Tuesday, May 25, 2010

What do you do with a B.A. in English?

It's been a long time since I've written here, and in that time, I've finished my thesis, written my last undergraduate papers, and graduated college. Time for a sappy post about how much the last four years have meant to me, right? Wrong. As I'm sure many of you know, the job market out there is tough. Particularly for someone with two majors that don't give you any real specialized skills. So, of course, I've been wondering, as I hunt for a job for next year, what do you do with a B.A. in English? It seems there are at least a few options:
1. publishing
2. try to be a "writer"
3. editing
4. journalism
5. more school

Many English majors will do at least one, probably a few, of these. I thought I wanted to do #4, hope to do #5 after next year, and will never, ever do #2, if only for lack of talent. And yet, none of these quite cover my perfect English major plans. If I could do anything with my major, it would be something along the lines of this: The Displaced English Major. Will I get a job for next year, and later in life? Yes (or at least I hope so). Will I go back to school, learn more things, etc? I plan on it. But mostly, I just want to read. Not even talk about what I'm reading or write about it, but simply take in the information that's on the page in front of me, think about it on my one, and keep going, book after book.

Except for some travel, and applying for lots of jobs, this is roughly my summer plan. I'm planning on reading both Ulysses and Infinite Jest, the first because English majors and professors are obsessed with Joyce and I've already read Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, and the second because my postmodern literature class ruined my life this past semester. Very different books, but I feel like I just need to read both.

Which brings me to projects like the Displaced English Major. This sort of thing is absolutely something I would do, reminiscent of my Oscar movie project (more on that in a later entry), and many of these books are ones I've either read or would love to read. But looking at this list makes me question why exactly I want to read them. If there's one thing I learned from my liberal arts education (besides, of course, that the patriarchy is holding me down), it's that the "canon" of literature is sort of bullshit, at least partly because it's created by the patriarchy of white men. In some ways, it's obviously true. Canonical literature is heavy on dead white men, who don't quite represent the full range of literature. But there's also some extent to which the canon is the canon for a reason. These books are widely considered the best-written, the most interesting, or somehow important. And there's nothing wrong with wanting to read books with those qualities. I wouldn't read a book just because it's canonical, just as I wouldn't read a book by someone just because the author is a woman. To do that is ridiculous, and so the Displaced English Major project makes me a little wary. Being well-read isn't particularly impressive if you read the books because you feel you should, rather than because you want to. I hope Rense is reading these books because she is truly interested in them, but it's a bit hard to tell.

Either way, it makes me a little sad that my reading plans stop at two books, even if they're very long books. Perhaps I'll create an even more epic reading list, and blog about all of them here, but like I said, I really just want to read, not write about the books, at least for now. So if you need me, I'll be sitting outside, taking a break from wondering what the hell you do with a B.A. in English to read some Joyce.

1 comment: