Academic Lives
Memoir, Cultural Theory, and the University Today

Cynthia G. Franklin

What academic memoirs say about the current state of the humanities and the institution of the university

Reviews

"In Academic Lives, Cynthia Franklin mounts a bold and passionate argument about the cultural politics of the contemporary turn to memoir by faculty in the humanities. Academic Lives is at once a nuanced exploration of the heterogeneous genres of the autobiographical and their capacities to attach or unhinge the personal and individualizing to the structural and political; a sustained engagement with everyday struggles over identities, politics, and knowledges on campuses across the United States; and a meditation on the stakes of contemporary moves to 're-humanize' the academic humanities after decades of theoretical critique. Brilliantly mobilizing close readings of memoirs and of campus events, Franklin parses the intersecting domains of the theoretical, experiential, ethical, and activist in the university today."
—Sidonie Smith, coauthor of Reading Autobiography: A Guide for Interpreting Life Narratives

"Tracing the rise of academic memoir to anxieties about the status of cultural theory, Academic Lives gives the genre the critical recognition and comprehensive survey it deserves. Cynthia Franklin is unsparing in her critique of the academic memoir’s tendency to substitute individual feeling for institutional analysis, but her ultimate goal is to show the genre’s potential for reshaping the humanities and public intellectual discourse. Academic Lives is indispensable reading not only for those interested in memoir but for those interested in the future of the university."
—Ann Cvetkovich, author of An Archive of Feelings: Trauma, Sexuality, and Lesbian Public Cultures


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Description

Since the early 1990s, there has been a proliferation of memoirs by tenured humanities professors. Although the memoir form has been discussed within the flourishing field of life writing, academic memoirs have received little critical scrutiny. Based on close readings of memoirs by such academics as Michael Bérubé, Cathy N. Davidson, Jane Gallop, bell hooks, Edward Said, Eve Sedgwick, Jane Tompkins, and Marianna Torgovnick, Academic Lives considers why so many professors write memoirs and what cultural capital they carry. Cynthia G. Franklin finds that academic memoirs provide unparalleled ways to unmask the workings of the academy at a time when it is dealing with a range of crises, including attacks on intellectual freedom, discontentment with the academic star system, and budget cuts.

Franklin considers how academic memoirs have engaged with a core of defining concerns in the humanities: identity politics and the development of whiteness studies in the 1990s; the impact of postcolonial studies; feminism and concurrent anxieties about pedagogy; and disability studies and the struggle to bring together discourses on the humanities and human rights. The turn back toward humanism that Franklin finds in some academic memoirs is surreptitious or frankly nostalgic; others, however, posit a wide-ranging humanism that seeks to create space for advocacy in the academic and other institutions in which we are all unequally located. These memoirs are harbingers for the critical turn to explore interrelations among humanism, the humanities, and human rights struggles.

Page count: 368 pp.
Trim size: 6 x 9

 



Hardcover
List price: $76.95
978-0-8203-3342-7
07/01/2009

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Paper
List price: $30.95
978-0-8203-3343-4
07/01/2009

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Ebook
List price: $24.95
978-0-8203-3587-2
1/25/2010
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Cynthia G. Franklin is a professor of English at the University of Hawai'i, Manoa, and coeditor of the journal Biography: An Interdisciplinary Quarterly. Her publications include Writing Women's Communities: The Politics and Poetics of Contemporary Multi-Genre Anthologies and Personal Effects: The Testimonial Uses of Life Writing, a special issue of Biography that she coedited with Laura E. Lyons.