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    The best and worst reasons to be an English major.

    Janet Manley

    February 28, 2023, 12:48pm

    We English majors are not even dead and The New Yorker has moved to bury us.

    Nathan Heller reports in a new article that enrollment in English programs has dropped precipitously at universities across the nation as people pursue STEM and amorphous “business” classes. The causes cited in the article are, variously, the pursuit of bigger money, the distracted era of smartphones (“Assigning Middlemarch in that climate was like trying to land a 747 on a small rural airstrip.”), inability to discern the meaning of a text, and—in perhaps the most disappointing tangent of the piece—”long-form television”:

    [One professor] liked to think of Shakespeare reading “Don Quixote,” in 1612, and marveling at this new narrative form: the novel! So it was today, with “Better Call Saul.” He wondered whether literature departments should do more with TV.

    Obviously, here at fortress LitHub, where the keys to the English literature tradition hang on a hook in crumbling drywall, we are pro-English major (and even, god forbid, pro-graduate study from time to time), and wish to advance the cause that knowing how to read has a future.

    To the arguments for being an English major, ranked worst to best.

    1. To get jobs telling ChapGPT what to write. This is an actual idea that has been floated, and I think I speak for all humanities grads when I say *retreats into burrow and pulls bark lid closed*

    2. To get jobs at Netflix/”do more with TV.” By all means follow the money, but know that the money could at any moment drop into drive and screech out of the lot, leaving you behind in a cloud of Firefly Lane promos.

    3. To help rich people know what to put on their shelves. Town & Country says it’s a job, but surely you don’t need an English degree to just fill someone’s Upper East Side townhome with Noam Chomsky and Rachel Carson. Do it, then peel off quickly, and cross your fingers that they can save us.

    4. To harvest the canon for ideas to be reworked into new intellectual properties that can be shook like an apple tree for TV shows and movies to fill the next 30 years. We would never have had Star Wars (or Andor or Caravan of Courage) without The Canterbury Tales, thank you Chaucer!

    5. To gain employment as an arbiter of whether something is “/s” or earnestly meant. The powers of interpretation! The skill to discern tone! Get them at your local English department. Cheaper than a law degree.

    6. So that someone carries the torch for being able to read Middle English. “Oft Scyld the Scefing from squadroned foes” = something about contouring?

    7. So that we can have new memes. What the cut-and-pasters out there don’t realize is that behind every @dril tweet, and every mimetic macro generator, is an originator, an author who created something new (that was then copied and imitated until death). Without English majors, we would never have progressed past lolcats.

    8. To make academic in-jokes that only 12 other subject matter experts across the globe know to laugh at. Well played, University of New South Wales.

    9. To use and be able to deploy the words “petrichor,” “indelibly,” and “won’t” correctly.

    10. To ensure you don’t make any grave etiquette faux pas like biting your thumb at at a Shakespearean scholar. The better to know!

    11. To keep photocopiers in business.

    12. So that somewhere, in a cluttered office, there is the answer to the question: this any good, then?

    13. To generate future Christian Lorenztens, it would seem.

    14. To write pieces on why the book was better than the show.

    15. To come up with new euphemisms for sex.

    16. To reassure writers that this is good and they are good!

    17. To warn people to keep their wits as authoritarianism stalks the perimeter.

    18. To preserve critical thought! Or at least make us sound fancy as we descend into idiocy.

    I welcome your arguments, scholars.