Why College? Why English?

So what exactly is the real purpose of college? Why are we all here, at Suny Geneseo, studying our hearts away, in order to become… what? Do… what? Is it really in order to find a (hopefully) financially stable career? Is it for our own personal growth and development? Is it to further our knowledge of the world, and hopefully ourselves? Or maybe to have a good time? As a new transfer student this semester, these questions have been circling throughout my head as I begin to identify myself as a Geneseo student. What am I really doing here, and why?

Well, English studies has helped me to begin to identify some of these answers for myself as I am confronted with these questions constantly during the semester by others and mostly myself. My frustrations from the challenging psychological work that is involved in English studies had pushed me to my boundary to pause a moment, and ask myself what it really is that I want to do, to choose to spend thousands of dollars on to pursue, in hopes of some success?

Joe Moran, in the conclusion chapter of Interdisciplinarity, a text on the interconnectedness of the disciplines, states “It could be argued that, because they are relatively new and exploratory, interdisciplinary ways of thinking have a tendency to be more disorganized and fragmentary than established forms of knowledge. But if a certain messiness goes with the territory of interdisciplinarity, this is also what makes that territory worth occupying” (180). In other words, figuring out the meaning behind our intentions, though a messy and unsure process, is more valuable than sticking to one idea, or discipline, alone. English and literary studies allows for this examination and exploration between the disciplines, which I believe to be why English really draws me in, and makes me feel more than I normally would. The process of writing and thinking abstractly is not neat, clean or organized, at least in my own experience. It’s all-over-the-place and fragmented, more typical of our actual thought processes, and even living processes; but the process of writing and thinking abstractly always reels my interest back in, when finally the pieces begin to explain themselves as thoughts are shown out on the page, making their own connections. All I have to do is be present, be there with those thoughts, and they conduct an argument on their own. My work is to present them in a coherent, organized manner on the page.

It’s not necessarily that I respect English more than other disciplines, because there is a strict need and value in each of them respectively, but the fact that English allows one to go beyond the ideas of one discipline, by researching interdisciplinary studies and literature in order to put together something potentially more grand, is a process I am very interested in pursuing further. Beyond that, English studies pushes the individual to be introspective about external situations, which in turn allows the individual to use those same skills in their daily lives, enriching the depth of one’s experience. This is particularly key in a society that is rushing forward into the world of technology, the internet and social media. With so much buzzing around in our heads, and the never-ending feed of information available to us, it can be extremely difficult for an individual to be able to separate themselves from what is going on externally. It is so important for students to be able to decipher their own feelings on a subject versus the collective energy and opinions constantly bombarding us. The process of uncovering our own truths about oneself, and our opinions on external subjects is a valuable resource that English studies helps to develop in each individual, regardless of discipline. In this way, the tools I have learned in English classes have helped me to become more of who I am, and who I want to be, as well as help to expand my mind on subjects outside of my own interest, and natural understanding. So for me, college is an opportunity to expand my mind, develop myself, as an individual and professional, and be able to express myself in a clear manner, so that my voice can be heard too.

One Reply to “Why College? Why English?”

  1. Hey Christie, I feel as though a good deal of your points here resonate with me and connect well with the second chapter of Interdisciplinarity: “Culture into Literature.” To start, Moran references Richard Hoggart, one of the first proponent of cultural studies who points out the importance of English as an academic discipline by saying, “Literature is uniquely concerned with the total human response” (56). This, I believe, reflects your personal incentive for declaring English as a major—most particularly in your belief that the discipline aids in the “process of uncovering our own truths…and our opinions on external subjects.” This hints at the “human response” that Hoggart is talking about, just on an individualistic level instead. Further, if we combine the personal and collective here—both as resulting perspectives of an education in English—a dual understanding of culture emerges: that is, the discipline helps us consolidate our society’s larger whole, and it aids in our self-perception as autonomous beings as well as extended pieces of that larger cultural whole.

    Hoggart describes his idea of contemporary cultural studies in three parts—historical-philosophical, sociological, and literary-critical—declaring the third as most important. The former two are fundamentally important and certainly deserve a niche in academic and personal studies, but the literary-critical is, for the most part, indiscriminate and interdisciplinary in its intellectual and creative pursuits, which substantiates your points here: “English and literary studies allows for this examination and exploration between the disciplines, which I believe to be why English really draws me in, and makes me feel more than I normally would.”

    Also, in your final paragraph, you note that English Literature helps the individual turn to his or her daily life with a greater depth of thought. In particular, this reminds me of de Certeau’s discussion on the features of everyday experience: namely, he believes that the seemingly monotonous, trivial properties of day-to-day life are more salient than the ways in which “intellectualized” academics frame them. In literature, specifically the novel, Certeau points out that many properties of everyday life—the lofty on top of the seemingly banal—are thrown in together to create this heterogeneous mix for people to focus on and make note of for future reference. As a theorist, he pays attention to how these details have the potential to subvert popular culture if necessary, but I think he would smile on the inclusion of them as significant in any context (66-70).

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