English as a Way of Understanding the World

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Listened to my weekly Slate Culture Gabfest (which I highly recommend to anyone who enjoys intelligent somewhat elitist but good fun discussions) One of the hosts, Stephen Metcalf, mentioned William Chace, a respected University Professor of English literature, and a paper he wrote in The American Scholar. So I looked it up. And here I am. Chace puts into words what I was not able to express quite as eloquently why I am doing what I do (studying English andAmerican Literature while writing … you know … books): because I love books. I love words. I love writing. I love history. I love knowledge. I love the understanding. It all fits together. There are no answers. There is, simply, the opportunity to learn. And that’s awesome.

It seemed like the normal thing to do: studying English. It was the oasis I’d been inadvertently searching for since I got here. 

I live abroad (i.e. not in an English-speaking country), but I just yearned for the language. My language. I love the English language. I love it with a passion.

You know what else is fascinating? Literature, history, culture, politics: it’s all interconnected. History is my minor and one of my classes is History of Political Thinking. Utopias/Dystopias is one of my literature classes. I did a presentation on Sir Thomas More’s Utopia. During today’s history of political thinking class, the professor named the top ten most influential political works of the early modern period. Machiavelli, Hobbes, Locke, and Sir Thomas More’s Utopia. What I learn in one class helps me in another class. That’s what I call efficiency. I could just bathe in the awesomeness of it all. Seriously. Everyday I sit there in wonderment … and also frustration at the amount of time I’d need to spend deeply, darkly understanding it all.

Of course, and that’s what William Chace’s article deals with, one has to be able to earn money. Given the slightly depressing global economy, studying any of the humanities is becoming more of a luxury. The tendency to go for a profession that provides a life of luxury (or, at the very least, mild snobbish gratification) has been on the increase for decades. No financial glory being a university professor of English lit let alone a middle school teacher.

See, and that’s one reason our world is a little bit screwed up: beauty of the brain, love for words is worth less. Wouldn’t it be nice to experience a dawning of a new renaissance of the twenty-first century? Where it’s cool to know things?

To put all of the above a little into perspective: I am an older student. I’ve had a professional life working over twenty years as a producer. When I decided to quit my job and just write, it wasn’t enough. And through the inspiration of my many twenty-something friends, I decided to go forth and learn. Doesn’t matter how old you are, learning new things is the secret to eternal youth. True story.

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