Long live language
Published: Friday, November 20, 2009
Updated: Monday, May 23, 2011 16:05
Literature and language have lost significance in much of the world today. Most students pursue the sciences over the works of Shakespeare. Most people would prefer to watch "The Office" than to write short stories. Time spent on Facebook is significantly greater than time spent reading the combined works of Dickens, Orwell, Vonnegut and practically any other author. The importance of English has declined, and unfortunately literature's irrelevance is all too obvious. The MLA format won't be the key to becoming environmentally sustainable, and it isn't likely that a lovely sonnet will end nuclear proliferation. Even our educational system has emphasized the need to concentrate more thoroughly on math and science, which are the tools for progress in society. It would appear that literature and English are becoming useless.English Literature ranks high on most "worthless college majors" lists. It's true - walk into any Starbucks and it is often English Lit majors who are preparing your pumpkin muffins or blending your frappuccinos. It seems that anyone who can effectively utilize SparkNotes can mimic any English major's four years of literary study. And aside from classroom discussions and debates among egg heads, your opinion on whether Huckleberry Finn is racist is not going to affect your career.
Culture is shifting from classical education toward a more progressive and precise world of scientific discovery as well as a dependence on entertainment. Of course, there will always be literature, and I highly doubt that the average student will be able to avoid studying at least a few classic novels. But still, this shift shows several eerie connections to the utopian society found in Aldous Huxley's "Brave New World." The first section of the novel documents the World State, which is the globalization and conformity of all world cultures. Citizens are required to take a hallucinogen and to attend countless activities for entertainment and pleasure, and classic literature is banned from society. It has been kept by only the highest officials, because they fear the independent and beautiful thought that literature promotes. Citizens of the World State are literarily ignorant and have no individuality or independent intelligence.
I doubt we will ever reach this sort of extreme departure from English. And with current authors such as Chuck Palahniuk, Khaled Hosseini, or even J.K. Rowling, it seems that literature is safe from becoming entirely irrelevant. But Huxley does show the cultural importance of language. Literature is one of the most powerful art forms in the history of mankind. It presents new ideas in an aesthetic that is more interactive than television. It stimulates the imagination and strengthens intelligence.
So as culture shifts closer toward the study of applicable sciences and away from classical education, let's not forget the importance of English. The creativity and beauty of English and literature are what define our culture, our beliefs and our separation from the mindless malleable robots that we read about in Brave New World.