Is BA English in India just timepass? (2 Min read )

A straight post citation from Times Of India. (Article : Ketan Krishna| Jan 3, 2015)

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a person studying English Literature as a formal course, isn’t really studying. Whenever an Indian boy decides to offend his parents and ruin the toil of an entire lifetime, and do an English Course in a DU college, it is knowingly accepted as a step into the bottomless pit of aimlessness, unemployment and inebriation. No jobs, no future, no wife.

It is in this backdrop that a student of English Literature in DU starts his journey that will last three years. It is taken for granted that he will “read novels and waste time”. The first challenge is the transition from the space of the school to the college campus. The campus is a socio-cultural hospice. It is an amalgam of pop culture and semi-rebellion. There is every kind of individual – the intellectual, the inebriate, the local cosmopolite, the jhola-toting revolutionary. There is no uniform. There is barely any institution-imposed discipline.

The teachers don’t want silence. The teachers don’t want classes either. However they are highly learned individuals, and there is much to learn from them. The concept of education itself is altered. Knowledge has to be extracted rather than absorbed. The initiative has to taken by the student who wants to learn. There is a syllabus which has to be taught in inadequate time, and which multiplies into reading beyond the stipulated material.

Literature is a highly interdisciplinary category. One can learn about history, culture, politics, sociology, Marxism, Feminism, Postcolonialism, critical theory, literary theory, Structuralism, Post Structuralism, and several other ‘-isms’. For a person who genuinely wants to study literature, the field is fatally vast and deep. There is an infinite stream of knowledge to satisfy an unquenchable thirst that yearns to know more, without knowing why it wants to know more.

The biggest challenge which emerges is the problem of ‘telos’. ‘Telos’, which means ‘purpose’ or ‘end’, is a Greek term used often in literary discourse. Teleology – work done towards a grand conclusion. The question that begins to haunt one is that of having an objective. What is one to do, and why is one to do it? What is the purpose?

 This dilemma arises out of the education one receives when one studies literature. Starting from Dickens, fact and fancy are distinguished. Then one reads the Victorian Realists, who highlight the ‘reality’ of modern life, followed by the Russian Nihilists who doubt the ‘realness’ of life. Finally Modernism and Existentialism question language and doubt meaning. When one is wondering what to do, Beckett delivers the final blow and declares ‘Nothing to be done’.
 A student of Literature is taught to doubt order. Hegel and Marx tell him that teleology and grand design are to be opposed. Structuralism and Foucault say ideologies are biased and the words that one speaks, the institutions one works under, are all to doubted as systems of control and suppression. The result is a lack of orderliness. The student oscillates between romance and reality, order and anarchy.
‘Existential angst’ is a term often thrown around to describe the young-adult. He is supposed to struggle with the meaning of life. ‘Is life worth living? What to do? What to be? How to be? To be?’ The student has an affinity to ask himself these, even though he realizes he doesn’t authentically struggle with existential angst. He identifies with the Beatnik bums of Kerouac, the Holden Caulfields, the James Deans and Marlon Brandos, the low lives and the vagabonds. He scoffs at the elite, the rich and the driven. But he also knows that he isn’t actually alienated. He is constantly in a process of growing up, of coming of age, of going from one point to another, of journeying, but unable to locate himself. He is taught to always doubt identity, because identity is a performance. The real self, the personal mission is what has to be arrived at. It is what cannot be arrived at.

The journey through college for a literature student, is an eternal contradiction which must be resolved in under three years. He begins with uncertainty, he is taught to be uncertain, and spends most of his time in an environment of uncertainty, but decisions have to be taken and choices have to be made. To choose from a void of infinity, is the irony of student life.

After school, he is told that he is going to enter the ‘real world’ now, but what he actually enters is a space of intermediacy, a limbo. The Beatles tell him “Nothing is real”, but before he can dismiss it as fancy, he encounters academic work which enable doubt. The true challenge for the student of English Literature, is ultimately the old, cliched one of growing up and coming of age.

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