I am currently working on a paper for my Patristic Exegesis class I am taking this Spring and for some reasom I found myself reflecting on my undergraduate years as an English education major and what I learned, or did not learn, in my English classes. Hope you enjoy. I know I had more fun writing this than I am having while writing my PE paper on Irenaeus' Theology of a Created Good and recapitulation. SO here it is:
What I Learned in Undergraduate English Classes: how to passes your english class.
After spending more years than I would like to admit at a certain unnamed institute of higher learning in Louisiana, near countless hours in English classes, and reading over many hundred books of fiction, history, and religion during my time at the university, I have developed a couple of strategies that have helped me cope with my inability to be an English scholar. The first two deal with the writing process, while the last with literature.
Here I will share these points:
First, learn to use the comma. This is perhaps the most overly used punctuation in English and should be used less than what most expect. There are only five simple rules that encompass this slouching mark. Most of which can be found in the Strunk and White book on style and writing. It is amazing how many professors think you write well because you know how to use the comma. I do not consider myself a master craftsman, and I often struggle when writing the five-paragraph theme we all learned in high school; research papers are right-out for me. But I learned to use the comma and managed to pass most of my writing and literature classes with a “B” average.
Second, do not, by any means, use clear and concise language when writing a paper. You will cause your professor’s brain to malfunction and explode at such simple language. Instead, use big words like auspicious or necrencephalus or strobilation -- the larger the word the better. I strongly suggest concealing the meaning of the paper from yourself: the use of big words will aid in this, for if you conceal the meaning from yourself you have also concealed it from your professor who will be unable to agree or disagree with your topic. Out of fear of feeling stupid and small minded, he or she will not ask you what you mean. The professor will instead return your paper unmarked except for the grade on the last page. You will surely receive a “B” or possibly an “A-“ – provided the comma was used properly.
Most literature professors, by their own faults and attempts to be smart, will managed to ruin a person’s literary experience. I can no longer read a novel and enjoy it. Where most people can read a novel for mere enjoyment and say things like “what a story, a real page turner” or “What a delightful piece of work;” I cannot do such things. The majority of professors seem more interested with beating the meaning out of the text (as if it were a person under interrogation) and deconstructing it to the extent that the beauty, style, and pleasure normally associated with reading a novel, play or poem are lost: Hamlet is no longer ponderous and Wilde is no longer witty. Literature in this context may go from being an enjoyable hobby to an unavoidable misery. As it will become as pleasurable as drinking old coffee flavored with castor oil.
This brings me to the third point: interpreting literature. I am horrible at interpreting literature. Fortunately, I developed techniques for the interpretation of literature in the college classroom. Here are those techniques: 1. If you are unaware of the meaning of a passage and your professor asks you the meaning of a passage simply reply “sex.” The professor will surely nod in agreement. If a worm destroys a rose it is not about the destruction or loss of beauty, or if grey waves break over rocks at the bottom of a cliff it is most certainly sex. 2. Males in the story that display stereotypical maleness (drinking, gambling, swearing, supporting their wives etc.) are definitely gay and are hiding their true sexuality behind their male behavior – likewise with the female counterpart. 3. All siblings in every text are defiantly practicing incest. It does not matter if they were separated at birth and have not seen each other for 30 years and live on opposite sides of the world. They are practicing incest. 4. Reason, logic, critical thought, and common sense are to be left at the door before entering any literature class. Use of only one of the above in an academic setting will certainly cause any Phd to fumble and will contradict all scholarly ideas. Never, under any circumstance, ask the professor to apply any research they have done directly to life. Their mind with surely stall like a flooded engine and prove useless for some time after.
In order to get the real meaning from a text the best, easiest and most effective means of doing this is to ask the Professor what he or she thinks the text means then disagree with his or her interpretation. Usually the contrary to the professor’s opinions are highly accurate. For example, if the professor says that passage “x” is about sex, simply raise your hand and say, “I disagree, it is clearly about the celibatory nature of medieval monks in 14th century Germany.” If nothing else a laugh can be had by all and the general happiness of the class can be raised a little if by some act of God you are wrong and the professor right.
Please feel free to think, meditate, and embrace any of the above points. Also, feel free to use any of the interpretation techniques I have mentioned – they have been tried and tested and have been proven successful.