Her wide-ranging books — including Vested Interests , on cross-dressing; Vice Versa , on bisexuality; and Sex and Real Estate , on the erotics of property — are noted for their originality, wit, erudition and tact.
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Moreover, she treats all her opponents with courtly deference, describing them as respected colleagues, admired teachers or wise critics. Writing a love letter to the profession, rather than the subject matter, of literary study may well be the most daring and original aspect of the book. Many literature professors have declared their undying love for reading and teaching, but few have admitted to loving the academic game itself.
More typically, they view joining the profession as the heavy price they have to pay for doing what they love, more or less as marriage and its responsibilities and woes used to be regarded as the price men paid for sex. Now that a slow academic job market makes it harder for even professorial stars to divorce their departments when they get bored, complaints of burn-out and collegial dysfunction proliferate. Perhaps Garber, who has taught at Harvard, Haverford and Yale, can keep the magic alive in the monogamous long-term academic relationship.
For many others less well located, or more disillusioned, however, the notion of a love letter to the profession might seem perverse.
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Indeed, for Crews, literary criticism today is a racket in which values have taken second place to career success. Garber seems more interested in deflecting criticism of her work in cultural studies than in interrogating the overall state of the discipline.
While she has been successful in reaching a wide general audience as well as a specialised one, she emphasises her position as a Harvard professor rather than as a bestselling author, and avoids seeing any contradiction between the two. But Garber glosses over the way this capacity is widely disparaged in the academy, and the idiom overtly discouraged.
There is. The problem with literary jargon, however, is not that outsiders resent it. Conversely, graduate students are trained to write the received English of the academy, and learn to suppress whatever flair, individuality and humour they had when they arrived. Every scholarly move is part of a dialogue. In The Pooh Perplex: A Student Casebook , Crews, then a starry-eyed young professor with an interest in psychoanalytic criticism, gently parodied the reigning schools of literary criticism of the period, such as they were — approaches so innocently concerned with matters of politics or taste that they now seem quaint.
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Academic Instincts by Marjorie Garber, Hardcover | Barnes & Noble®
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Trusting Academic Instincts