WHY TEACH ENGLISH?
The study of English, to be sure, suffers from its own discontents: it isn’t a science, and so the “research” you do is, as my colleague Louis Menand has pointed out, archival futzing aside, not really research. But 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.
AUGUST 27, 2013