Posts Tagged ‘English majors’
December 1, 2015 | by Dan Piepenbring
- When Germans like to dramatize their politics, imbuing the theater with metaphors to suit the times, they always turn to one play: Hamlet. Over the centuries, the Dane has survived a dizzying number of interpretations and representations on German stages—they’re obsessed with the guy. “The 1970s West German Hamlet was shown as powerless to affect his corrupt society, reflecting the experiences of intellectuals and theatre directors who failed to influence the politics of the 1960s revolutions … East German interpretations of Hamlet were unsurprisingly very different. In his speech at the 1964 Shakespeare festival, Cultural Minister Alexander Abusch praised Hamlet’s socialist ideals and lambasted the corrupt society that prevented him carrying them out … The frequent revival of this old, familiar play does not signal a retreat in German theatre from innovative drama. In fact, the nation’s changing role has sparked an exciting new phase in the depiction of the dithering protagonist … In a radical 2005 production in Munich, director Lars-Ole Walburg incorporated quotations from George W Bush and Michael Moore and references to the Rwandan genocide and the 2001 terrorist attacks in New York.”
- The English major is in decline, and who can even rouse himself to defend it? There’s no utilitarian value to it. It doesn’t seem to make students more ethical or to improve their decision making. People would very probably still read books without it. So … uh … Adam Gopnik has a thought: “The best answer I have ever heard from a literature professor for studying literature came from a wise post-structuralist critic. Why was he a professor of literature? ‘Because I have an obsessive relationship with texts.’ You choose a major, or a life, not because you see its purpose, which tends to shimmer out of sight like an oasis, but because you like its objects. A good doctor said to me, not long ago, ‘You really sort of have to like assholes and ear wax to be a good general practitioner’; you have to really like, or not mind much, intricate and dull and occasionally even dumb arguments about books to study English.”
- Good spelling has always had an uncomfortable correlation with good breeding—before the advent of spell-check, and even to some extent after it, to spell well was to signify one’s belonging in the upper classes. In the nineteenth century, two men tried to level the playing field with an ambitious overhaul to the language: “On December 5, 1846, in the first issue of a newspaper called Di Anglo-Sacsun, an introductory letter to readers heralded the day when ‘bad spelling, the monster that scares, and grins at, and harasses the people, will fall into fits, like the Giant Despair of Doubting Castle, and will die outright of his spasms’ … S. P. Andrews and Augustus Boyle, the editors of the Di Anglo-Sacsun, believed that they could end poverty by making literacy less time-consuming and more accessible, particularly for poor immigrants and slaves. As the written language formalized over the course of the first half of the nineteenth century through innovations like the steam press and energetic lexicographers like Noah Webster, standardized spelling had become a newly erected barrier between the upwardly mobile and those who had neither the time nor the resources to crack the code of literacy. Andrews and Boyle wanted to simplify the process by making spelling entirely phonetic.”
- In the early twentieth century, Czech book design drew its influences from a surprisingly broad array of artistic movements—and a singular, stylish form of publishing emerged as a result. “One popular trend during the turn of the century was to embellish literature with elaborate, local ornamentations that were mostly Romanesque in style, as exemplified by Josef Mánes’ illustrations in a manuscript of thirteenth- and fourteenth-century Bohemian poems and songs. Floral motifs also became popular Czech symbols … However, artists later dismissed floral and other ornate symbolism as medieval decorations, especially as Czech culture was increasingly exposed to foreign influences that fueled widespread experimentation … Some found the decorativeness of beautiful book illustrations extravagant, preferring to shape the appearance of books with bold and often stark photomontages.”
- Reminder: your M.F.A. program is the product of specific political circumstances, and to write “well” is essentially to play by the rules of the state: “Less than a lifetime ago, reputable American writers would occasionally start fistfights, sleep in ditches and even espouse Communist doctrines. Such were the prerogatives and exigencies of the artist’s existence, until M.F.A. programs arrived to impose discipline and provide livelihoods. Whether the professionalization of creative writing has been good for American literature has set off a lot of elegantly worded soul-searching and well-mannered debate recently … Sponsored by foundations dedicated to defeating Communism, creative-writing programs during the postwar period taught aspiring authors certain rules of propriety … Certain seemingly timeless criteria of good writing are actually the product of historically bound political agendas.”
April 10, 2015 | by Dan Piepenbring
- On James Merrill, whose work “exists in part to reverse our bias against trivia”: “His work is replete with the transfigured commonplace, bits of the world reclaimed in his daily imaginative raids: an ‘Atari dragonfly’ on the Connecticut River, a joint smoked on a courthouse lawn, a trip to the gym, a Tyvek windbreaker … And Ouija boards: Merrill made the most ambitious American poem of the past fifty years, seventeen thousand lines long, in consultation with one.”
- “I am writing to you because I noticed that you did exceptionally well last semester … and I would encourage you to consider English as a major (or a second major) … flexible enough to fit in easily with your other academic pursuits.” Giving the hard sell to prospective students of literature.
- “A busting of the bucolic, a puncturing of the pastoral”: young writers are reckoning with the English landscape in unconventional ways, seeking its absences, its eeriness, “the terror in the terroir.”
- We’ve been Photoshopping images for twenty-five years. How did we dupe and retouch before that? Double exposure, montage, stage-setting; we’ve been manipulating photographs since nearly the moment they were invented.
- Picasso, in his posthumous life, is more than a mere painter—he’s a barometer of unassailable excellence in any and every field. Thus, I present to you “The Picasso of LEGO Bricks,” “The Picasso of Low-temperature Geochemistry,” and “The Picasso of Anal-Pleasuring Toys.”
February 4, 2015 | by Dan Piepenbring
- We begin with the decline and fall of the English major: Have our nation’s youth really found something better to do? “If our spring 2015 numbers follow the pattern of our recent death spiral,” one professor said, “we will have lost in four years twice as many majors as we gained in fifteen.” Another theorized that “many students who would prefer to declare humanities majors might be challenged or advised to declare a ‘practical major.’ ”
- But even those of us who threw caution to the wind and majored in English have not done such a hot job of pursuing literature in other languages. “About 3 percent of all the books published in the U.S. every year are translations. But the bulk of these are technical writings or reprints of literary classics; only 0.7 percent are first-time translations of fiction and poetry.”
- Still, shouldn’t we congratulate ourselves for living in an era when reading is regarded as a joy, a passion, rather than as a necessary, bland consequence of rhetorical culture? “For a long time, people didn’t love literature. They read with their heads, not their hearts (or at least they thought they did), and they were unnerved by the idea of readers becoming emotionally attached to books and writers. It was only over time—over the century roughly between 1750 and 1850—that reading became a ‘private and passional’ activity, as opposed to a ‘rational, civic-minded’ one.”
- Today, by contrast, we’re so in love with literature that one can earn seven hundred dollars a week simply by writing poems on the subway. And they don’t have to be good poems, either. (“Faint sweeps / Of sea breeze / In the light stream of / Water … ”)
- Most of us prefer to write in private—others of us have no choice. Anna Lyndsey has a rare illness that makes her skin burn whenever she’s exposed to light, even the light of an iPhone. She lives in darkness. She gets her news from the radio. She writes. “She found that, with practice, she could write in her head—marshal thoughts into sentences, arrange sentences into paragraphs—before writing longhand in a notebook. It was liberating, not being able to see her words on the page. Darkness, it seems, is also a cure for self-consciousness.”
March 17, 2014 | by Dan Piepenbring
- The OED has made its latest update. Among the new words added: wackadoo, toilet-paper (as a verb), cunt lapper, and assisted living.
- Minneapolis’s Graywolf Press turns forty.
- Evocative shots of New York’s 1964 World’s Fair recall a time when the future was full of wonder, typefaces were chunkier, and you could ride a giant tire like a Ferris wheel.
- Why should you major in English? Because Barbara Walters and Mitt Romney did, of course!
- “It’s little! … It’s lovely! … It lights!” An enlightening history of Bell Telephone’s 1959 “Princess phone,” “the first phone specifically created for teenage girls and women … in its beauty and its place in the home, [it] was the embodiment of perfect womanly qualities of the time.”