Marjorie Garber

Marjorie Garber teaches English at Harvard. Quotation Marks and, with Nancy Vickers, The Medusa Reader are both due from Routledge.

Heart and Hoof: Seabiscuit

Marjorie Garber, 4 October 2001

‘Let us consider the names given to horses – not ordinary horses . . . but racehorses,’ writes Claude Lévi-Strauss, opening an excursus on equine onomastics in The Savage Mind. The names of thoroughbreds are ‘rigorously individualised’ and ‘rarely, if ever, describe them’. What counts is the way they can be seen to derive from the...

Spitting, Sneezing, Smearing: Messy Business

Marjorie Garber, 10 August 2000

Once, recycling was a way of life, conducted without civic ordinances, highway beautification statutes, adopt-a-motorway programmes or special bins for paper, glass and metal. Until the mid-19th century, rag-pickers plied their trade in European and American cities. Quilts were made from clothing scraps; rugs (now, like the quilts, collectors’ items) were made from rags; soap was made at home from wood ashes and grease, tallow candles from animal fat, buttons (as well as dice and dominoes) from bones. The 20th century’s disposable cups, plates and packaging, suggests Susan Strasser, in Waste and Want: A Social History of Trash (1999), are signs of wealth and leisure, as well as of hygiene. Both cultural and institutional change played a part – the invention, for example, of the ‘waste trade’ and of city trash collection, replacing the free-ranging scavenger pigs in the streets. ‘Trash,’ Strasser writes, ‘is created by sorting.’ Inside or outside the house; keep it or toss it. Marginal items occupy a marginal category and get stored in marginal spaces, like attics, basements and sheds. ‘Dirt is matter out of place’ is the celebrated dictum of Mary Douglas. A teenager’s clothing scattered about the room; a pair of shoes on the dining-room table. And what we regard as dirt someone else may prize; dirt is not natural but cultural.’‘

Fine Art for 39 Cents: Tupperising America

Marjorie Garber, 13 April 2000

‘Plastic! Plastic! The plastic – that frightful word gives me gooseflesh.’ This is Baudelaire, wickedly ventriloquising the neoclassical obsession with ‘the immoderate love of form’ in an essay called ‘The Pagan School’, published in 1852. ‘Plastic’ in this sense was a key criterion of formalist art: ‘plastic art’, ‘plastic merit’ and ‘plastic beauty’ were high compliments. Henry James, describing an aesthete, notes that ‘his appreciation … was based partly on his fine sense of the plastic.’ Yet a hundred years after Baudelaire the figurative meaning of ‘plastic’ had fallen; it was now nearly synonymous with words like ‘artificial’, ‘superficial’ and ‘insincere’. ‘Now that so many of the young seem to wear their hearts on their sleeves,’ ran an article in Harper’s in 1967, ‘it is hard to tell which ones are real and which ones are plastic.’ Plastic, a chemically produced material based on polymers, had by this time become a lucrative business as well as a cultural sign.’‘

I’ll be back: Sequels

Marjorie Garber, 19 August 1999

‘She would, if asked, tell us many little particulars about the subsequent career of her people,’ Jane Austen’s nephew wrote in his Memoir of his aunt.‘

What are academic instincts, and are they about more than survival? For Frederick Crews, emeritus professor of English at Berkeley, literary study in the university is a Darwinian battle for...

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Four in a Bed

Wendy Doniger, 8 February 1996

Bisexuality​ frequently falls between two beds, not (as one might expect) male and female but hetero and homo: the concept is rejected both by heterosexuals (unwilling to accept the possibility...

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Having it both Ways

Adam Phillips, 5 November 1992

Describing the two sexes as opposite or complementary, rather than useful to each other for certain things but not for others, promotes the misleading idea that we are all in search of...

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