Surviving Chapter One

When it took me almost three hours to read through the Introduction (sixteen pages) of Joe Moran’s Interdisciplinarity, I chose to believe that it was an isolated incident. A dry, factual beginning. Many works of fiction and nonfiction alike begin slowly, if a little faster than Moran’s creeping exposition. I told myself, going into “Interdisciplinary English” to put what I had read behind me and give the rest of the book a chance. But, after wading through the entire first chapter I have to wonder if even Moran himself knows at any given time where he’s going. Through vague headings such as, “The Cultural Project of English” or “Literature, Life and Thought” and through his refusal to give the reader any idea what he might be discussing before he discusses it, Moran has crafted a narrative that reads like the lecture of a sleepwalking humanities professor. (Moran 32, 23)

He has also thus far failed to answer what are considered two of the principle questions of academic writing: “Who cares?” And, “So What”? (Graff and Birkenstein, 92-101) That, I believe, is the true reason why this book reads like a legal document. In almost fifty pages, Moran has yet to give any inkling as to how the dilemma of ‘interdisciplinarity’ is relevant to… anyone. Or anything. He has barely brushed by the subject of why it matters. Even throughout the Introduction (while he’s setting up the premise for the rest of the book) in between a whole Academy’s worth of philosophical name dropping, the closest Moran gets to telling us why this all matters in the first place is by relying on the negative connotations of words like “narrow” or “specialize”, or by referencing what other people have to say on the subject, as he did in the case of Jose Ortega y Gasset and his “learned ignoramus”. (Moran 5, 11) And until he does, this book will continue to take me hours upon hours to read through.

As far as the actual content of the book is concerned, I’ve yet to decide how I feel. It has, in spite of its lack of life, forced me to challenge the system of education that public and private colleges across the country have been using for the length of my life dozens of times over. It is a thought that has never once occurred to me, but as I think it through now I can see that there are clear merits to Moran’s argument. Nearly everyone believes in a well-rounded education spanning multiple disciplines, to some extent. That’s why there are educational requirements in every state – and now even some that exist on a national level. These requisites alone aren’t definitive proof that interdisciplinarity is widely encouraged, but they are proof that the majority of the country is in favor of a well-rounded education up through grade twelve, and they do end up facilitating interdisciplinarity by encouraging that classes be created which span several disciplines in order to – if nothing else – allow students to fulfill more requisites in less time. Plus, I’m really, really, really bad at science. And English is easily my favorite subject. But at the same time, I’m also an economics major and I understand that specialization is good for an economy and its people. And the system that Moran describes, one where English or any other subject is an academic focal point, has yet to make any progress despite Moran’s lengthy and detailed accounts of it. He has yet to prove to me that his idea of interdisciplinarity even exists, and it is not because I’m just a harsh and cynical skeptic. He seems to be so caught up in his idea and in the account of his novel that he has forgotten that his readers are not figments of his imagination and that we do not immediately understand each graceful leap of intellect that he takes across the pages of his book as he does.

I can only hope that at some point over the course of us reading this book, we do.

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