A Manifesto For The English Major

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The disdain for literary disquisition, for the study of literary discourse, otherwise termed as ‘useless’ knowledge, prevails upon modern society.

The society of Perry and Wall Street, of apathetic unabombers that respond to the call of, Letterman and Leno
who in turn idolize Carson and Allen,
who in turn revere acts of self-deprecation and unrelenting mockery. (They do boost ratings, after all.)

The English Major is grounded on the works of others (much like late night television), though it has been said its foundation is less than formidable, its irrelevance unmistakable and its study of fiction ineffectual and unavailing. It is the revision of lives not yet lived, of lives that most likely never will be lived, a lazy acquiescence to our fate and our lack of ambition in a world driven by purpose and determination. Fiction is not factual or truly applicable to the frictions of daily life.

Facing the futility of spending on an English degree, students gravitate towards financial realities and away from meaningful philosophies and an aptitude in self-expression. The flaccid faith in the English department extends to its inability to rake in the dough—to gather grants, sponsored research or federal funds- achievements more easily made by business and science departments.

Prospective scholars need more out of the English program than it is currently willing to offer. It needs coherent operating principles on which the department will function, with the study of composition, criticism and rhetoric at its center.

Composition has always been a characteristic feature of higher education but is not seen as a prosperous, dignified field in itself. English students well versed in these arenas will leave college with a lawyer’s persuasiveness, a scientist’s intellectual precision and a businessman’s tactful, faultless elocution—faculties that other college students will lack.

Incorporate a final evaluation for courses in composition and rhetoric where students have guaranteed proof of their competence through tested proficiency in prose expression.

The study of English and American literature has begun to look more and more
M
A
R
G
I
N
A
L
I
Z
E
D

Instead of invoking ideas that are emblematic of the world,
it draws on concepts representative of national interest.
Everything becomes subject to reductive analysis (sexual
mores, racial functions). The real historical roles of
literary masterpieces are not fully grasped, and too quickly
compartmentalized.

The only way to fully understand historical context is to specialize within the discipline (or add a few more years to the program).

Coherence, specialized mediums, a strong, structured center—it’s time to end the silence within the ranks and make fundamental changes that have students mastering a discipline instead of being a jack of all trades.

We’ve been applying 21st century critical thinking to works done centuries before us without fully comprehending its historical context.

Increase the relevancy of the English medium in our modern world by enhancing the study of recent works. Why not have current interests tied into the curriculum? Why not revise the syllabus every few years so students are able to exercise their analytical abilities in a more contemporary context? The expansion of critical thinking in modern fields encourages the growth of genuinely new frontiers of knowledge.

There is a reciprocal influence between thought and language. Our words are shaped by our thoughts, our thoughts expressed through words. The study of ideas is the study of English.

And so the English major takes the form of an endless circle, moving
backwards and forwards.
We find ourselves looking down into a pool of memories,
constantly shifting, rippling, OVERflowing.

Until something resurfaces, and we realize that is OUR lives that
have been written, OUR experiences dripping from the edge of Dicken’s fountain pen, immortalizing our thoughts, staining the clear, pristine waters of our mind.

As our feelings are echoed with exuberant mirth,
with fascinating illusiveness,
with cynical disregard,
we decide to forgo our usual recordings of I Love Lucy,
to relinquish our attachments to Jerry Lewis and Jay-Z,
and instead immerse ourselves in the story of a life never lived.

More often than not we find clarity of thought through the remarkable medium of the written language. Whether we peruse pages pervaded by figurative eloquence and flowery circumlocutions, or come across more plain speaking narratives closer to ordinary self-expression, words represent the art of thought, of contemplation and reflection.

What lies in books isn’t just the representation of thought but what that thought suggests; so long after we’ve closed the final chapter the fleeting intimations begin to take root. These impressions stimulate an unparalleled growth of a character within us.

We are all thriving and bemused protagonists. We are all guilty and insidious antagonists.

But the English Major should not only teach its students how to be receptive to literature, but productive in their own criticisms.

The LUXURY of expression pays off in a world that advertises attitudes we readily cling to. Instead of meagerly reciting information handed to them, students should cultivate a sense of assessment that has practical use in a developing world.

We should be able to fully understand works in their relative contexts as well as ours.

Structural criticisms aside, if you decide to embark on the gratifying path of studying something you are passionate about, be prepared for the host of interminable questions that you could be bombarded with.

“Are you aware that a degree in English is useless?”
“Do you enjoy being poor?”
“How about getting a real job?”

To everyone who thinks that an English major is most likely lazy, unambitious and indolent, consider the fact that people who go on to do master’s degrees teach at the high schools and colleges your children attend. Children who are taught English, not english. While most of us are aware that the coveted six-figure salary might be out of our grasp, we would rather not write something off as unimportant merely because it is not profitable.

English as a field of study will probably not be the most lucrative career path, but its importance lies in the growth of new philosophies, the guidance of societies through literary tradition, and the ability to find the truth in fiction. Thought Catalog Logo Mark

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