Discombobulated Musings

A Forum Post Dated Tuesday, September 4th, 2007, 10:01 AM 



What are the main materials, methods, and models that can be used to study English? Which of them are you yourself currently involved in?

To answer this particular question, one must first attempt to define English itself. Historically, at its most basic, the study of English was simply the study of a conquering language, the accumulation of rules and information required for correct usage in both written and spoken form. Layered on top of that was English’s scholarly ambition, an emphasis on not just writing correctly, but writing academically. The so-called refined sensibilities of the elite introduced English Literature into the pursuit, bringing with it the creation of the canon and its elevation to demi-god status, and this layer of classical text fit nicely atop the already established subject. For years, nothing too new or disturbing came along to rock this multi-level colossus of academia, and we (the users of English) accepted it as complete.

Then, suddenly (or so some would have us believe), we began to realize the interdisciplinary quality of English. If English was the language we spoke and the texts we read, then it went to reason that English was more than just ENGLISH. On top of the rigid canon of Literature, we started to pile up our own works of Creative Writing. We brought in the modern novel, film, poetry, and song lyrics. We incorporated forms of criticism that had never before been considered “literary”, and found that they could tell us even more than the previously espoused methods. We realized that English does not even need to BE wholly and truly English, and delved into ethnically-diverse texts in which multiple languages and dialects intermingle. English became, more than just the study of reading and writing and the canon, the study of CULTURE.

With all that in mind, what materials, methods, and models can be used to study English? Anything. With modern technology, we are on our way to developing a true “World Classroom,” and any text is valid study material. Personally, I try to utilize them all.

· What are the various kinds of “know-how” (skills, methods, strategies, techniques) through which the various kinds of “know-what” (content, substance, material) identified with English can be realized?

The main requirement for acquiring a good education in English is simply to keep an open mind. Stretch your reading insights to their fullest, and experiment with unfamiliar writing forms. Approach a given text from many angles, performing a “close read” as well as a study of cultural and sociological context, then go on to attempt a written opus of your own. Explore the history of the language and its usage in the power structures of various cultures, and speculate on the ways in that history has affected the literature of different ethnic, gender-identified, economically-situated, ideologically-structured social groups. Cross genres, cross wires, cross the boundaries of different media as text, cross the traditionally-defined lines of appropriate and non-appropriate academic material. Embrace both sides of that line. Study culture. Think. Write. Read.

· Theoretically, what are the possible subject positions that practitioners of English (learners and teachers) can take up with respect to our subject-matters and to one another as actively participating subjects?

The possibilities are endless. We can always, first off, approach English from our own unique and highly context-based personal subject positions. This will be the most individually valid interpretation of any given text, but not always the most academically valid. For that sort of validity, the practitioner must place him or herself in various different subject positions, examining the subject-matter from myriad cultural and sociological perspectives in order to truly embrace the multitude of interdisciplinary threads within a given text. The only limits are the imagination. I’ll repeat myself: the possibilities are endless.

This writing sample is actually a twenty-minute freewrite in response to class discussion and Rob Pope's English Studies Book. One of the first writing exercises assigned in English 600, it is superficial in some regards but manages to illustrate my fledgling attempts at analysis.  The questions in bold font are the assigned writing prompts.