Since early high school, I knew that I would pursue an academic field that some would regard as useless, self-centered, or even menial. Perhaps some of you can relate; have you ever had this conversation?
Cousin: "What are you going to major in at Princeton?"
Cousin: "But like, what are you going to do with that?"
Or recently, my three closest high school friends (all of whom are prospective med schoolers) were asking about Princeton. One looked at me with legitimate concern and said, "But Dylan, you were good at science, why are you doing this?"
So, why am I doing this? Yesterday, I was in class with my philosophy prof, and we were talking about the absolutely crazy stuff they're doing in the Princeton Plasma Lab. (Something involving an artificial star?) I said something along the lines of "makes you scared to go into the humanities, when the other guys are making stars." But my prof was unfazed. He said that every era with great technological advancement was coupled with great humanistic advancement. I agree, and I believe that my English degree will directly profit some faction of my future community. That being said, the reason I choose to study literature is pretty simple.
It wasn't even much of a choice really— more of a compulsion. I've always preferred Marx to markets and Proust to petri dishes. Even with the so-called "right" fields, I couldn't seem to gravitate to the questions that had black and white answers. Any class was more interesting if it ended in the word "theory." What I've come to realize is that I don't need to support my academic path. Words fail to qualify the adoration I harbor for my favorite pieces of fiction, and often, words fail to characterize the reason why I dedicate a large portion of my life to doing just that. My latest piece of independent work was entitled, "Away Come Away: Yeats, Fairies, and Folklore." But the paper really could have been called, "Yeats is so fantastically brilliant that he'll change the way you look at your own existence in three stanzas."
I've devoted a good chunk of my young adulthood to the practice of reading, understanding and critiquing the greatest creative works in the history of Western thought. I have many regrets, but none where literature is concerned. I know not yet what I will do with my English degree, but I do know that I refuse to apologize for it.