A Quick Word

"In order to go on living one must try to escape the death involved in perfectionism." -Hannah Arendt (1906-1975)

02 December 2009


As much as I love U of I, it really is a dreary place sometimes. For instance, today, while in British Literature lecture, Prof. Wood remarked unflinchingly that our generation could be the last English Majors ever to walk the earth. Really...? Are things that bad? I mean, I understand that the humanities don't offer as lucrative a career as, say, Engineering (a field that dominates our campus), but they still have merit-- if nothing else, people must learn to speak and write English well, do they not? My father has made quite a decent living writing (despite the fact that he has a business degree), and wishes all the time that he could have studied more English while studying for his undergrad at Ole Miss. (The land of Faulkner-- ah... and Welty, sort of.) And if a certain skill is prized in a field (my father's writing for business, for instance), then wouldn't it make sense that there must exist a group of highly educated people to teach these skills? Prof. Wood commented that the English Dept. is doomed to become ("possibly," he said, not "probably") a Dept. of Communication. However, we already have one of those, and it is considerably smaller than our English Dept.-- though I must admit I am considering it for my minor now that Medieval Studies has collapsed-- which would indicate that English still has a greater relevancy than the impression given by some of my professors.

My ramblings aside, Prof. Wood, whom I deeply respect and admire as a professor, raised within me deeper questions than ones debating the practicality or financial advantage/disadvantage of studying the humanities; he caused me to examine why I, as a twenty year old undergraduate, think so highly of the humanities and place such a value on them. Though I, examining the notion of the university and the benefit of liberal education and my objections to the "university as vocational training" model, could fill volumes framing my response to this, I will instead end this long post with my thoughts on the English/Communications scenario posed above.

To me, Communications could never replace English-- as an educational equivalent, at least-- because though both fields share the similar underpinnings of writing and rhetoric, each seeks to fill a subtly different role in society. Communications is all about (no surprise here) raw communication-- the simple conveyance of information simply, succinctly, and directly. It studies how communicating information affects people and their actions, whether that be through public speaking, raising awareness for certain causes, or through emerging technologies. (Facebook, blogs, etc.) Such a field of study certainly has its practical application. Yet English, while still teaching how to argue effectively and write clearly, also seeks to teach something deeper-- what it means to be a human. It does not simply examine why we communicate, but also what we communicate: Why do the words of Keats move us? Why did Keats (or any other poet) feel the need to express what they chose to express? I could go on and on... I love Keats. But Keats is not the important part of this post. What I mean to say is this: I believe that knowing these complexities about the human condition is far more important than knowing simply how to use a form of media to say something to someone else . I may be (as I continue to be proved) archaic, but one may as well be sucking out my soul every time the humanities are spoken of as a dying field-- indeed, my soul is sucked out every time they are mentioned in that way. I hope we (as an enterprising world) can find a way to herald the humanities' relevance for future generations. After all, we don't know everything there is to know about ourselves... and how can we if we leave it all to hard science?

I remain hopeful. There are too many of us who care.

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