An English Literature degree has no merits

As Kurt Vonnegut said: ‘Literature should not disappear up its own asshole, so to speak’


Mention you do Literature and only the impressionable will be impressed. For the rest you are just a stereotype: At secondary school you were inept at sciences but shone at literature. You weren’t intelligent enough for logical thought, but impressed with pseudo-intellectual rambling. If you were lucky you came up with your own ideas – if not, you used Spark Notes and presented them as your own. You got an A because there are “no wrong answers” and your examiners, desperate for something of value, hoped for a Joyce in the making. Your English teacher loved you because you engaged with the subject, but you were all about quantity, endless babble, not quality.

So at uni, how can you fail? You start three days before your deadline, write a lot of shit that actually doesn’t make sense, and pass. Your examiners know you wrote a load of rubbish and so should you. Nothing you wrote was of any interest and barely managed to scratch the surface of a given text. How could it? The essay was 3000 words long. The book 300 pages.

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What is the point

This was first year though. The stereotype becomes less true as one progresses up the academic treadmill. It seems likely that this course can actually teach you transferable skills. Cardiff’s English Literature department boasts of a 91 per cent future employment rate, and the skills supposedly acquired, including teamwork, analysis and diction, seem reasonable.

But is there more to this course? Does it do more than teach you teamwork, analysis and diction? Not really.

English Literature, as an academic field, is supposed to add to the combined well of human understanding and knowledge of literature. Every book is analysed and deconstructed. Take Shakespeare’s The Tempest. Either a play about a shipwreck on a magical island, or an exposition of the human dilemma with Ariel and Caliban as an expression of man’s duality. Unless you stay in academia you will never need to know this. Is there a demand for Sharon Marcus’ critical analysis of Great Expectations, which suggests Estella could be read as Miss Havisham’s dildo?

Academics in English Literature spend their time, much like scientists, doing such research. They take a book apart sentence by sentence, make connections between this theme and that image, even examine individual words. It is a shame that after dissecting a book it will invariably, like a lab-mouse, be a lifeless mess.

Do we need thousands of students studying a fairly pointless subject only to justify literature as an art form? Professors writing books about books, only to be read by students or other academics? Why not study something grounded in life? If you like reading pick up a book, not English Literature.