How I Understand English Studies
An Attempt to Situate Myself in an Ever-Broadening Field. Revised 11-29-07

Although I wrote this essay as a response to the articles of Harris and Enos assigned in class, I feel it contributes well to this portfolio. Upon writing this essay, I came to understand that my present course in the greater English curriculum did not have to obviate my previous studies, namely those in literature. Pondering the possibilities of this newly discovered accord, I set myself to viewing each discipline (ESL and literature) in terms of components. I examined the specifics of each area of study and tried to find an area of overlap that interested me. I figured if I could unite the genuine interest that I had in literature with the pragmatic aspects of ESL then my academic raison d’être would be close at hand and I could set myself to the task of designing a thesis.

                As I was reviewing my interests in literature, it occurred to me that I have always appreciated the trans-cultural aspect of reading world literature.  In fact, before switching to the MI program at Humboldt, I was planning on taking courses in Comparative Literature at San Francisco State University. I gradually began to understand my nascent interests in the field of ESL/EFL were related to the cultural aspect of literature study that I had always enjoyed. This revelation may not seem so explicitly evidenced in this essay on Harris and Enos; however, I believe my attempts to write from the perspective of both an ESL and literature student in this essay allowed me to reconcile what I had previously thought two separate areas of study. Thus, this essay led to the notion that culture unities the study of literature with ESL and in this idea I found the rudiment beginnings of my thesis topic.

                It is especially illuminating, when this essay is compared with my second journal entry which I have provided here. Where the latter bespeaks uncertainty, this essay demonstrates the confidence that its writing helped to build.

Respose to Harris and Enos Readings.

English studies, to me, are primarily based in literature. But, at present, youthful impetuousness has brought me to a different position, with ESL as my primary study, shifting my focus away from literature and into English as language, English as education and, to a lesser degree, English as culture. As I feel my primary focus in ESL studies, at present, pertains to English as a language, I will limit my discussion of Harris and Enos to the realms of English as literature and language. In reviewing both articles, it seems to me that Harris’ headings of the three competing aspects of the personal are pertinent enough to both aspects of English studies to use as a model.

Harris defines the three competing aspects of the personal as channels through which a writer is permitted the use of personal effects in writing. The first concept: person, is the relaying of autobiographical information through academic writing. Obviously, there is a need across all English studies to moderate this voice. Not even in creative and biographical writing, I would argue, is complete dependence on the personal permissible. For any discipline, or area of study, this personal perspective is best controlled and adapted as ‘situation.’ In Enos’ article she writes of the need to “situate” oneself in a given research topic, from this she goes on to assure that “a voice will emerge that shows an active mind in the process of constructing” (71). The nature of this advice seems all-encompassing to me; across the wide spectrum of English studies anyone can benefit from using personal perspective as a starting point. In my particular areas of study, English as literature and English as language, the subject is approached through numerous theories and models.

Since the onset of ESL instruction, teachers have offered a number of instructional models to apply in the classroom. After about one-hundred years of scholarship, none of these models have been labeled obsolete, nor are any seen as complete. Each new model grows out of an old one, attempting to redefine certain ways of approaching ESL pedagogy. Since older models serve as precedents for newer models, adherents for these older models are still fairly common. The burgeoning study of ESL provides something of an accelerated look at how scholarship in English studies has developed over the years. The same notion of changing models can be found in English as literature studies, where notions of theory constantly vacillate between certain perceptions, the growth of functionalism out of formalism for example.

Across disciplines the nature of English studies has changed through preexisting institutions. Academic work should have a personal quality that provides the scholar with a means to situate him/herself in an argument. Harris’ notion of person should not be taken to legitimize personal narrative as an appropriate form of scholarship, but rather as a means of gaining perspective, or situating one’s self in a topic. This perspective will in turn provide an easier transition into the ongoing discussion of scholarly journals dealing with various English studies.

Harris’ second aspect of the personal, the idea of position, cements one’s situation in writing. Progressing in the field of English as language, or English as literature, one would first need to familiarize one’s self with available positions (theories, methods, models etc.), and would then adopt whichever perspective seems the most incisive for the area of study. Of course each individual defines a model of theory differently, and thus the notion of person overlaps with the existing theories, which, as it seems to me, is the very impetus for scholarship. However, Enos mentions a few caveats to be observed. The most salient of these is the importance of content over voice; that is, personal narrative should be incorporated into presentation of theory or method and not appear separate. Strong opinions can also lead to establishing binaries in an argument that do not permit the reader a means of redress (67).

Style should be a subtle means of conveyance for personal opinion. In either academic ESL or literature writing, style should indicate familiarity with subject and knowledge of the technical aspects of writing. In any academic situation, an article should be well-organized and clear. Ideas should be expressed in the most concise way possible. Style should make an idea easy to follow and should also allow for personality and perspective. The style of an article or book should reflect the writer’s position, or how one has situated oneself with respect to the ongoing academic dialogue. There are also certain turns of style that are available only to seasoned scholars, so there also exists a de facto requirement of using less personal narrative earlier on in one’s writing career, no matter the area of study within Englishes.