May 2015 English Major of the Month
Mark MusterYear: Senior
Hometown: Ridgewood, NJ
What made you decide to become an English major?|
I was a premed student for most of my college career but of course you can’t “major” in pre-medicine. When it came time to pick a major I was conflicted between something pre-medy like biology, psychology, etc. but took Literary Interpretations, taught by John Guillory, because I enjoyed English in high school. I fell in love with the class and said “screw it” I should study what I want. I finished my pre-med requirements but have enjoyed my English classes far more than any of the other classes I have taken at NYU.
Are you pursuing any minors, internships, or fields of interest outside your English major? How do you feel they interact with or enhance your study of English?
Like I said, I was a pre-med student up until my senior year and I have found that people actually enjoy the diversity of the English major with the sciences. It shows well-roundedness as well as a signifier that the student can represent themselves well on paper and in person. I’ve also been employed for most of my undergraduate career to familiarize myself with the job world and have found that working actually makes me more interested in reading literature on my own. Literature is absent from everyday work life (unless you’re a teacher, work in publishing or a related field) and it’s made me appreciate the time I have been given to read these great works now. It has also made me consider the study of English Literature not just as a college major but as a goal to be pursued throughout my life.
Has living in New York City or studying abroad in London affected your studies of or engagement with literature in any way?
Without a doubt. Having never been to Europe before, the air of London felt like it was flooded with literary history. The NYU housing resides in Bloomsbury where the famous Bloomsbury group, Virginia Woolf, E.M. Forster, Clive Bell, Duncan Grant etc. used to hang out. I highly recommend studying abroad there (for everyone not just English majors).
However nothing compares to studying literature in NYC. It’s a setting where you feel the past, present, and future of literature all in one. Washington Square Park becomes representative of the famous Henry James novel, Washington Square or Ginsberg’s reading of Howl, and right around the corner (in present day) you can hear spoken word poetry at various bars. You can even engage directly with the literary culture at open mics if you want. From my experience it’s been a very open and inviting community if you look for it.
What’s your favorite book, and what’s your least favorite? Is there anything they share?
Favorite book hands down is Moby Dick. I’ve read it once a year every year since first reading it in American Literature I class with Professor Bruen (it’s only been two years since then but I haven’t given up yet). Every time I read it I fall in love with it all over again. If you haven’t read it, you really should. And if you enjoyed reading it Professor Nicholls teaches an amazing class on most of Herman Melville’s writings (if he continues to teach it) everyone should check it out! I go through fits of hating and appreciating different books. At the moment I just finished The Wings of the Dove and I very much disliked it. One of James’ worst novels in my opinion but I may read it in 5 years and think differently. Check back with me!
Which fictional character would you most like to meet? What would you two do?
Madame de Vionnet from Henry James’ The Ambassadors and I would be great friends. She is the classiest woman of any book I’ve ever read. The two of us would have a day in Paris together ending with drinks at her fantastic apartment.
Are there any authors you find particularly overrated? Underrated?
What classes have been the most rewarding to you, either in the department or outside of it?
Queer Literature was a big favorite of mine. I had minimal exposure to queer works before and I think the whole idea of Queer studies is fascinating. Jonathan Flatley did a great job of following its conception to the present. It was really a class where I was always looking at the world in a different light. It was a Dead Poet’s Society moment for me. Other shout outs would have to be any classes I have taken that focus on one author (my senior seminars and the Melville colloquium). Following an author through a career really allows you to delve into their lives and their mind, it’s about the closest thing to meeting them in person.
If you could create your own class, what would it be?
Wow, if I had to create my own class I guess it would be an immersive class in current poetry. As in, reading poets who are famous today, reading and discussing poetry with some of the talented MFA students at NYU who write/publish/perform their poetry. It would meet twice a week, once in the classroom and once at an open mic where students would be encouraged to perform some of their own poetry or at the multiple poetry shows that happen in NYC. (Can you tell I like poetry?)
As you approach graduation, what are the most useful things you’ve gained from your major?
Well the proficiency in writing is a definite plus but there is something really useful about the English major that I think is overlooked. I hear many of my peers talk about how easy it is to “bullshit” English courses. Now, in my experience, to actually get the A bullshitting is not possible. But this rumor raises a point about the freedom which the English major allows. You don’t have to read all the books (you should to get a good grade and expand your mind) but I know people who don’t. No one is watching you or cares if you haven’t read the material, but if you don’t that’s on you. You are missing out on some of the greatest works ever written and that is your choice; it can be so tempting to slack off and not do the reading. The English major really treats you like an adult, and invites you to engage with the material on your own. You get what you put into it.
You’re taking two senior seminars right now, one on Henry James and one on Oscar Wilde. If the two got into a fight, who would win?
Haha it’s funny you asked me this question because Henry James was not a fan of Oscar Wilde. Like hated Oscar Wilde. They met once in the United States and James wrote to his friend about how obnoxious he thought Wilde was. Wilde had a reverence for James’ writing but makes a couple stabs at him in his essay The Decay of Lying. As for who would win in a fight, definitely Wilde. James is a big observer, he is an author conflicted with how much one should “live” one’s life and the risks that come with “living” too much. Wilde had a magnetic extraverted personality and probably hardened a lot from the hardships of his trial and prison sentence (even though he never recovered from it). I would bet money Wilde would kick the crap out of James.
What advice would you give to students considering majoring in English at NYU?
DO IT! Don’t listen to what anyone else says. People who tell you that an English major is a waste are all idiots. I’m being serious, complete Philistines. Study what you want and what interests you (even if that isn’t English). I feel many people are concerned with the lack of employment which results from an English major and it’s all bullshit. I have been employed most of my college career, during the year and the summer (even in London). If you apply yourself and work hard you can do anything you want; majoring in English only helps you realize that and allows you to take your life in your own hands. As a former pre-med student, I never looked back when I became an English major and I suggest you do the same.