“Granted, in daily speech, where we don’t stop to consider every word, we all use phrases like ‘the ordinary world,’ ‘ordinary life,’ ‘the ordinary course of events’ … But in the language of poetry, where every word is weighed, nothing is usual or normal. Not a single stone and not a single cloud above it. Not a single day and not a single night after it. And above all, not a single existence, not anyone’s existence in this world.” --Wislawa Szymborska, on accepting the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1996
To help us pay close attention and thus find astonishment in the ordinary, to engage us in the never-ending argument about what is true and good and about how to create truth and goodness, to help us inherit (without being trapped by) tradition as we make the future: these are some of the essential tasks of literature. Not surprisingly, then, to be “literate” has long been equated with being educated, and the study and creation of literature broadly construed has long played a central role in creating, sustaining and changing human cultures.
The UC Merced major in English will help students develop the skills and knowledge they need to read deeply and write fluently. These skills and this knowledge are necessary in a wide range of professional settings. The major in English also asks students to recognize the complex interactions of culture and literature. Literature and literary criticism are significant parts of an ages old, continuing conversation about the meaning and value of human society. Unlike scientific or social scientific approaches to this conversation, literary discourse emphasizes the particular in the dialogue between particular and universal. It always arises out of specific times, places and cultural traditions, and it often gives powerful voice to cultural differences and individual differences against the backdrop of larger, homogenizing forces. Moreover, literature has traditionally fore-grounded questions of value over questions of definition, or rather, sees questions of value as central to the definition of humanity itself.
The study of literature enables one to engage this conversation richly, both for personal development and for the ability it gives one to be a responsible agent in the many societies each person inhabits. Moreover, literary study gives one insight into how cultures operate in such a way as to facilitate ethical cross-cultural interactions. Literary study facilitates such agency by teaching readers how to understand – an understanding that engages intellectual, ethical and aesthetic faculties – and then critique literary artifacts.
Upon graduation, students will find themselves prepared for a number of career possibilities, including education, graduate and professional programs, including the fields of law, medicine and business, as well as advertising, editing and publishing, journalism, communications and mass media.
Program Learning Outcomes
The proposed program learning outcomes of the major seek to articulate, in specific ways, how the successful student majoring in English will be able to participate in this larger intellectual, historical, and esthetic conversation. Students will demonstrate the ability to:
- Interpret texts with due sensitivity to both textual and contextual cues.
- Articulate an appreciation of the aesthetic qualities of texts by the standards of their times and places.
- Demonstrate historical, geographic, and cultural empathy by reading texts written in other times, places, and cultures.
- Apply interpretive strategies developed in literary study to other academic and professional contexts.
- Write cogently and with sensitivity to audience.