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Academic Instincts Hardcover – January 15, 2001

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

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.)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal

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
Copyright 2001 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 160 pages
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press (January 15, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 069104970X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0691049700
  • Product Dimensions: 8.7 x 5.8 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,664,845 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

10 of 12 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on February 10, 2001
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
After the grandiose promises made in the dust cover it is hard not to be disappointed by this light volume, weighing in for a few hours read at a mere 150 pages. I bought it, captured by the claim that it would " the door to an important nationwide and worldwide conversation about the reorganization of knowledge..."That author of that bit of false advertisement ought to take the study of words as seriously and enteraingly as Garber does.
The book fits the crossover genre that is Garber refers to in the text--designed both the reach a general audience and an audience of academics who might chose to read about themselves. Its entertainment lays in its play with words, many words: dilettante, autodidact, professional amateur and amateur professional, and genius, to name just a few.
As to helping us understand the shift in knowledge and disciplines, this book is not very substantial. Words like interdisciplinary and crossdisciplinary are thrown about casually. The understanding it adds to the idea of interdisciplinarity is slight, but not critical. It allows the academic, generally one who likes to learn, an opportunity to keep learning, Garber notes glibly. An interdisciplinarian, is like an amateur sleuth, an amateur professional, "someone who is learning, or poaching, or practicing without a license" (p. 19), but also someone who might obeserve clues a scholar more entrenched in disciplinary practice might overlook.
A playful read, but hardly one that will launch nationwide and worldwide conversation about the nature of knowledge.
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12 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Donald Mitchell HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on February 27, 2001
Format: Hardcover
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.
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6 of 8 people found the following review helpful By "phrynicus" on March 6, 2001
Format: Hardcover
With 'Academic Instincts', Marjorie Garber, a professor of English at Harvard, discusses the vagaries of her vocation and reappraises the importance of the Humanities at the beginning of the twenty-first century. Are the concerns of an English professor purely aesthetic, political, or both? Why do academics resort to jargon words, and do these terms really mean anything? What is literary theory? Why do academics such as Harold Bloom demur at the use of theory when he himself has been called a theorist? What is at stake here?
Garber doesn't answer these questions so much as survey how they have been variously answered over the centuries and, more specifically, the past few decades. In a book whose cover features Raphael's 'School Of Athens' (albeit with a photo of the author superimposed on the forefront), whose first chapter begins with "The Election of Jesse ("The Body") Ventura", and whose topics of interest range between American basketballer-turned-politician Bill Bradley, scientist Richard Dawkins, media celebrity Oprah Winfrey and philosopher-cum-literary critic Jacques Derrida, you would suspect, understandably enough, that the author has either developed an extraordinarily complicated argument to encompass all of these types of evidence, or avoided attempting an argument at all. Well, there's a bit of both here. As I say, Garber's work is a survey rather than a critically engaged attempt at disputation. She wants to revise the so-called 'culture wars' (which she never formally defines for her reader), not partake in it.
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