Theory as a means of ultimate worth

As an English double major, the most common question I am asked at family gatherings, advisor meetings with my Business Administration advisor, or even nosy friends of my parents is “What are you going to do with that?” The uncomfortable part about it, I never really know what my answer is. 

“Within academia, disciplines are a form of common sense, allowing us to keep doing what we do without continually speculating about its purpose, limits, and ultimate worth” (Moran 75). I feel that this quote from Moran’s Interdisciplinarity sums up this internal conflict that forever plagues me well. Because I am an English major, I read all the plays, novels and haikus I can stuff into my brain without really speculating about its purpose or ultimate worth. A professor tells me to write a lyric essay? Sure. Read this play? No problem. I accept all of my assignments blindly, and enjoy the reading and writing that I do, but I never stop and question why I am doing this. I take my major for granted.

Moran speaks of theory in a unique way in chapter 3 of his book. He references that some people have argued that theory has no place in literary study. We are not scientists; we’re not speculating on the formation of the universe or the make up of an atom, therefore we do not have to rely on theories. We have the literature in front of us, we have concrete proof. However, Moran discusses theory as being concerned with the big questions of reality. He states that theorizing “offers a framework within which students and scholars can debate about these broad-ranging issues without getting too extensively mired with detailed arguments within disciplines” (75). For literary study, this definition is a key component.

Theorizing in literature allows for the questioning of big things outside of what is printed in black and white. We can analyze the historical context, the geographical impact, the state of mind of the characters, without running the risk of crossing over into other disciplines. This further  analysis of literature IS that purpose and ultimate worth. Theorizing about the literature allows for further understanding and appreciation of the work. This appreciate is the ultimate worth that is the reason we endure all of the stigmas of being an English major for, the reason why I will stand to answer another “What in the world are you going to do with that?”


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