November 2015 English Major of the Month
Hometown: Ljubljana, Slovenia
Campus: Abu Dhabi
What inspired you to major in English?
It's that old cliché: I was a kid who never got his head out of the books. One day it just dawned on me that there was nothing I wanted to do more in life than work with literature—the eureka moment came in high school when I was writing a massive research paper on the motif of the kiss in European poetry. My love of writing, as well as reading, also helped.
Have you found that studying English in New York is different than studying in Abu Dhabi?
It's a completely different experience. Literature classes in Abu Dhabi are much more global, rarely rooted in or emphasizing one specific literary tradition. The student body is quite small and extremely diverse, coming from around a hundred countries, so everybody brings radically different experiences and perspectives to the table. For example, reading Shakespeare means completely different things in a classroom with students from all continents, and sometimes even no native English speakers. On the other hand, in New York I can read in depth rather than breadth. A lot of English courses also place special emphasis on theory, which is something I miss in Abu Dhabi.
Do you do anything outside of the department (minor, internships, clubs, other interests) that enhance or overlap with your study of English?
Technically, my NYUAD major is called Literature and Creative Writing, which means that I'm already doing some creative writing work within the major. I'm getting minors in Arabic language and French studies (I spent my last semester in Paris) and a "multidisciplinary concentration" in Arab Crossroads Studies, which is like a minor too, except it draws on different disciplines in humanities and social sciences. I also write for student publications Electra Street and The Gazelle, write poetry both in English and my mother tongue, Slovenian, and every now and then try to translate something on the side.
What’s your favorite literary movement or period?
French Symbolist poetry.
What do you like to read outside of class?
I try to balance contemporary novels with "classics" from my endlessly expanding reading list, and for some reason I find pleasure in reading theoretical essays as well, but most often I read poetry—I like to stay in touch especially with contemporary Slovenian poetry and criticism.
If you could create your own class, what would it be?
It would be a class on poetry, which I think is absolutely lacking in literary education today, but also include literary/critical theory. Maybe a class on European historical avant-gardes. Or a cross-cultural genealogy tracing the development of different poetic forms.
What classes have you most enjoyed, either in the department or outside?
Back in Abu Dhabi I really liked the two-semester Foundations of Literature course, which is organized around genres rather than periods or national literatures and deals with different ideas of world literature and circulation of global texts. Here on the square I love Lytle Shaw's class on The New York School and Sinan Antoon's Gallatin seminar The Poetics and Politics of Mourning; both classes are extremely rewarding and professors really inspiring.
What is it like being a CLS fellow, and how does it affect your study of English?
Much more than Abu Dhabi, New York is a city where literature is alive, living and being lived, written and performed. Being a CLS fellow gives me a sense of being included, in some way, in this literary fabric. Meeting contemporary writers is helpful to open up space for discussion and it informs my work as a reader as well as a writer. Then there's the additional benefit of vanity of getting to know authors who seem to belong to a different place ...
What is your favorite thing, or the most valuable thing, that you’ve learned in your study of literature?
Literature constantly remakes the world. And also: texts aren't the only thing you can read; or rather: everything can be a text, even if it's not legible. Derrida really changed my understanding of, well, the world, and how things like science and history and even time and memory are written as literature. On the other hand, literary texts open up space for cross-cultural contact and exchange—a treasury of human knowledge and symbolic meanings.
Any advice for students considering majoring in English?
Do it! It's never just literature you're studying or novels you're reading, your horizons will expand so much. Besides, I can't think of a better way to get a degree or make a living than by reading books and thinking and writing about them.