Cover image for Academic instincts
Academic instincts
Garber, Marjorie B.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Princeton, N.J. : Princeton University Press, [2001]

Physical Description:
xi, 187 pages : illustrations ; 23 cm
Format :


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AZ182 .G37 2001 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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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 "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.

Author Notes

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.

Reviews 2

Publisher's Weekly Review

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.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

In this scholarly study, Garber (English, Harvard) explores her area of expertiseDthe humanitiesDthrough 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.DTerry Christner, Hutchinson P.L., KS (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Table of Contents

Prefacep. ix
Chapter 1 The Amateur Professional and the Professional Amateurp. 3
Chapter 2 Discipline Envyp. 53
Chapter 3 Terms of Artp. 97
Notesp. 149
Indexp. 181