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English Smenglish

·350 words·2 mins

Preparing to go back to school, I had nightmares about not being able to find my classes, the awkwardness of returning to a class that I hadn’t visited in several weeks, and even the classic bad dream described by Emily Toth in Ms. Mentor’s Impeccable Advice for Women in Academia, the Lost Class, in which one discovers only after receiving a failing semester grade that he or she was enrolled in a class and didn’t even realize it.

Over the years, I’ve beat myself up constantly about my inability to finish my English degree – but now, re-exposed to English classes, I have gained new insight into its particular challenges.

Literary analysis is not for most people, and though I’m relatively eloquent and creative, those traits alone do not predispose me towards enjoying literary criticism as a field of study.

I should note that there are beacons of light throughout lit programs – idealistic instructors (usually not in tenure track positions – adjuncts, grad students, etc) who usually entered the field due to a love of creative writing and seem to be making the best of the marginally more stable career that teaching lit, even on a part-time basis, affords them, at the same time making gestures to foster lit appreciation in their pupils. Their students are, after all, the future consumer of literary works and by extension a potential audience for the kind of work the instructor writes if not an audience for their work itself.

As a general rule, English is self-referential, insular – often academic to the point of the pedantic – and a great number of English academics (the professors one studies under) trend toward the bombastic, rhetorical, obtuse, and arrogant.

Not exactly the traits I strive to spend my life embodying.

I know this consciously now. I believe I subconsciously intuited it then. With that in mind, it’s hardly a wonder I didn’t meet with success. If it weren’t for my greater goals, the dream of grad school, a diverse career in clinical psychology, completing my bachelor’s in English would be tedious and unrewarding indeed.


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