What You Gain from Studying English
Every generation needs its interpreters. These are the people who make sense of, question, preserve, and promote the creative output of their moment while revisiting the works of the past from their unique informed perspective and providing the foundations for that of the future through the ways they shape the interpretive fabric of the present.
Great writers—those who have brought their skills to bear in their art in order to create expression that resonates across many levels and experiences—need great readers, and the greatest readers are aware of the writers’ tools; they can discern the depths of written art; they see ways that the written work relates to, encapsulates, and helps define the world; and they have the ability to articulate their interpretations in written and spoken forms. Great creative writers need great creative readers, otherwise all the hard work of writing and the great depth of art goes undiscerned and wasted. Great writers come in many different forms, races, ethnicities, genders, classes, and embodiments, and their writing may be great by being elaborate to the point of inscrutability or by breaking readers hearts into a new resplendence by their devastating simplicity. Great writers must delve into the depths of their own pasts, their own hearts, but they never work alone, for they are shaped by people, things, places, memories, hopes, and situations all around them.
The act of interpretation transcends the seemingly inescapable imperatives of industrial labor: the work one does in order to earn money, important as it may seem, is a fleeting act of the present moment, but the interpretation of literature shapes thought—which forms a vital part of existence itself—long after it has been uttered or written. And because literature touches on every aspect of life, those interpretations carry meanings that affect policy, politics, culture, science, and so many other things. A great interpreter has the courage to speak to generations not yet born. The great interpreters have the vision to show how literature embodies the most urgent concerns of its moment by combining intellect, emotion, insight, data, and every other element of life into compelling images, statements, and experiences. Interpreters may work in service to those who possess power, but often they in their unique craft give voice to the voiceless.
Majors in literary criticism can become one of these rare, courageous, and vitally important people in society. It takes training to emerge as one of these people, but when they have finished the course of learning they leave the campus equipped to play their crucial role in the world. Upon graduation, these people may earn money as pipe fitters, car salespeople, professors, writers of instruction manuals, designers of Powerpoint presentations in financial institutions, book reviewers, novelists, greeting-card composers, lawyers, professors, virtual assistants, or raisers and sellers of corn. But their real work—the work that lasts beyond their lives and that affects so many other lives—is that ability and knowledge so crucial to whatever civilization is and can ever become: they interpret.