Friday, January 11, 2013

Instead of Working, 1/11/13

"Ektachrome," by "David." This is a story, or maybe a prose poem, or maybe just a hallucination, at a site called Cowbird. I guess Cowbird is a "platform" -- anyone can post a picture and a story, which sounds pretty simple. The art, as always, is in the arrangement.

I also read David's story "Stings."

Then, since I'm on a panel on "The Dangers of Self in Writing about Religion" at the Associated Writing Programs conference -- a conference, I have to admit, I've been proud not to attend before now -- I looked up my fellow panelists. The organizer, Jeremy B. Jones, I already knew, or knew of, through his writing for Killing the Buddha. Here's one called "Silver Trumpets." Then I read this good bloody Jesus mountain poem "Hem," by Jessie van Eerden, and "The Day I Met Hillbilly Jim" by Josh MacIvor-Andersen.

Later, a blip from current Modern Language Association president Michael Bérubé, on how an English major might enable you to become a general or a titan of finance. In response I wrote the following to a colleague:

"Humanities majors scored quite well; business majors did not." This is what it really comes down to, right? But I don't suppose we can insult our colleagues.

Which is too bad, because as the article makes clear, "Business" doesn't need to bash the humanities. Its assault is implicit. Which raises the question of how we can make a case for the humanities without responding to the assumption that's been put in place. The best we can do is to say, weakly, that English can also be useful out in the world. That is, if you really don't want to study econ or gov, or you're a scientist or a general with a whimsical side. We're moving English from a deficit major to a third-best, and third-best in a contest defined by the terms of "business."

I'm all for it, because that's what we can do now, but I think we need to shift the terms from scientists and generals to the most logical end of an English major: writers, artists, and scholars. And let students know that if they don't do well enough in their English major to become Toni Morrison, they can always fall back on number crunching and be rich. Seriously -- I meet these people at readings all the time, middle-aged lawyers and doctors and businesspeople working away at a mystery novel and haunting readings in the hope that some writer can anoint their manuscripts -- plenty of them bring them to the event -- and return them to the English major they abandoned. That's what they say: "I studied English in college, but then..."