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Tuesday, June 29, 2010

English Unlimited

While reading through the blogs a few days ago, I came across a post that commented on what English produces.  I remember reading in Klages’ Literary Theory: A Guide for the Perplexed that English produces knowledgeable people, and at the time I was okay with that.  But the more I thought about it, the less okay I felt with this statement.  Engineers, while trained to build bridges, have to learn math, which is knowledge.  Scientists, while trained to discover how natural phenomena work, have to learn scientific theory, which is knowledge.  Philosophers, while trained to ponder existence and our purpose, have to learn about the philosophic thought that came before, which is knowledge.  How then does English get away with saying that our product is knowledge?
Klages herself partially answers that.  She says that Literary Theory helps to examine how our world works.  But wait, don’t other disciplines do that?  Doesn’t psychology and sociology try to describe everyday human life in a scientific way?  Yes, English examines literature, but couldn’t I just apply psychological theory to the literature?  And don’t we already do so, seeing how there is a chapter in Klages’ book devoted to psychoanalysis?
There is obviously more to English than this, or we would just be an offshoot of another discipline.  The more I thought about it, the more English reminds me of anthropology.  But unlike anthropology, we are devoted solely to the written work produced by people throughout time.  We are like historians, but we are looking at more than just the stories of people; we examine the way those stories are written, and we are always interpreting what is on the page.
The more I think about it, the more English seems like the unifying discipline among the humanities.  There is a little bit of everything in us, and we still manage to stand apart from the rest.  While I’m still not entirely clear whether there is a product, I know English produces a unique cultural record that no other discipline has.  And isn’t that good enough?

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