August 12, 2004

Garbled Garber Recently, a senior

Garbled Garber

Recently, a senior editor at “The Hatemonger’s Quarterly”—let’s just call him “Chip”—has polished off a book by one Marjorie Garber, the William R. Kenan, Jr. Professor of English at Harvard University. This tome, entitled Academic Instincts, could be found in the “cheapo” section of our local bookstore, and was, consequently, cheap.

Even so, there should have been many reasons for “Chip” to be wary of the book he purchased—a book that discusses the academic culture wars. First, there’s the matter of Ms. Garber’s earlier work. Among her learned lucubrations one can find such studies as Dog Love, Bisexuality and the Eroticism of Everyday Life (very lascivious, aren’t we?), and Vested Interests: Cross-Dressing and Cultural Anxiety.

If this didn’t make “Chip” realize that Ms. Garber belongs to that infamous academic group that Roger Kimball delightfully dubbed “tenured radicals,” nothing else would. Whilst reading the jacket of Ms. Garber’s latest work, one can almost see the self-important grin of this academic huckster: I wrote a book on cross-dressing; aren’t I clever and avant-garde? Sure, you’re clever and avant-garde, provided you ignore the umpteen other books on cross-dressing that are coming from the transsexual pens of professors these days.

But there was another warning sign that “Academic Instincts” isn’t going to be a masterwork. One of the blurbs for the book is provided by one of Ms. Garber’s colleagues, Homi K. Bhabha, a doyen of postcolonial studies, and a writer of some of the most jargon-filled, obscurantist prose this side of Jacques Lacan. On the cover of “Academic Instincts,” Mr. Bhabha claims that Ms. Garber argues “lucidly.”

Hmmm. Homi Bhabha says you argue lucidly, eh? That’s kind of like Pete Rose claiming that you show great self-control. Or Jimmy Carter telling you that you have a good handle on foreign affairs.

None of these concerns stopped “Chip” from reading Ms. Garber’s book. He reports, however, that the tome is seriously flawed. Throughout most of the slender volume, Ms. Garber pretends as if she is not “merely taking sides.” This, of course, is arrant nonsense: At every turn, Ms. Garber makes sure to defend her fellow tenured radicals.

Curiously, in her chapter touting the glories of postmodern jargon, Ms. Garber writes without using any of it. Although she excoriates those who dislike the impenetrable prose of po-mo academics, she sees no need to ape this fancy-pants style. This led us to wonder: Why not? Perhaps Ms. Garber actually wants her reader(s) to understand her specious defense of her colleagues, and thus determined to write, in Homi Bhabha’s description, “lucidly”?

Gee. Maybe this disconnect would strike Ms. Garber as interesting. It might even lead her to question her positions.

Nah. She’s probably busy on her latest work, “Heteronormatizing the Afrocentric Other: Toward a Hybridity of Problematizing."

Posted at August 12, 2004 12:01 AM | TrackBack