The Thrill of Applying Literary Theory to Everyday Texts
November 16, 2011
The subject was dirt, or perhaps I should say “Dirt.” It was spring 1996, and I was a newly minted comp-lit Ph.D. candidate thrilled to be taking part in my first academic conference. Okay, it was a conference of grad students organized by my friends in the Harvard English department, but somehow that just made it feel more authentic, like college football compared to professional. I still have the flyer, which reproduces an artsy photo of a dump truck about to discharge its load into a giant quarry.
January 15, 2001
My introduction to the media's view of the academy came as something of a shock. Almost five years ago, James Wood, reporting for The New Republic on a Harvard graduate student conference I participated in, cited a particularly unfortunate remark of mine, regarding "the iconography of the Tampax," as evidence of all that had gone wrong with literary studies. His article, of course, was but one of many attacks on the academy as it struggled through the final twitches of postmodernism.
April 22, 1996
Marjorie Garber, Kenan Professor of English at Harvard, was lost in arcana. Squinting analytically, and fiercely puzzled, she began to split hairs. “May I add a transgressive note?” she asked the lecturer. “As somebody who has appeared on them, there does seem to me a difference between talk shows such as ‘Donahue’ and ‘Oprah’ and, say, shows like ‘Jenny Jones.’ It may only be the difference between modes of Protestant confession and Catholic confession, of course....” The two-day conference on “Dirt,” organized by Garber’s two Harvard departments, English Literature and the Center for Literar