You are using an outdated browser.
Please upgrade your browser
and improve your visit to our site.
Skip Navigation

A Banal Coda For A Harvard Scholar

I'm just through the Sunday papers and, oddly, I haven't read a thing that rattled my spine. OK, there was one article that did.  And it wasn't exactly the pabulum that was in it. It was the mix of the writer and what she said. 

Now, the Boston Globe is a bastion of high-think and good-think. One of its editorials today was about apple picking, not exactly high-think but quintessential good-think, like the United Nations. This editorial and the little essay to which I referred above, "Higher art," appear in what Bostonians think of as the serious Sunday section called "Ideas." Come to think of it, "Ideas" also had room for a longish piece by the editor of Seed magazine whose argument is: "According to an emerging vision of decision-making, the best predictor of good judgment isn't intuition or experience or intelligence.  Rather, it's the willingness to engage in introspection." My, my, what a cutting-edge thought. The article is illustrated by four shadowy photographs, in two pairs: Obama and McCain, George W. Bush and Jimmy Carter. You won't be surprised that a black arrow directs your attention to Obama, not aloof but introspective. The second arrow does not point to Bush. I thought there'd be no winner here. Carter, introspective? C'mon. He was maudlin and mawkish, like the lust in his heart. Nonetheless, he still gets the arrow. 

Anyway back to "Higher art," the first cause of the rattling of my spine. It was written by Marjorie Garber, a professor of English at Harvard, whose scholarly interest lay with Shakespeare and whose sub-coda to the texts was cross-dressing. This particular kind of underwear was the rage for a while, and Garber soaked it as much as it could be soaked. Her new cause is so old that it's hard to construct a fresh sentence about it. Here's the thought: universities should welcome the arts, patronize them financially, teach them, facilitate individual artists and collaborative projects, bridge the divides. Ho-hum. These are not big ideas; they aren't even small notions. They come right out of a new book she has published with Princeton, and you can get a taste of it when she does a reading at the Harvard Book Store on Tuesday. But, then, you'll miss the Obama-McCain debate. She has a bad sense of timing, which Shakespeare did not.

There is a dark background to this book. Garber likes to run big programs and she used to be the chair of the prestigious Harvard Humanities Center. Homi Bhabha has that position now. She could barely call a meeting to order or run a program that was not hers alone. Now she has been excluded from the university-wide task force on the arts at Harvard. Her banal article suggests a banal book. Her exclusion from the task-force is a coda to her career.

Marge Garber was once reviewed in TNR. The book under consideration was Sex and Real Estate. Zoe Heller showed how silly Garber could be.