If there is a thesis that unites the essays in “Professing Criticism,” it is that professional formation entails a corresponding “déformation professionnelle.” Any kind of occupational training imparts to its recipients both a sense of mastery and a certain obliviousness to what this mastery costs—namely, the loss of other ways of perceiving the world. Related terms are “occupational psychosis” (John Dewey), “trained incapacity” (Thorstein Veblen), and, most recently, “nerdview” (Geoffrey K. Pullum), all more openly pejorative than “deformation.” Yet they get at the anxious and somewhat pitiable aspects of professional scholars (especially when one encounters them in herds) that Guillory, a model of courtesy and tact, sidesteps. A professional is not unlike a racehorse that has worn blinders long enough to have grown numb to the feel of them.
Has Academia Ruined Literary Criticism?
Literature departments seem to provide a haven for studying books, but they may have painted themselves into a corner.
By Merve Emre