The Use and Abuse of Literature
By Marjorie Garber
(Pantheon, Hardcover, 9780375424342, 336pp.)
Publication Date: March 29, 2011
Other Editions of This Title: Paperback
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As defining as Christopher Lasch’s The Culture of Narcissism, Allan Bloom’s The Closing of the American Mind, and Dinesh D’Souza’s Illiberal Education were to the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s, respectively, Marjorie Garber’s The Use and Abuse of Literature is to our times.
Even as the decline of the reading of literature, as argued by the National Endowment for the Arts, proceeds in our culture, Garber (“One of the most powerful women in the academic world”—The New York Times) gives us a deep and engaging meditation on the usefulness and uselessness of literature in the digital age. What is literature, anyway? How has it been understood over time, and what is its relevance for us today? Who are its gatekeepers? Is its canonicity fixed? Why has literature been on the defensive since Plato? Does it have any use at all, or does it merely serve as an aristocratic or bourgeois accoutrement attesting to worldly sophistication and refinement of spirit? Is it, as most of us assume, good to read literature, much less study it—and what does either mean?
The Use and Abuse of Literature is a tour de force about our culture in crisis that is extraordinary for its brio, panache, and erudition (and appreciation of popular culture) lightly carried. Garber’s winning aim is to reclaim literature from the margins of our personal, educational, and professional lives and restore it to the center, as a fierce, radical way of thinking.
Marjorie Garber is the William R. Kenan, Jr., Professor of English and of Visual and Environmental Studies at Harvard University, and chair of the Program in Dramatic Arts. She has served as director of the Humanities Center at Harvard, chair of the department of Visual and Environmental Studies, and director of the Carpenter Center for the Visual Arts. A member of the Board of Directors of the American Council of Learned Societies and a trustee of the English Institute, she is the former president of the Consortium of Humanities Centers and Institutes, and a continuing member of its board. She is the author of sixteen books and has edited seven collections of essays on topics from Shakespeare to literary and cultural theory to the arts and intellectual life, including Shakespeare After All, which was acclaimed as one of Newsweek’s ten best nonfiction books of 2004 and received the 2005 Christian Gauss Award from the Phi Beta Kappa Society.
Praise for Marjorie Garber
Shakespeare After All
“The indispensable introduction to the indispensable writer . . . Garber’s is the most exhilarating seminar room you’ll ever enter.”
“A return to the times when the critic’s primary function was as an enthusiast, to open up the glories of the written word for the reader.”
—The New York Times
“Garber’s introduction is an exemplary account of what is known about Shakespeare and how his work has been read and regarded through the centuries, while the individual essays display scrupulous and subtle close reading.”
—The New Yorker
“A lifetime of learning has gone into the production of this massive volume . . . Garber is sensitive to significant details in the language . . . and she gives cogent accounts of historical contexts.”
—The Boston Globe
Shakespeare and Modern Culture
“Garber’s reading is wonderful in its depth of insight . . . A fierce devotion to Shakespeare shines forth from every page.”
—The New York Times Book Review
“Sharply incisive . . . Garber merrily illustrates how modern culture can miss Shakespeare’s original points . . . Her book credibly demonstrates that the ever-changing timeliness of Shakespeare’s thoughts is what makes them timeless.”
—The New York Times
“Garber’s approach is eclectic . . . She is an inspiring reader.”
—The New Yorker
“[Garber is a] scholar and critic from whom we expect nothing but candor, insight, erudition, and even surprise. A brilliant, revelatory book.”
—The Buffalo News