporate sponsors. They practice not only the sanctioned twenty hours a week but another twenty "voluntary" hours (to get around National Collegiate Athletic Association guidelines). They have the use of student-athlete academic centers, financed by doting alumni and equipped with state-of-the-art computers and other amenities. As a national newspaper observed, noting the contract signed between a television network and the NCAA for the right to broadcast the annual men's college basketball tournament, "Amateurism has never been more lucrative."6 In effect, these "amateurs" are professionals.

Let me point toward one further and familiar context—in addition to politics and sports—to frame this set of assumptions about amateur professionals and professional amateurs. For, as I hope is becoming increasingly clear, the two categories of amateur and professional, apparently distinct, are not only mutually enfolding but mutually constructed and mutually policed. My third context, one particularly beloved of college professors (perhaps because we like to think it's closer to what we do), is the world of classic detective fiction.7

Sherlock Holmes is a professional amateur who is an expert in a dozen obscure sciences and plays the violin, while his friend Watson is a medical doctor with an avocation as an amateur sleuth. Holmes, we are told, discovers his calling by chance when, while visiting the home of a college friend during the summer vacation, he performs some offhand feats of deduction and is advised, "That's your line of life, sir." Recalling the moment many years later, Holmes confides, "that recommendation . . . was, if you will believe me, Watson, the very first thing that made me feel that a profession might be made of what had up to that time been the merest hobby."8 Holmes and Watson are in competition not so much with the criminals they pursue as with the police, in the person of the literal-minded and long-suffering Inspector Lestrade—the professional detective.

Agatha Christie's Miss Marple is not only an amateur but an "elderly amateur female sleuth," underestimated by professional crime solvers and by witnesses and victims. Her abject position (other characters in Christie novels often condescend to this little old lady with her balls of wool and her self-abnegating manner) is actually an excellent vantage point for observation (people expect old women to be snoops and gossips), and her modus operandi, the "village parallel" (reasoning by analogy), is paired with an unrelentingly low opinion of human nature. Miss Marple is an amateur professional.

Christie's other major detective, Hercule Poirot, is a retired officer of the Belgian Sûreté, also working free-lance, often in competition with the police, certainly not an amateur but also not simply a professional. With his Watson-like friend, the clueless Captain Hastings, he regularly outwits the authorities, and also protects his clients from unwanted publicity. Poirot is, in my terms, a professional amateur, in that he comes from a professional training but works as a free lance and for the pleasure of problem solving.

Mystery writer Dorothy L. Sayers offers a similar array of inspired amateurs, from the aristocratic Lord Peter Wimsey, whose hobbies, according to the stud-book, are incunabula and crime, to his protégée Miss Climpson, a middle-aged spinster whom he sets up as head of an unofficial detective agency composed entirely of women like herself—unmarried women who can quietly take up positions as secretaries, clerks, and paid companions and, virtually unnoticed by their employers, "detect" and investigate crimes. Wimsey's friend and brother-in-law Charles Parker is a middle-class Scotland Yard policeman with all the hallmarks of the professional: unimaginative, methodical, and dull.

Significantly, Poe's C. Augustus Dupin, the model for both Holmes and Poirot (and indeed, in a way, for Lord Peter), is explicitly a gentleman amateur and a collector: born "of an excellent, indeed of an illustrious family," fallen in material fortunes, but possessing "a small remnant of his patrimony," which he spends on books. "Books, indeed, were his sole luxuries." It is in fact in an "obscure library in the Rue Montmartre" that he first encounters his amanuensis and benefactor. They are both "in search of the same very rare and very remarkable volume" (which of course goes unnamed), and before too long they are sharing a mansion paid for by the narrator, who feels "that the society of such a man would be a treasure beyond price" and is "permitted to be at the expense of renting, and furnishing" a suitable dwelling. The two friends spend their time reading, writing, and conversing—the activities of leisured gentlemen—until Dupin's extraordinary analytical powers are put to the service of solving crimes. Again, Dupin's foil is the professional, the prefect of the Parisian police, who, like his men, fails because he considers only his own ideas of what is clever, and searches assiduously in all the obvious and conventional places.<

Continues...


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What People are saying about this

Stimpson
I have been waiting for years for a book about my profession as vital and zesty as Academic Instincts. Now Marjorie Garber has written it with her customary fireworks, learning, and flair. It should change our minds about academic life—for the better.
Catharine R. Stimpson, New York University
Catharine R. Stimpson
I have been waiting for years for a book about my profession as

vital and zesty as Academic Instincts. Now Marjorie Garber has written it with her customary fireworks,learning,and flair. It should change our minds about academic life--for the better.

Terry Castle
In Academic Instincts—a bravura inspection of various foibles and follies currently besetting the academic humanities—Marjorie Garber reveals herself as an ideal tour guide: energetic, canny, jocund, illuminating, and as wicked as she needs to be. Yet even as she skewers the amour-propre of contemporary pedants and pullulaters, she also offers a passionate defense of the intellectual enterprise itself. Garber's book is solace as well as sortie: a potent affirmation of our noblest 'academic instincts' and the quest after truth they continue to embody.
Terry Castle, Stanford University
Alexander Nehamas
Marjorie Garber's Academic Instincts is a light, tripping, subtle argument in defense of the academic profession. It is itself a fascinating instance of refusing 'to have arbitrary lines drawn between things: between old masterpieces and contemporary works, between art and the rest of the world, between criticism and conversation.'
Alexander Nehamas, Princeton University

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