Marjorie Garber
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.