Marc Shell

Marc Shell
Photograph by Stu Rosner

Marc Shell is Babbitt professor of comparative literature, a professor of English, a MacArthur Prize Fellow, and these days, as he puts it, “a more or less inaudible stutterer, or stammerer.” That he was “slow of speech” was conspicuous in his youth, when he failed the fourth grade in his hometown of Montreal. His school principal explained to him that stuttering was a “sure sign” of being mentally deficient. He had also had polio, which some local doctors thought lowered the IQ. Today, when he lectures to an anglophone audience in Montreal and finds himself about to stumble over an English word—“money,” say—he substitutes argent, perfectly legal in that bilingual place and a stutterer’s coping device called interlinguistic synonymy. He’s learned other such tactics and tells of them and of much else about this enigmatic disorder in his fascinating new book, Stutter (Harvard University Press). Shell works in several general areas. One is aesthetics and economics, where he has done a two-part study of “the internalization of monetary form in literature and philosophy,” starting with Heraclitus. Another is Renaissance studies, where he has written of sixteenth-century European politics and the works of Elizabeth I. A third is language and nationhood. His Harvard website notes, “Professor Shell says that these three areas are closely interrelated.” Shell is also co-director of the Longfellow Institute for the comparative study of the non-English languages and literatures of what is now the United States. He is married, with two grown children. These days his son, reports Shell, “is the only person I know who counts himself free to tease me about my speech.”

You might also like

Steven Pinker on Apple’s Vision Pro

Professor of psychology on the science and history behind the Vision Pro.

The State of Black America

Harvard African American scholars take stock of a difficult moment. 

Threats Foreign and Domestic

Joseph Nye discusses geopolitics and Harvard’s challenges.

Most popular

Harvard Portrait: Judith Grant Long

The associate professor of urban planning studies sports facilities and their impact.

The Way of The Blockbuster

In entertainment, big bets on likely winners rule.

Picture-book Publisher

Claudia Bedrick ’85 of Enchanted Lion Books offers an international array of stories to young children.

More to explore

Photograph of Winthrop Bell 1910

Winthrop Bell

Brief life of a philosopher and spy: 1884-1965

Illustration of people talking to each other with colorful thought bubbles above their heads

Talking about Talking

Fostering healthy disagreement

Vacationing with a Purpose

New England “summer camps” for adults