Let’s hear it for the English major. In the Chronicle for Higher Education, Mark Edmundson argues that every college student should be an English major. “English majors want the joy of seeing the world through the eyes of people whoâ€”let us admit itâ€”are more sensitive, more articulate, shrewder, sharper, more alive than they themselves are. The experience of merging minds and hearts with Proust or James or Austen makes you see that there is more to the world than you had ever imagined. You see that life is bigger, sweeter, more tragic and intenseâ€”more alive with meaning than you had thought.”
I love what Professor Edmundson says about the English major’s love of language and quest for truth. “The English major wants to use what he knows about language and what he’s learning from books as a way to confront the hardest of questions. He uses these things to try to figure out how to live. His life is an open-ended work in progress, and it’s never quite done, at least until he is. For to the English major, the questions of life are never closed. There’s always another book to read; there’s always another perspective to add. He might think that he knows what’s what as to love and marriage and the raising of children. But he’s never quite sure. He takes tips from the wise and the almost wise that he confronts in books and sometimes (if he’s lucky) in life. He measures them and sifts them and brings them to the court of his own experience. (There is a creative reading as well as a creative writing, Emerson said.)” Of course as a former English major, I have to agree. As college students prepare to begin classes this fall, it would be wise for them to look to English classes to fill their course schedules.
“What we’re talking about is a path to becoming a human being, or at least a better sort of human being than one was at the start,” writes Edmundson. “An English major? To me an English major is someone who has decided, against all kinds of pious, prudent advice and all kinds of fears and resistances, to major, quite simply, in becoming a person.”