|The Future of Literary Studies|
My psychology class calls me “that English major girl.”
It’s not like there aren’t other people in the seminar who aren’t psyc majors. We’ve got an art history major, a biologist, and even someone in the commerce school. I’m just the only one who persists in diagnosing the personality disorders of most of Shakespeare’s major characters. I mean, come on. Iago is so Narcissistic-Paranoid-Antisocial.
Like many of us, I came to this university determined to be anything but an English major. No, not me. I was going to be practical. I was going to go into something that had applications. I spent a full month claiming to be a physics major. This ended when I realized that physics professors probably weren’t actually going to let me do things like projects that suggested that Einstein revised Newton’s theory of gravitation because Romanticism happened in between them. Drama, then. That was it. If I were as good at acting the plays as I was at reading them, maybe. Then there was psychology. Fascinating! I could read these different temperaments just like characters in a novel! Reinterpret Robert Zimbardo’s infamous “prison experiment” as a modern tragedy. Oh, wait.
Eventually, of course, I connected the dots and ended up where I should be, as an English major. And am I one. I’m the star trek geek of English majors. I’m the annoying friend who, every time someone says something, responds with “Oh yeah! That’s just like that one episode where Jean-Luc and the aliens and then they said” — only with me it’s more likely to be “Oh yeah! That’s just like that one episode where John Milton and the puritans and then they were like. . .” I mean, you know you’re an English major when what you’re doing in the middle of Bourbon Street in New Orleans at 2 a.m. on your spring break is getting into a heated discussion about the relative merits of Shakespeare’s and Spenser’s sonnet sequences. As inflected by twentieth-century views of the Romantic poets.
The truth is, though, that being an English major does connect with everything else in my life. English, for me, is like connecting the dots. Only, in this case, what you get when you connect them all, I’ll never know, because I just keep finding more and more dots. My English classes connect to each other. I read Chaucer while remembering what I read about Virgil, Shakespeare with an eye to Jane Austen, Dickens and Whitman and Salman Rushdie all in the same breath. They speak to each other. They reinflect one another. They connect. And they connect, too, with everything else. When I am studying psychology, I am also studying humanity—and I remember what some of the best studiers of humanity have said about it in their plays, their essays, their poems, and their novels. When I read a book about entropy and the disintegration of systems, I remember King Lear. When I talk with a friend about matrices and their use in structuring his astronomy problems, I compare poetic structure and its use in studying other heavenly concerns. Whether I am grieving, celebrating, thinking, playing, or learning, I can do it through English.
It took me a little while to realize it, but being an English major is the most applicable thing I could possibly have done. What is more practical, what is more globally useful than a discipline that studies the way people respond to the most important things in their lives, decade after decade, movement after movement, word after word after word?
Go ahead, call me “that English major girl.”
Or call me Ishmael, as the case may be. I’m about to head out for parts unknown, like Melville’s whaler, with “little or no money in my purse.” And as I go, what I’ll take with me most of all is the ability being a major in English has given me to connect things. Whether I’m in the “watery part of the world” or somewhere else, I’ll always be able to say “Yeah! That’s just like that one, where Hamlet’s dad was like ‘Claudius killed me’ and Hamlet was all like ‘No way!’” Yeah. That one was cool.
|TEI markup by John Unsworth|