One of the fascinating dichotomies in academia is that its denizens, who more often than any other group, profess themselves obsessed with society, are more likely to show themselves absorbed with self.
“The egological turn may be a reaction to the overtheorization of humanistic studies that dominated the late 20th century,” Theodore Ziolkowski, a professor emeritus at Princeton, writes in The Chronicle Review. “But it could easily have a similar negative effect if it simply replaces theory with the preening self of the author.”
In the March 21, 2014 issue of The Chronicle Review, Ziolkowski surveys some of this literature. Some of the more recent examples are striking for giving us more information on the scholars who wrote academic treatises than we ever wanted to know:
- “In the Spring 2013 issue of Daedalus (devoted to ‘American Democracy & The Common Good’), the linguist Deborah Tannen dwells on her own work,” Ziolkowski points out. “When I was writing my book The Argument Culture in the late 1990s, I felt a sense of urgency because I believed that thie moment for its message—that our public discourse had become destructively adversarial—might have peaked,” Tannen wrote, working the personal pronoun into one sentence an impressive four times.
- “Nor is the self-absent from The UberReader (2008), a collection of writings by Avital Ronell, who falls into the realm of cultural studies somewhere between literary criticism and philosophy,” Ziolkowski observes. “Anyone who opens the book expecting to come to grimps with the superreader’s ideas must first wade through many pages of photographs showing her in various costumes and in ‘selfies’ ante datum with such figures as Jacques Derrida, Philippe Lacoue-Labarthe, Jean-Luc Nancy, and Judith Butler.”
- “John Eliot Gardiner’s book on Bach: Music in the Castle of Heaven (2013) begins with an autobiographical chapter, and from time to time Gardiner intercedes in the first person, as in the description of their reception as ‘honored guests’ when Gardiner and his choir arrived at the Georgenkirche of Eisenbach to lead the singing on Easter Sunday.”
Ziolkowski’s research seems to lend credence to a theory of ours, namely that the average professor Googles himself at least once a minute. At least, that’s how often the Google searches seem to be whenever we post articles about them.