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
One thing we could do right away was to disencumber the office of a number of pointless routines that had proliferated through the years. For every new book signed on, for instance, Blanche and Alfred had each demanded a long, insanely detailed form to be filled out and filed – the green form, the pink form. Blanche’s forms were still being churned out two years after her death: No one had said to stop. Alfred’s were hardly more to the point. A good deal of unnecessary make-work was being ground out daily. We had an “office manageress” who walked around the office hectoring the secretaries: “Type faster, girls. Type faster.” There was a weekly meeting at which the elders discussed reprints of the backlist: The cost of manufacturing, say, 750 copies of an academic book on American history from 1938 was announced, the book in question was handed around, the discussion went on until a consensus was achieved. It had to be a consensus because no one was in charge, and since time immemorial, one of the chief activities of the browbeaten Knopfies had been to dodge direct responsibility lest the wrath of the gods descend.