Academic Instincts

Academic Instincts

by Marjorie Garber

Hardcover

$35.00

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780691049700
Publisher: Princeton University Press
Publication date: 12/10/2000
Pages: 160
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x (d)
Age Range: 18 Years

About the Author

Marjorie Garber is William R. Kenan, Jr. Professor of English at Harvard University and Director of Harvard's Humanities Center in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences. The author of ten books, most recently Quotation Marks and The Medusa Reader, she is also the editor of many collections of essays and a regular contributor to the New York Times, the Atlantic Monthly, and other publications.

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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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Table of Contents

Preface ix

Chapter 1: The Amateur Professional and the Professional Amateur 3

Chapter 2: Discipline Envy 53

Chapter 3: Terms of Art 97

Notes: 149

Index 181

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

Interviews

An Interview with Marjorie Garber

Marjorie Garber is the William R. Kenan, Jr. Professor of English at Harvard University and director of Harvard's Humanities Center in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences. She is the author of many works of literary criticism and theory, which range in subject from Shakespeare to cross-dressing. Professor Garber kindly consented to an interview with Barnes & Noble.com's Academic & Scholarly editor, Gregory Tietjen. The interview, conducted by email, took place in mid-January 2001.

Barnes & Noble.com: Professor Garber, critics and readers cite a redirection of focus in your writings of the last decade. Following a career built on literary criticism and theory, you have turned to exploring contemporary social issues. Are there continuities of approach or persistent thematic concerns that seem obvious to you but which your critics overlook? Moreover, your prose style of late appears designed to appeal to a wider audience. Would it be wrong to read in that self-criticism of earlier work, or does it simply indicate a change of mood and a desire to address audiences beyond your professional peers?

Marjorie Garber: The pieces I've written for various newspapers and magazines, from The New York Times Op-Ed page to The New Yorker, Harper's, and the London Review of Books, as well as online journals like Slate, have given me the chance to write for a wide general audience. This means speaking across disciplinary boundaries -- both a pleasure and a challenge. It's the same challenge a teacher faces in the classroom, the lecturer in a lecture hall: to make something complicated into something accessible and exciting, without taking away any of the complexity of thought or argument. I've always felt that it was possible and desirable to communicate as directly as possible with the reading public for my work. The kinds of books I've written over the last decade, on topics that are of general interest and that also have a specific relevance to critical theory or literary analysis, have offered me the opportunity to address that wide audience directly. But I'm always writing for the most exacting readers as well as for the most curious and open ones. In a way, the pleasure and necessity of crossing that supposed divide, between specialists and generalists, is what Academic Instincts is all about.

B&N.com: Academic Instincts, you make clear, isn't a "developmental history" of literary studies, but the book is historically suggestive. It leaves me pondering the changes that have overtaken American literary and intellectual life during the last half century. Before 1960, literary and intellectual life, buoyed by a vital bohemian tradition, thrived in the world of the small magazines. After 1960, writers and intellectuals began to receive invitations to take up residence and teach on the college campuses. The life of the freelance writer -- and the literary journals and intellectual bohemianism that supported the freelance writer -- fell into decline. In an unlikely bestseller of the 1980s, The Closing of the American Mind, Allan Bloom argued that in taking to heart radicals' claims on behalf of "relevance," the universities had succeeded only in undermining the proud independence of intellectual life. Campuses had become mirror images of a chaotic culture. What relationship should hold between the universities and the culture? And has the association with campus life helped or harmed literary and intellectual life?

MG: I don't think it's so useful to talk of "help" or "harm" when it comes to discussing the role of college campuses, college students, and college (and university) teachers in intellectual life. We can't go back to an earlier era, even if we were to want to do so -- which I wouldn't. These are enormously exciting times for higher education, and especially for the humanities and the narrative social sciences. The fact that reading, writing, arguing, and performing are part of the world of higher education means that both the schools, and the writing and reading professions, are more inclusive, as well as livelier. A glance at Virginia Woolf's A Room of One's Own makes it clear that far fewer women were accepted as intellectual equals in the universities a few decades ago. Nostalgia and hindsight may make the past seem more romantic to some observers, but the opening up of American colleges and universities is what made it possible for Allan Bloom, a Jew, to become a powerful figure on an Ivy League campus in the 1960s; a generation earlier, that achievement would have been much more difficult. The "proud independence of intellectual life" is a fine phrase, but most independent scholars, whether from the time of Socrates or the time of Erasmus or the time of Dr. Johnson, have found themselves dependent on some person or some structure or some profession in order to live as scholars, and teach or write for a living. On every college campus today there are a half dozen "little magazines," started up by hopeful newcomers to the literary life. Freelance writers abound in cities from New York to Hollywood. There is no reason to wring our hands over the lost brilliance of an earlier literary era. Every generation has its intellectual riches, and ours is no exception. One of the traits of the "true intellectual" is the willingness to look for such brilliance and beauty in generations (and cultural forms) different from the ones he or she inherited, or inhabited, or first admired.

B&N.com: Your essay "Discipline Envy" addresses the benefits and attractions of interdisciplinary scholarship. But the "boundary-crossing" you recommend -- the boundary-crossing you identify as typifying the work of all great scholars -- also invites charges of incompetence and poaching from those who claim expertise in their respective specialties. Such charges are rife in academic life today (the Sokal affair being only the most notorious case). What if universities were to endorse interdisciplinary scholarship as the academic ideal? What institutional changes would you recommend to promote full-blooded interdisciplinary scholarship? And what would the impact of those changes be on the current allocation of intellectual labor in the university?

MG: There is no such thing as being interdisciplinary without being "disciplinary" first. Several years ago, I was invited by the Folger Institute in Washington, D.C., to run a weekend seminar for scholars in disciplines other than literary studies, to try to explain to them -- historians, mainly, but also philosophers and political theorists -- why literary scholars do what they do, and why it matters, and what the stakes are for us. I called the seminar "Asking Literary Questions," because I believe that it's the way we frame questions, not the sets of "answers" we produce, that marks a discipline and its practice. That's one reason there are majors or concentrations in academic life -- to train students in asking the right kinds of questions, or even the deliberately "wrong" kinds of questions, for history, or anthropology, or philosophy, or musicology. But as I argue in Academic Instincts, these fields of inquiry are all pretty new, and they're changing all the time. When I came to Harvard in 1981, it wasn't permissible, for example, for a student to write a senior thesis on a living author -- the author had to be dead, his or her story had to be over, before it could be analyzed and interpreted. English literature, psychology, anthropology, sociology -- these are all "new" fields, developed as academic disciplines over the past hundred years or a little more, and each of them constructed, in part, from other disciplines, each of them in a way "interdisciplinary." It isn't really so long ago -- just a few hundred years -- that the arts and the sciences parted company, disciplinarily speaking. Human curiosity and the human mind aren't rigidly compartmentalized. It's only man-made structures, like academic departments or job descriptions, that may seem to be so. As for reforming current practice in the universities to reflect more accurately some of the changes in intellectual thought and the boundary crossing that marks newer fields like media studies or environmental studies or criminal justice (or, for that matter, microbiology or genomics or biochemistry) -- that's the biggest challenge, and the most intriguing opportunity, for today's and tomorrow's scholars and college presidents. Part of the problem is that everyone feels there's something to lose as well as gain: academic "slots," financial aid, the intangible prestige of an "older" discipline. Sometimes I think it comes down to mundane matters like office space and staff positions, not to mention allocations of graduate students. But we are always behind the curve, even when we're ahead of it. That's just how institutions work.

B&N.com: You speak of jargon ("Terms of Art") as "language in action" and "ideas in the making." You emphasize the creative ferment of the present: thought in the process of shaping and applying itself. But at any given time, isn't our language almost entirely inherited? When we attempt to make sense of the world -- or of ourselves -- we do so with words we didn't create and which originated in those historical traditions that form our cultural horizon. How should teaching in the humanities honor that fact?

MG: To work in language while working on language is the biggest challenge. It's certainly true that we inherit words, and phrases, and grammar, and syntax, and intonation. And it's true, too, that language is "belated" in the sense you describe -- that we are always working with words that emerged at an earlier time and are now being reshaped to fit new and urgent purposes. One of the thrilling, as well as amusing, things is to look at how words are appropriated from one language to another: le shampooing as a French word for shampoo, derived from a Hindu word that meant to press. Or the Hebrew language of the state of Israel accommodating new words and phrases for telephones, telegraphs, typewriters -- none of which presumably appeared in the language of the Scriptures. I find myself more and more fascinated by philology and etymology, by the roots and histories of words. It's another kind of "close reading," at the level of the individual word, and many of my recent essays and articles have begun with a close language focus of this kind.

B&N.com: Professor Frank Lentricchia of Duke, who championed the literary turn to politics in the '80s, published a startling and widely discussed essay in Lingua Franca in 1996. It effectively announced Lentricchia's resignation from the ranks of practicing literary critics. He scornfully dismissed literary criticism of the '80s and '90s as intellectual "Xeroxing." He added: "Tell me your theory and I'll tell you in advance what you'll say about any work of literature, especially those you haven't read." Do you ever find yourself sharing Lentricchia's dismay with contemporary literary scholarship? Or is his charge mistaken and unfair?

MG: Literary and cultural theories are ways of reading, and none of them is exhaustive. On the one hand, there are likely to be many different ways of doing a "deconstructive reading," or a "psychoanalytic reading," or a "Marxist reading," of the same poem or essay or passage. And there are many different ways of doing a so-called close reading or explication, too. We're not talking here about a kind of Taylorization, a mechanical, assembly-line replication -- at least no more so than the earlier parsings and metrical analyses and memorizations that were also an important part of reading and scholarly life. Copycat work at the level of apprenticeship is important, in the same way that tracing the whorls of the Palmer method of handwriting was important when we first learned to write in script, but there comes a time when a reader, a literary scholar, begins to do work that is original and effective. Not all literary scholarship is equally powerful, or persuasive, or inventive, or precise. But literary theory can be rigorous, challenging and invigorating -- it need not be predictable or formulaic. We need to encourage our students, and ourselves, to take intellectual risks, and not to settle for an already-established horizon of expectation. Do I think literary theorists should stop doing theory and start writing poems and novels? No, I can't say that I think that would be an automatic gain for the reading public. But remember that literary theories succeed one another, and respond to one another: "Master narratives" like Marxist or Freudian readings compete with "close readings" (a.k.a. "New Critical" readings), with biographical and thematic readings, with allegorical readings, and so on. If a critic who has spent a large part of his career doing a certain kind of reading finds that his students, or other people's students, are becoming predictable and boring, that is itself predictable. It's part of the academic life cycle. Take a deep breath, read something new, and start again.

B&N.com: In the preface to Academic Instincts, you describe teaching as being, in the broadest sense of the term, a "conservative" enterprise. Surely, you are right. But I suspect that very few students and readers would characterize your teaching and writings as exemplifying a conservative spirit. Can you clarify your position here?

MG: The word "conservative," like the word "radical" (and indeed the word "Victorian," for that matter) is often misunderstood. American social conservatives in political life may deplore flag or bra burning (I've never actually met anyone who burned a bra, or watched one being burned), abortion, and "youth culture," but intellectual conservatives conserve -- think of the word "conservation" in its ecological sense (a cause sometimes not dear to the hearts of political conservatives who favor oil-drilling in wildlife refuges and clear-cutting of timber). The word "radical," of course, comes from "root," so that a "radical" may be someone who is concerned with something elemental and primary, as well as someone unorthodox or untraditional (whether on the "radical left" or the "radical right"). The Victorians, social and cultural scholars assure us, were far less "Victorian" (prudish, strict, old-fashioned) in their outlook than we think, or perhaps even than we are ourselves. I'm a conservative academic in a number of ways: I teach Shakespeare, play by play, in a large lecture class that is open to visitors as well as to undergraduate and graduate students; I study, enjoy, and teach the English "literary canon" as well as newer texts, contexts, and approaches to literature; I am a professor at the oldest university in the United States; I believe in grades, in memorizing poetry, in the power of literary genres, in studying "older" authors like Chaucer, Spenser, Marlowe, Webster, and Milton. I'm currently fascinated by philology, the study of (literally, the love of) words. In fact, I uncannily resemble, in many of these interests, my near-mythic Harvard predecessor, George Lyman Kittredge, about whose endearingly autocratic lecturing style I have heard so much, from so many appreciative former students, over the years. I teach and write about literature because it excites and moves and challenges me, and because I think it is still the best way to communicate ideas and feelings in a way that is precise, effective, and often shocking. I am a conservative, a radical, and everything in between. I am a humanist, an antihumanist, and a posthumanist. In short, I am a professor of literature, and lucky to be so -- it's a wonderful job, one that grows and changes as our students grow and change. As a former teacher and colleague at Yale once said to me, speaking of the teaching of Shakespeare, "It's like taking money for jam."

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Guest More than 1 year ago
Professor Garber has written a set of three popular, satirical essays to look at how knowledge advances involving literary study. Nicely spanning the gap between the amateurs and professionals who are interested in the subject, she takes a time-independent view to show how the pendulum is always swinging within predictable constraints. For example, it is always becoming either more or less desirable to be a professional or an amateur pursuing knowledge. 'Nowadays amateurism seems to be the goal of the profession.' 'But it turns out that the professional makes the best amateur.' She cites Harold Bloom and his evolution toward the book, Shakespeare: The Invention of the Human, as an example. Along the way, she also considers Sister Wendy, Oprah Winfrey, Richard Dawkins, and many others who operate near or across these amateur and professional lines. Her second essay talks about Discipline Envy, and uses Freud's most famous form of envy as the starting point for many witticisms. Basically, the grass is always greener in the adjacent discipline, but those people are to be despised. 'Similarity and contiguity, says Freud, breed distrust, rivalry, comparison, even, perhaps, self-hatred and self-doubt projected upon the nearby other.' The final essay considers Terms of Art. ' . . . [T]he history of jargon is the history of ideas in the making . . . .' She reminds us that one word in twelve within Shakespeare (and she is a noted Shakespearean authority) was considered novel in its day. She also reminds us that the word, shibboleth, originally served a role as a password in the Book of Judges. Jargon is often similarly used now to help show to which group you belong. While providing good entertainment value and perspective about the never-ending academic battles over roles, boundaries, and words, the book lacks a helpful center. The book talks a lot about the inevitability of what people will do, and suggests some things to avoid. But the book lacks weight by not proposing much more than taking a broader perspective. How should new attempts to combine 'disciplines' be pursued to make the most progress? How can creating new jargon be more helpful? What roles should be expanded between amateurs and professionals that do not exist very often now? The answer always seems to be broad minded. On the other hand, it's better to read a book that leaves you hungering for more than one that overstuffs you with unpalatable content. The food for thought here can probably add perspective to your own quests for knowledge, whether taken in the role of Don Quixote or as Cervantes. Be aware of your instincts, so you can direct them in the most useful ways! Donald Mitchell, co-author of The Irresistible Growth Enterprise and The 2,000 Percent Solution