Tuesday, April 4, 2017

The Beautiful and Conflicted Confessions of an English Major

By Corinne Spisz, Integrated Language Arts major

When I came to Ashland University as a freshman back in the fall of 2015, I thought I knew what being an English major was going to take. I heard it was going to be difficult but that I would be fine in the end. I heard that I will grow as a reader and a writer. What I did not know was the battle that I was going to fight, and will continue to fight, to achieve everything that I was told about my major. It was not until English Composition 102 with Dr. Waterman in the spring of 2016 that I realized what being an English major meant. This is the personal back story that I am unable to fully include in my 12-minute URCA (Undergraduate Research and Creative Activity Symposium) presentation about how I discovered this “beauty through conflict” during one of my first interactions with the stories, “Bullet in the Brain” by Tobias Wolff (1995) and “Use of Force” by William Carlos Williams (1938). These the two stories that taught me what being an English major is all about. 

I was first introduced to these stories in the second half of the English 102 course and in no time, I decided to write my compare and contrast essay on these two texts. I had several failed attempts at starting this paper, horrible drafts that were driving me crazy. Fed up and frustrated, I went to one of the study rooms on the first floor of Amstutz Hall. As a sign of my determination to work this chaotic disaster out I left my phone and computer up in my room and I locked the door to the study room. In the isolation, save for the texts, blank sheets of paper, and a pen I began reading “Bullet in the Brain,” and began free-writing on any aspect of the story that stood out to me. After that I took another deep breath and began to read and free-write on “Use of Force.” It was then that I realized that the black ink on the white page was staring back at me, sending me a message that I never thought I would need. I bolted upstairs, crashed into the room, opened my laptop and began to write the very beginnings what I know is my upcoming URCA presentation on April 11.

These stories made me realize that literature is like having a “gun to your head” in the way that the main character Anders experiences in “Bullet in the Brain.” Literature is violent, provocative, seductive, elusive, exciting, inspirational, addicting and mesmerizing; but it is through all this power that I discovered the beauty of language and the beauty that I have within myself. Literature makes you think in ways you never thought possible, and English is so much harder than what I thought it would be, but that is the beauty of this major. This constant war between literature and yourself teaches you more about the world and your place in it than any other major, and I am always humbled by it. This conflict of thinking about literature and writing papers well is hard, but it is this difficulty that I absolutely love. This battle is addictive because you grow as a person, a reader, and a writer with every text you read and with every paper you write, and you want to push yourself and learn more every single day. I wake up every morning excited to get to class and sit through the discussions. A true English major has had an experience like this and has realized that language is beautiful. The conflict that first I faced was the distractions of the world. I was not willing to dive into the text and break it apart. These stories taught me the beauty and the depth of the written language through the conflict of distraction and insecurity. It took “the agony and sweat,” the failed attempts at the original paper for me to discover the beauty within myself and the beauty of the texts. 

My URCA presentation will consider the scholarly implications of this beauty/conflict idea. To do so, it will examine the claim in William Faulkner’s 1949 Nobel Prize for Literature Speech that, “writing today has forgotten the problems of the human heart in conflict with itself which alone can make good writing because only that is worth writing about is worth the agony and the sweat” is necessary for English majors, readers, and writers alike. Using the motifs of mind and matter, each story explores the significance of beauty amid conflict. The mind represents the internal recognition of seeing beauty; matter, or mouth, articulates the external representation of realizing beauty. To apply these literary criticism and readings in my own “major” awakening I have realized, that without the discovery of the beauty of the English language there is no point in writing or reading. I fought to find this beauty and I encourage every reader, writer and English major to fight, to find the beauty on the page of every text you are fortunate enough to encounter, because it will change your life forever.