Good Read: In Defense of the English Major

| September 6, 2013 | 1 Comment
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In his New Yorker article Adam Gopnik first criticizes all the other defenses of the English major and then makes his own.

“We cannot merely produce goods and services as efficiently as we can, sell them to each other as cheaply as possible, and die. Some idea of symbolic purpose, of pleasure-seeking rather than rent seeking, of Doing Something Else, is essential to human existence. That’s why we pass out tax breaks to churches, zoning remissions to parks, subsidize new ballparks and point to the density of theatres and galleries as signs of urban life, to be encouraged if at all possible. When a man makes a few billion dollars, he still starts looking around for a museum to build a gallery for or a newspaper to buy. No civilization we think worth studying, or whose relics we think worth visiting, existed without what amounts to an English department—texts that mattered, people who argued about them as if they mattered, and a sense of shame among the wealthy if they couldn’t talk about them, at least a little, too. It’s what we call civilization.”


Whence, and where, and why the English major? The subject is in every mouth-or, at least, is getting kicked around agitatedly in columns and reviews and Op-Ed pieces. The English major is vanishing from our colleges as the Latin prerequisite vanished before it, we’re told, a dying choice bound to a dead subject.

Read more at: www.newyorker.com

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  • deserteacher

    Indeed. Well said.