Oh, the Humanity! (But, like, in a good way.)

To say that things have changed would be an understatement. I left my hometown just outside of Denver, Colorado and came to College of Charleston for the fall semester of 2019—that’s three years, six months, and ten days ago, according to this English major’s arithmetic—and I suppose it would be normal for the world to change a fair amount in such a span of time. However, I think we can all agree that this particular three years, six months, and ten days have been particularly eventful: the news has become populated with stories of war, insurrection, and racial injustice that might’ve been ripped out of a history textbook; the Great CofC Mumps Outbreak proved to be only the second-worst pandemic I’ve ever survived; and, perhaps most distressingly of all, the old Cuban restaurant by Marion Square went out of business. But for all the change and uncertainty, studying English has been my one constant, and I want to share the story of how that happened.

Now, I don’t want to misrepresent how I got here. It’s all too easy to retroactively draw connections that weren’t there in the moment, to say that the era of global turmoil has influenced my decision to engage so deeply with the humanities, but the truth is that I’ve always known that I was going to be an English major. Reading and writing allow me to see through the eyes of others, and if college is a time to learn about myself and the world around me, then what better way to do so than by immersing myself in literary study. As Paula L. Moya says in her blog post justifying the study of English, “A work of literature never represents society as it really is, but rather filters through a literary form the hopes, dreams, illusions, and (sometimes faulty or partial) knowledge of the author about that social world.” As someone who is also pursuing a degree in sociology, I can attest to the great importance of Moya’s perspective on the role that literature plays in understanding ourselves, others, and our societies more broadly—hence why so many influential sociologists were also literary figures. (Here’s looking at you, Charlotte Perkins Gilman.)

The reason I stayed is a little bit more complicated. At the end of the day, there are a lot of different majors that could’ve scratched that same itch, and my academic interests tend to be interdisciplinary in nature, so conceptually, pursuing other paths of study was an option for me. But in English, I came to find a deep appreciation for the way that my coursework could incorporate and examine such a variety of different fields. For instance, as I’ve mentioned in a previous post, one of my proudest English achievements is my research paper on Natsume Soseki’s Kokoro. I’d read the book a couple times by that point, and while I always enjoyed the exploration of intergenerational friendship and the emotional revelations about Sensei’s character, I was puzzled by what the author was trying to say about academic and intellectual life. I knew there was something there, but I just couldn’t put my finger on what it was. So, when given the opportunity to choose the topic for my own research project, I knew exactly what I wanted to do.

This proved to be a veritable rabbit hole of academic inquiry, for in order to answer this question I had to first determine what exactly academic and intellectual life looked like in Japan at that point in time, which led me to learning about the Meiji era and its education system. But then I had to find out which components of Soseki’s prose and/or narrative closest reflected his own ideology, which required me to dive deeper into the author’s life, to comb through the different opinions he’d expressed at various points previously, and, more broadly, to examine the nature of literary translation and see where the translator’s work might’ve influenced his presentation of the topic. With so many plates spinning at once, I worried that my project might crash and burn, but surprisingly, the end result was, I daresay, the strongest essay I’d ever produced up to that point.

This project encapsulates for me the thing that I love most about the English major. The ability to engage with and people who lived in different eras and cultures, to understand how they lived and thought and felt—it’s electric. In her article arguing for the importance of reading black fiction, Jasmine Guillory writes that “[f]iction gives you a window into both lives you know and recognize and ones you don’t,” and never has that been truer for me than in my work with Kokoro. There is something so energizing about the process of using concrete, practical skills—communication, research, project management, etc.—to help recognize the humanity in the world around me.

This, above all other reasons, is why I’ve stuck around, and this is why, in a few months’ time, I plan to be crossing the Cistern as an English graduate. Even as our society continues to grapple with the relevance of a humanities degree in 2023, I remain as committed as ever to the path I’ve chosen. While I have written previously about the futility of trying to understand literature in terms of its value, I do wish to reference the words of Christian Madsbjerg, in his defense of studying the humanities: “When we focus solely on hard data and natural science methods… we erode our sensitivity to all the forms of knowledge that are not reductionist. We lose touch with the books, music, art, and culture that allow us to experience ourselves in a complex social context.” His warning reveals the disturbing truth that my experience in researching Kokoro is increasingly rare. As more of us eschew the humanities for “something employable” (please understand that this phrase is dripping in sarcasm), we risk losing everything. But I didn’t write this post to talk how the humanities are our last hope in staving off some A.I.-driven extinction event that becomes more plausible with each passing day. No, I wrote this post to deliver one simple message: my name is Adam Dorsheimer, I go to school at College of Charleston, and I’m still studying English. Three years, six months, and ten days later.

One Response to Oh, the Humanity! (But, like, in a good way.)

  1. Prof VZ March 14, 2023 at 4:04 pm #

    This is a superb narrative–and a fitting capstone to your blogging in the course so far. A admire the wit, the dynamic writing (how one uses punctuation to really give the writing pace and voice is often overlooked), and the earnest defenses of English throughout. The present essay could be enriched a bit by folding in some additional key experiences rescued, perhaps, from other essays: the skills you describe through your work in the tutoring context are crucial, as is your insights into how the workshop experience opened up new avenues for thinking about, experiencing, and defending collaborative work and feedback. I view this essay as a sort of greatest hits of the insights into the values and skills you’ve articulated across your writing, so feel free to go back and rescue the best bits and pieces.

    One element beyond the two academic experiences you might fold in here include your meditation on value from earlier in the semester. Once you expand the “literary” to include diverse form of cultural expression—NASA reports, song lyrics, non-verbal gestures, etc.—it’s clear that one could never disparage an area of study that is attentive to these very basic facets of life. So, we can spend time in these important acts of attention, and less time worrying over their value or viability.

    I also like the idea of finding beauty in miscommunication, and your articulation of specific key skills (that line about working with qualitative / thick data), and I think the Soseki project also makes available key insights about generational relations and genre as well–again very adaptable / relevant ideas for contexts beyond the classroom.

    For the conclusion, you might work on developing some slightly more concrete goals here–what the next steps for you might look like post-graduation. Where you see yourself in a few years time, etc. I love the future because it hasn’t happened yet–so you can’t lie about it. You can only create and try on different versions of it. The conclusion here is a great place for some of that “trying on.”

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