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Academic Lives

Academic Lives: Memoir, Cultural Theory, and the University Today

Copyright Date: 2009
Pages: 368
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  • Book Info
    Academic Lives
    Book Description:

    Since the early 1990s, there has been a proliferation of memoirs by tenured humanities professors. Although the memoir form has been discussed within the flourishing field of life writing, academic memoirs have received little critical scrutiny. Based on close readings of memoirs by such academics as Michael Bérubé, Cathy N. Davidson, Jane Gallop, bell hooks, Edward Said, Eve Sedgwick, Jane Tompkins, and Marianna Torgovnick, Academic Lives considers why so many professors write memoirs and what cultural capital they carry. Cynthia G. Franklin finds that academic memoirs provide unparalleled ways to unmask the workings of the academy at a time when it is dealing with a range of crises, including attacks on intellectual freedom, discontentment with the academic star system, and budget cuts. Franklin considers how academic memoirs have engaged with a core of defining concerns in the humanities: identity politics and the development of whiteness studies in the 1990s; the impact of postcolonial studies; feminism and concurrent anxieties about pedagogy; and disability studies and the struggle to bring together discourses on the humanities and human rights. The turn back toward humanism that Franklin finds in some academic memoirs is surreptitious or frankly nostalgic; others, however, posit a wide-ranging humanism that seeks to create space for advocacy in the academic and other institutions in which we are all unequally located. These memoirs are harbingers for the critical turn to explore interrelations among humanism, the humanities, and human rights struggles.

    eISBN: 978-0-8203-3587-2
    Subjects: Language & Literature, Education

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-xvi)
  4. CHAPTER 1 The Academic Memoir Movement
    (pp. 1-27)

    In this book I explore the insights that contemporary academic memoirs provide into the humanities as an intellectual and institutional formation. Since the early 1990s and continuing into the present, humanities professors, many of them working in English departments, have been writing their memoirs in unprecedented numbers. As David Simpson caustically remarks in The Academic Postmodern and the Rule of Literature, “the award of tenure now seems to bring with it a contract for one’s autobiography” (24).¹ By partaking in this “memoir movement,” academics participate in what journalist James Atlas has dubbed “the Age of the Literary Memoir,” or what...

  5. CHAPTER 2 Whiteness Studies and Institutional Autobiography
    (pp. 28-76)

    Toward the end of the 1997–98 school year, the English Department at the University of Hawai‘i was in the final rounds of a three-year struggle over the revision of the undergraduate major. After a tense department meeting—one during which many assistant professors called the present curriculum colonialist and irrelevant to Hawai‘i students—a senior colleague (white, male) e-mailed a “campaign document” to the department’s sixty full-time faculty members. In it he announced his interest in serving on the hiring committee. He promised, if elected, to screen for and oppose any job candidate whose application materials included terms such...

  6. CHAPTER 3 Postcolonial Studies and Memoirs of Travel, Diaspora, and Exile
    (pp. 77-139)

    In 2003, ten years after Doris Duke’s death, portions of her Honolulu home, Shangri La, were opened for public touring. The product of a passion for Islamic art that Duke developed on her eight-month honeymoon when she visited the Taj Mahal, Shangri La houses the fifth-largest collection of Islamic art in the United States. Before taking a museum shuttle to this well-hidden, oceanfront home, visitors begin their tour at the Honolulu Academy of Art with a video. In Creating Shangri La, University of Hawai‘i professor of architecture Kazi Ashraf states, “I see the house as kind of an autobiography of...

  7. CHAPTER 4 Feminist Studies and the Academic Star System
    (pp. 140-212)

    On November 10, 1999, student leaders at the University of Hawai‘i were invited to a faculty congress meeting to discuss a proposal to reform the core curriculum. One of the most controversial aspects of the proposal pertained to the language requirement—many faculty members in the sciences vociferously opposed a reduced, but still in place, Hawaiian or second language requirement. The other major controversy concerned a proposed global perspectives requirement. Student leaders and some faculty protested this proposal because it did not ensure a non-Western perspective on non-Western cultures, and because it did not make central a specifically Hawaiian perspective...

  8. CHAPTER 5 Disability Studies and Institutional Interventions
    (pp. 213-274)

    Previous chapters of this book critique memoirs for basing their politics on the claim to feelings in a way that precludes attention to institutional analysis and to an author’s institutional privilege. We’ve already explored how, in the context of the 1990s academy, and especially for those who occupy positions of privilege within it, academic memoirs reveal that too exclusive a focus on feelings, or a politics based wholly on identification and empathy, can lead to an upholding of institutional hierarchies (chapter 2). As we’ve seen, given the contexts of the academic star system, the focus on “the whole person”—especially...

  9. CONCLUSION. Memoir and the Post–September 11 Academy
    (pp. 275-280)

    At the start of the new millennium, as memoir’s currency continues, it is accompanied by a new, post–September 11 phenomenon: a McCarthy-like assault by the media and politicians on academics’ freedom to express views critical of U.S. foreign policy.¹ This clampdown frequently takes place in the name of championing the very principles of free expression that it undermines. Moreover, as early-twenty-first-century high-profile cases against academics such as Ward Churchill, Joseph Massad, and Norman Finkelstein illustrate, what is striking is that many of these attacks on free speech are mounted against individual academics in ways that conflate engaging in Left...

  10. NOTES
    (pp. 281-308)
    (pp. 309-330)
  12. INDEX
    (pp. 331-347)