Monday, February 1, 2010

Day 6: What can you do with a B.A. in English?

Please note: This is a rant. Vehemence is about to ensue.


I have been a declared English/theatre major since January 2009, when my academic advisor told me it would be a good idea to cover as many of my interests as possible with one degree. Having heard about this particular educational move from two of my very close friends, I figured such an academic move couldn't hurt.

My first class in the McDonald building was English 2010, and it began the very day I'd changed my major. Despite the fact that this particular course did not involve literature and/or poetry, I had a very positive experience with my professor. He was energetic, and explained the subject matter with an inspirational passion. I remember feeling incredibly lucky to have the chance at belonging in two departments, rather than burrowing into the depths of one.

This gratitude carried on throughout the summer, when I took another class from my 2010 professor. However, it was not to last much longer. Fall 2009, with new instructors and new (English-majors only) classmates, I felt out of sorts. The lifeless approach we took to the material felt overwhelming, and I soon found myself drowning in the dustiness of apathy. My excitement was long gone.

So far, Spring 2010 has been more of the same.

There are many complaints I could lodge against Dixie's English department. Closed-mindedness, absolutism, favoritism... A list of behaviors -- practiced by students and faculty alike -- which seem designed to alienate the unworthy and quash the curious. However, there are two anomalous patterns that I find to be especially jarring:

Formalism
I have always operated under the assumption that English was more an art than a science, and that the majority of an analysis was the interpretation of a work's many poetic or literary elements -- including subtext. Maybe this is just a carry-over from my theatrical study, where I am used to examining both what is written and what is not. Apparently, this is not a common way to look at literature or poetry. My professors and classmates seem to work off of the idea that a work can only have one meaning. A novel is the same thing as a mathematical equation -- a character study of Jane Eyre should always result in the same information, just as 2 + 2 should always equal four. (If it doesn't, you're an idiot.)

Not only do I find this immensely frustrating, but I feel as though people think me incapable of intellectual activity. Almost as if they're trying to communicate that I am not qualified to make any decisions about a work's theme or significance.

Dispassion
Objectivity becomes a problem when it results in (a) emotional disconnect and (b) disdain for passion.

Nobody gets excited about anything. They can all talk through the classics with keen, critical vocabulary, but there is no attachment -- there is no love. I'm not sure if English is a default major for people who feel obligated towards college, but the majority of students I've interacted with have had that pseudo-French, "screw-all" attitude that makes it impossible to feel even the lightest touch of happiness.

This is a serious issue for me, especially when I go from a theatre class right into an English class. Michael dances about restoration comedy! Dad leaps from his chair when he watches an excellent scene. They could both discuss many aspects of theatre for hours -- happily, animatedly -- and isn't that how things should be, if you're truly in love with what you're doing? Shouldn't my English professors enjoy lecturing on postmodernism? Shouldn't my peers appreciate the clever use of adjectives, alliteration, anaphora?

Walt Whitman wrote, "I exist as I am, that is enough." I've always tried to live up to that simple statement, to understand and accept my individuality -- and I feel as though I've done a pretty decent job, for the most part. But, while a part of my individual character is that love of literature, that predilection for poetry, I'm not about to subvert my passions or opinions.

Damn it.