Sing, O Muse, of a scholar of irritating ways

The University of Dallas' unique English program gives students ample opportunity to grow as scholars, but at the potential expense of their humility.

You’ve done well for yourself over the past few years, my friend.  You’ve made it into the esteemed University of Dallas, your high school friends say you’re the next J. K. Rowling and you regularly have intellectual discussions about Milton with professors at the Cap Bar. You may have even been published in multiple periodicals. You dream of changing the world by means of your ability to see the innuendoes and societal constructs in every work in the Core.

You are an English major, and you wear the badge with pride.

And you deserve to. After all, poets play an important role in society. And studying English obviously makes you a poet.  You’re changing people’s sentiments; you’re molding the souls of the people of the Republic.  

But there are some things you should avoid  if you don’t want to become that English major. Done wrong, a life of postulations and papers leads to pretension, pedantry and even priggishness.

As a student who cares about literature, you feel the exhilaration of synthesizing an original interpretation with your newly developed intellect. And when you share that interpretation in class, and it’s met with interest and approval by professors and wide-eyed admiration from classmates, your ego swells.

We all know the feeling. Level up.

But when it goes to your head, sometimes you think you’ve reached the level of a grad student or even and adjunct professor.

You have a whole new set of responsibilities. You have to make radical claims in class that confront everyone’s moral sensibilities or make them question reality itself. You feel compelled to question the sexuality of every character you discuss. If your interpretation of “The Merchant of Venice” doesn’t shock everyone in the room, what’s the point of even going to class?

But making clever — or bawdy — comments in the classroom is not one of the major’s requirements.  

Not every plot similarity is a reference, and not every reference is significant.  Not every hero is Achilles.

Something to keep in mind next time you complain about Junior Poet: The glorious and painful course should be its own reward. The right to complain loudly about it, to everyone, on a daily basis, should not be. Other majors have difficult junior projects, too.

Perhaps some English majors should have majored in politics. Once you start to read a sexist agenda into Frost’s poetics, for instance, you should know you’re doing it wrong.

The point of scholarly discussion of a work is to find out what the author meant, not whether it was a prototype of your pet cause. Political discussions have their place, but an English classroom is not it.

There is an intellectual complacency unique to literature people. Yes, students of other majors can be snobs, but English majors are a unique breed. You sit astride the gap between the theoretical and practical: You blog and you publish, you scriven and scribe, you want to be intellectuals who change the course of history, like your predecessors in the oh-so-recent past. In other words, you are the backbone of society.

Perhaps it’s fueled by a sense of insecurity. You’re trying to show those haters from the STEM departments that they’re wrong about English not being a paying major.

Let go of the insecurity, my friend. We already know you get can a good job. The myth of the useless English major seems to be something of a dead horse at this point.  

In any case, the need for the aura of the edgy social justice warrior scholar is misguided.

There is a temptation to forget what it means to be an undergraduate.

What’s wrong with enjoying the ride and understanding other people’s views?

I propose we focus on experimenting with ideas, writing playful poetry and taking ourselves less seriously.


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