Rethinking Canonicity in my English Degree (again)

This semester, I took two literature classes: English 451 and a survey course on British literature pre-1700. Because I had to (belatedly) complete my English Major Self-Reflective Advisement Paper, I spent some time thinkING about the value both classes contributed to my degree.

I’ve never seen much merit in weighing courses up against each other and deciding one was somehow objectively “better” or more “engaging” than the other. I really loved my survey course in early lit; the class offered a nice evolution of poetry and ideas, in addition to reminding me about the value of close reading when approaching literary analysis. I also learned a lot about how to level myself with dense texts (ex: Paradise Lost), because sometimes I feel that the intimidating imbalance between ‘you’ and the challenging, ultra-sublime ‘text’ makes it harder to logically approach reading the material. All of that said, though, I couldn’t help feeling that the themes and topics we explored in English 451 felt somehow all more immediate and pressing to my own life. As I routinely digest hard news and grapple with hopelessness about the future, I find myself circling back to Octavia Butler and the intensity with which she asks readers to rethink their worldviews.

Moreover, I really felt that the content of the class (which encompasses, to name a few, issues about race, contracts, gender, consent, and other vital components of society) was imbued by its content. The periodic self-reflection in blogging and papers that mingle textual analysis+theory+reflection allowed me to think more broadly and make connections between texts that I would not have made otherwise.

I think, ultimately, that the strength of my semester was in taking two very different literature courses that both pushed me as a learner. Part of why I value my degree so much is that I’ve taken classes on Shakespeare, modernism, 19th century Brit lit, etc. (aka: I’ve worked through a fair amount of various Norton Canons), but I’ve also taken classes like our Octavia Butler class, which pushed me in ways that I needed as a thinker and human.  Apart from two-period requirements, I didn’t have to study any of the above topics, but in doing so I learned a lot about the content I want to focus on when I leave Geneseo.

To my peers in English 431: Thanks for a great semester, folks. I’ve been so impressed by the blog posts everyone has written and it’s been a pleasure to work with you on our final project.




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