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Academic Instincts

Academic Instincts

Copyright Date: 2001
Pages: 200
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  • Book Info
    Academic Instincts
    Book Description:

    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.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-2467-0
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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    (pp. 3-52)

    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...

    (pp. 53-96)

    Conflicts among the academic disciplines are often compared to turf battles and boundary disputes, likely to inspire the planting of “Keep Off the Grass” signs and cries of “Not in my back yard!” But let’s not forget that other familiar proverb about turf: “The grass is always greener in someone else’s yard.”¹ This Aesop-like saying describes a common illusion and a common mechanism of desire. It’s not completely an accident, I think, that the aphorism contains both turf (“yard”) and greenness—the color of envy. What I want to suggest is that disciplinary turf battles themselves both inspire, and depend...

    (pp. 97-148)

    Juxtaposition and context are everything.

    Readers of the New York Times in March 1999 had a good chance to test out the truth of this assertion as they settled in with their coffee and the morning paper. On the editorial page, in the letters column, under the banner headline “Academic Jargon Is a Cover,” those interested would have found a series of letters, ranging from the dismissive to the vituperative, responding to an Arts & Ideas feature article called “Bad Writing” in the academy.¹ A professor of sociology from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst accused prominent scholars of obscurantism and...