Marjorie Garber

William R. Kenan, Jr., Professor of English and of Visual and Environmental Studies
Harvard University

Quotation Marks

Quotation Marks
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Once upon a time, the well-chosen quotation was a gentleman’s calling card, a sign of membership in an elite club; as Dr. Johnson expressed it, “Classical quotation is the parole of literary men all over the world.” Quotations were passwords, but they were also wisdom, of a sort. Because someone else had said them, they gathered a certain kind of authority.

For Winston Churchill, musing on his own indifferent prowess as a young scholar, Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations was an invaluable tool, an “admirable work” which he claims to have studied intently. The quotations, he felt, “give you good thoughts” and make you “anxious to read the authors and look for more.” Thus was a politician born.

In this collection of witty and trenchant essays Marjorie Garber explores the function of quotation marks, visible and invisible, in framing, conveying, resisting, or querying what we have come to think of as wisdom. The title essay discusses the odd circumstance of speaking in quotation marks, from the double-finger-squeeze gesture on the podium to the unexpected voices of Keats’ oracular urn and Poe’s uncannily iterative raven. Garber ponders the odd careers of words that seem to carry their own invisible quotation marks, from “fashionable,” a word it has become fashionable to employ as a standard dismissal of critics deemed too clever for their own good, to the title “Ms.,” which, while it was coined as a way of eliding certain categorical divisions among women, in fact wound up by creating more, and different, categories for women to choose among. Other essays engage words that seem to require a set of qualifying quotation marks, as with the ubiquitous “compassion” or the problematic “human nature,” which is now a term more comfortably employed by scientists than by humanists. From famous authors like Jane Austen and Shakespeare to sequels, puns and citations, Quotation Marks offers a fascinating (and often unexpected and hilarious) account of the role of quotation, misquotation, and example in literature and culture today.

Praise for

Quotation Marks

Witty, wide-ranging, vigilant and fresh, Marjorie Garber pleasures the reading intellect on every page. The essays in Quotation Marks give a good weight, clarifying our late modern moment even as they beguile us.

– Sven Birkets, author of The Gutenberg Elegies: The Fate of Reading in an Electronic Age

Consistently our shrewdest and most entertaining cultural critic, Marjorie Garber manages to bridge the gap between high culture and low, the academic and the popular, by masterfully fusing the best and most amusing of each.

– Jonathon Culler, author of Literary Theory: A Very Short Introduction

Marjorie Garber displays all the best traits and resources of humanistic inquiry: wit, wisdom, erudition, an eye for the telling detail, and a willingness to take on questions of broad importance. Quotation Marks ends on a rousing call for the value of the academic humanities in the world today, and in fact the book as a whole constitutes the most convincing argument for that value.

– Jane Gallop, author of Anecdotal Theory