Saturday, January 26, 2008

Beowulf vs. the Engineers and Everyone Else Who Craps on the Humanities‏.

Get a dictionary. If you are a science major, think of it as a periodic table. Use it to check your spelling. Use it to look up the words in the readings you didn't understand. Think of it as a gigantic answer key. Yes! We are humane here in the humanities; we tell you where to find the answers.

I don't care if it's hard to keep the Geats and Danes and Hrothgars and Unferths straight. If you cannot keep track of the characters in a 200-page book well enough to write a coherent closed-book exam question, you have no hope of following world events. Guess what: those people have funny names too.

I don't care that you engineers have no interest in Thoreau, or Beowulf, or Auden, or Shakespeare, or whatever. I don't care if it's hard to keep "infer" and "imply" straight, and I don't care that you find literary analysis tedious. I especially don't care that you don't care about what else the author might be trying to say. The fact is that if you can't analyze a piece of text in your native (and likely only) language well enough to locate subtext, that makes you a totally uncritical and unthinking consumer of political rhetoric.

I propose a deal: I'll promise not to build skyscrapers until I have an engineering degree if you promise not to mess with my democracy until you write me an essay that shows you can think critically about language. If you can't do some basic close reading, you should not be allowed to vote.