As someone who has been on both sides of the table, there are a few interesting expectations from literary studies that I have encountered as a student and as a teacher in the journey so far.
There are some people who expect us to have read all possible texts (novels and poems) that have been classified under ‘literary’ studies; to recite poems verbatim, to quote exact words, to define ‘story’, ‘plot’, ‘character’, as if literature is all about rote learning. As I look back, I realize I haven’t read even half of those ‘classic’ texts. I do not remember my own poems, forget memorizing the poems of Keats or Shelly or Whitman. Seniors from engineering disciplines at IIT tested me by asking if I had read a certain ‘remote’ ‘less-known’ Kant, Wittgenstein, Tagore, Dickens, Hardy. They could actually cite the exact page numbers. I usually had a puzzled look as a response. I have not been an avid reader, just been a focused reader.
There are another set of people who expect that students of literature can write love-letters and are ‘romantic’ by default. As I reflect back, I feel love and romance was not my profession, literature was. I perceived an “ideal” world that came alive only in my imagination and only through the characters in the texts that I read. I have written just one love-letter in life and that was during a love-letter writing competition of PG cult; but never won the prize. 🙂 I realized that there were far more intense love-letter writers from other disciplines than I could ever be.
There are a third set of people who expect us to be experts in CV analysis or to be great editors. As I read through some of my own writings, I realize how much I needed a CV analyst and a soft-skills trainer to train me in the art of marketing my work. So, what do students of literature actually do? If there are better ‘thinkers’, ‘writers’, ‘analysts’, ‘reviewers’, ‘soft-skills’ trainers or even ‘lovers’ than us, what have we been doing so far? A little something of everything or ‘much ado about nothing’? Living under borrowed titles? Or living as parasites/adjuncts in a robust tree of an institution? I hope the profession of literary experts is not getting limited to being bad critics or worse reviewers? I hope we are not an endangered profession like the clock-keepers or ‘Ghadi-babus’ of the 19th century, who dwindled away with the turn of the century after the invention of automatic clocks?
Well, I am in quest for the answers myself. Help me out, if you can.
Until then…. This piece of writing is in the ‘confessional’ literary vein.