“I’ve Been in a Different English Class”

As the year has gone on, I’ve watched our class’s blog grow into a home for interdisciplinarity, for musings on our texts and for thoughts on the experiences of an English major. I’ve watched people argue with themselves and grapple with their own opinions on English as a major and the opinions of those around them. I’ve watched conversations take place between family members, suitemates, patrons of Geneseo regarding the discipline of English. I’ve watched ideas take form, as well as arguments. I’ve watched revelations in motion.

And I have not participated.

Continue reading ““I’ve Been in a Different English Class””

False Advertising

Before break I went to a lecture on neo-slave narratives that was presented by a former Geneseo undergraduate. The idea was that I was supposed to sit through the lecture and then write a paper about what it had taught me, for extra credit. Before you read it though, if you take anything away from it I hope it’s this:

1) Titles for lectures can be next to useless. Maybe they change once you go to grad school.

and 2) This class is only the beginning of our careers as English majors.

Here is that paper.

Continue reading “False Advertising”

I is for…

Interdisciplinarity. Wow, there is a lot of interdisciplinarity in Zulus. Within the narrative itself, Everett generally limits himself to a story that’s relatable enough to avoid needing much support in a specialized field or to one so fantastical that it bunny hops over subjects of study onto another planet where they don’t even exist, along with other Earthling luxuries like basic biology. Where I’ve found hidden caches of references snaking out beyond the discipline of literature is in the chapter headings. Continue reading “I is for…”

Allegory in Zulus

What a terrible title for a blog entry. Zulus is a novel so full of allusions and literary maneuvers that Percival Everett had to start stuffing them into the chapter titles. Which specific example of allegory could I possibly mean? Or do I intend to dissect ALL examples of allegory in Zulus, if there are any? The former. Definitely the former. Just ignore the title — that would probably be best. Consider it a bad joke that I’m sharing with myself. Continue reading “Allegory in Zulus”

Hypothetical Scenario: What If English Didn’t Exist?

Sometimes I think there is no recognisable discipline of ‘English’, no genuine whole, but only a set of contrived frontiers and selected approaches which, for complicated historical and cultural reasons, have come to be known as a ‘subject’.

– Richard Hoggart

I love hypothetical scenarios. I love thinking about ‘what might be’ in most situations – world politics, technology, parallel universes – even if I have a cursory understanding of some of those subjects at best and even if my predictions are seriously flawed. The simple act of guessing makes my brain feel like the world’s most satisfied CPU as I crunch the numbers and weigh the options. This quote, by Richard Hoggart, made me wonder about a world without I.A. Richards and F.R. Leavis, a world without English. Continue reading “Hypothetical Scenario: What If English Didn’t Exist?”

Why Are English Majors Pretentious?

Within the first week of classes, we all contributed in creating an archive of questions that we had about the English major. We filled up an entire document with these questions — and I contributed a few myself — but there was one question I had that I still remember. I remember it because it’s the one question that I really wanted to see answered, although I can come up with a few clarifying ones when prompted. I’m sure it’s a question that many other members of our major have as well. It is: “Why are English majors viewed as prone to be pretentious?” And I think I’m ready to make a guess.

The answer is, simply, because we are. I understand that this is not a popular opinion, and I regret to inform anyone reading that this blog post will be lengthier than most so that I might clarify it. Continue reading “Why Are English Majors Pretentious?”

The Interdisciplinary Effects of the Free Market

In several chapters of Interdisciplinarity Moran has mentioned how useful popular culture can be to breaking down academic boundaries (specifically, in sections like “The Cultural Project of English” and “Science as Culture”). (Moran 32, 141) That in particular struck me. I’ve never found pop culture to be overwhelmingly redeeming, but when I thought about it I realized that Moran was right. Pop culture is a disciplinary melting pot, and to see why one only needs to view the world through the lens of one particular discipline: economics. Continue reading “The Interdisciplinary Effects of the Free Market”

Cane and Walden

I’ve given up trying to read Maria Alfaro’s “Intertextuality”. The language is thick and academic and the allusions to literary theorist after literary theorist are formidable. But it hasn’t escaped my notice that half of our class’s name (Cane Intertext) is derived from this text and that it will probably play a significant role in classwork and discussion over the next semester, so I decided to apply an online filter to the information in Alfaro’s analysis. I decided to do what teachers have discouraged me from doing since the sixth grade.

I decided to go to Wikipedia.

For anyone else who struggled through the explanation of intertextuality, I recommend opening up a web browser and simply googling the term. Wikipedia, which is the first link, provides more or less all of the information that is provided by the reading and it provides at least enough to give anyone a comprehensive understanding of what the term means and where it came from. The main difference between the online and offline resources, which makes Wikipedia a more efficient medium for the information, is that whereas Alfaro provides lengthy digressions Wikipedia is able to include a svelte link to another article, and whereas Alfaro includes reference after reference to related texts Wikipedia is able to include its own related readings at the bottom of the page and leave you unimpeded.  Continue reading “Cane and Walden”

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.