Home   |  Issues  |  The Daily Star Home | Thursday, November 04, 2010

And Now a Discourse
on English Majors

By Shehtaz Huq

English majors sit in the middle of sunlit quads with spiced pumpkin lattes in one hand, a dog-eared copy of the God of Small Things in the other, and the breeze on one's back. In a perfect world, English majors go on to mother vampire franchises that will reduce otherwise sane teenagers to manic tears and leave some disgruntled sweatshop worker in the back alleys of Mexico with a massive order of Team Edwards T-shirts. Wait.

In a parallel universe, English majors wear away the skin on their fingers tapping at a typewriter, at the behest of a deranged fan who threatens to bash said English major's head in with said typewriter. Albeit that example was taken out of Stephen King's novel Misery, but it could happen. Incidentally, Stephen King was also an English major but since so few English majors go on to have successful careers as globetrotting, bestselling, vampire mania-inducing writers, his example is not exactly representative of the masses.

Thusly I am reduced to considering the following unpleasant truths:

English majors get no respect. While film and media professors might applaud the analytical prowess of said English majors, breakfast buddies would beg to differ. “You can't tell a differential equation apart from a derivative? What are you, an English major?” The apparent lameness of said hypothetical insult goes to show that indeed, very few English majors have the ability to grapple with mathematical terms. In fact, certain English majors can go through all of high school and possibly college without ever really discovering what a differential equation is. Or a derivative, for that matter.

When browsing Yahoo! News, English majors are frequently reminded of the fact that their said major garners no respect in the world. Because this particular bit of news was derived from the Internet, this English major in question was inclined to dismiss said article on the grounds that nothing on the Internet can be believed. Only to be proven wrong over lunch, when a table full of mechanical engineering majors chortled over their cafeteria pizza, “Why do you even have to worry about grades? It's not like you're even going to get a real job.”

Any kind of mildly analytical comment made during the viewing of a movie is viewed as unbecoming. Point of observation: When men watch movies (think Apocalypse Now), helicopters colliding in midair garner hearty fist pumps. When women watch movies (insert name of current Nicholas Sparks blockbuster), popcorn is passed from hand to hand while a box of tissues make the rounds. When an English major watches a movie (think early nineties art film about a young couple traipsing the cobbled streets of Vienna), parallels between the faded European city and the tragic beauty of short lived love become all too apparent.

To which incredulous fellow viewers snigger, “Of course you would think that, English major.” Any protests that said parallelism was probably intentional and reinforcing the filmmaker's vision will fall on deaf ears, as the non-English majors of the Before Sunrise-viewing world collapse onto uncomfortable lounge furniture, hooting for all they're worth.

Deeper meanings will go unappreciated. Stand beneath a tree in autumn and admire the fiery reds that rip through the branches, and eyes will be rolled. In fact, any poetic revelation about the nature of the world or the purpose of existence that stems from, say, a grilled cheese sandwich at dinner, will elicit similar reactions. “What is in a sandwich?” you cry, holding up a grilled specimen to the fluorescent light. “The sharp bite of cheddar, the buttery warmth of the bread, the aftertaste of salt that lingers on the tongue,” you exalt, and all the while the lady behind the counter makes a mental note never to serve you your dinner again.

It is futile to reflect about future plans. Not only do English majors not have a future, ten years from now every notion of a rosy career sitting at a sunlit desk with a steaming mug of coffee at hand will effectively be dashed. “Ten years from now,” a well-meaning friend told me as we sat in the library doing nothing productive, “my taxes will be paying for your welfare.” Too late did I realise that his imminent law school education will leave him steeped in student loans. By the time I had formulated said thought, my friend and his pizza-guzzling mechanical engineering majors were back to chortling over my unfortunate future.

And finally.
English majors emerge from college with no idea what a derivative is.
Was a restatement of an earlier comment? What's this, reiteration? A novel concept, you cry? Why, yes indeed. Us fork-tongued, slow thinking English majors, whose minds dwell on irony and metaphysical meaning and what Faulkner was trying to get at with the Sound and the Fury. While harrowed biology majors of the world take apart whitefish embryos and count root tip cells we spend a merry afternoon taking apart the existentialist theories of Carlyle. We sit sipping spiced pum pkin lattes in the light of the sun, dog-eared copies of The God of Small Things open on our laps, watching the leaves turn fiery shades of autumn red while wispy clouds scud across a clear November sky and all the while the engineering majors of the world sit crouched over their open circuits and giggle at our plight. Yes, such is the way of the world.




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