William R. Kenan, Jr., Professor of English and of Visual and Environmental Studies Harvard University
Symptoms of Culture
Culture makes us nervous. In fact, “culture” is a very anxious space, where we worry about what we may or may not be, and what we may or may not have. Marjorie Garber, cultural critic and Shakespearean, authority on cross-dressing, bisexuality, and canine amours, is our diagnostician of anxiety. With style, learning, and wit, she teases out the symptoms of our cultural discomfort the troubles lurking in our pleasures, and even the pleasure we take in what makes us itch.
The symptoms of culture are the anxieties that underlie modern life: the instability of gender roles, the mysteries of female sexuality, the enigma of authority, the desire for greatness in ourselves and our heroes. From concerns over fake orgasms to our worries about Great Books reading lists, from wanting God on our side at sports contests to wanting Shakespeare on our side whenever we want to sound important, we are a walking case of symptoms. Whatever the modern illness may be, the doctor locates the symptoms in a box of Jell-O or in Charlotte’s marvelous web, on the football field in the bedroom, in anti-Semitism, in our great Mr. Shakespeare, in our classroom or the courtroom, or in a sneeze.
Assessing with wry detachment our tics and obsessions, Symptoms of Culture unpacks the questions that lie beneath our everyday uncertainties.
Symptoms of Culture
“Having suffered for some time from Marge Garber Syndrome – i.e., I can’t stop myself from reading everything she writes – I approached her new collection of essays, Symptoms of Culture, which with the anticipatory gleam of the addict. Nor was I disappointed: these vastly enjoyable and instructive essays – on everything from Shakespeare to Jell-O, Jack Benny to twin beds, sneezing to the Promise Keepers – confirm her reputation as one of the wittiest and most trenchant of our contemporary cultural commentators.”
– Terry Castle, author of The Apparitional Lesbian: Female Homosexuality and Modern Culture
“Eloquent ... a fine group of eclectic essays ... her gift for analytical gab has few rivals ... [a]lucid synthesis of detail, documents, and historical fact.”
– The New York Times Book Review
“Marjorie Garber is the liveliest, wittiest, and most scintillating of the writers about culture. This brilliant woman can range from Shakespeare to football, Roman numerals to Jell-O. In this book is much instruction and sheer delight.”
– Catherine R. Stimpson, Dean, Graduate School of Arts and Science and University Professor, New York University
“Eclectic in the best sense, Marjorie Garber focuses her laser beam on the Freudian slips of culture. Breathtaking and frequently hilarious.”
– Wendy Doniger, author of Women, Androgynes, and Other Mythical Beasts
“No cultural event or object is too elevanted or too lowbrow to be spared Marjorie Garber's delicious, democratic vision ... Symptoms of Culture is a brilliant book because it teaches how to survive creatively.”
– Homi K. Bhabha
“With the scholarship, wit, wisdom, and affection of a great cultural critic, Marjorie Garber’s reading of culture revolutionizes humanities. Whether her subject is Laurence Oliver’s sexual ambiguity or female orgasm (real or faked), Garber shows us the strange fictions that pass as normality, and illustrates how modern culture is unavoidably crazy – and never more so than when lived most earnestly.”
– Jonathon Dollimore, author of Sexual Dissidence: Augustine to Wilde, Freud to Foucault