Attention sophomores thinking about concentrating in English: Stop reading op-eds. This summer, it seems like English—not to mention most disciplines in the humanities—have been denigrated and abused by columnists, cash-strapped universities, and graphs everywhere.
Despite the fervor over this certain oncoming apocalypse, level heads still exist: In a recent piece for The New Yorker, Adam Gopnik writes, "If we abolished English majors tomorrow, Stephen Greenblatt and Stanley Fish and Helen Vendler would not suddenly be freed to use their smarts to start making quantum proton-nuclear reactor cargo transporters, or whatever; they would all migrate someplace where they could still talk Shakespeare and Proust and the rest."
But where would that place be? Flyby decided to find out.
For Helen Vendler, Porter University Professor, it would be high school. "When I came into this profession, women found it hard to be appointed," Vendler wrote in an email. "I gave this some thought, and decided I was going to teach poetry somewhere—if not a college or university, then a high school. And that's what I'd try to do today, if I were a young person and my department were erased by the university."
University Professor Stephen J. Greenblatt responded to the question regarding his fallback career with a knowing smile: "Oh, quantum physics for sure." His second choice, he said, would be to write for The New Yorker.
As for the so-called "humanities crisis," Greenblatt noted that for him, the "humanities debate is more heat than light." He added, "There's a peculiar anxiety about [humanities]. We still live in a culture in which an enormous amount of time and energy is put into the creation and consumption of stories, art, and fantasies."
According to the experts, then, there's no need to pack up your copies of Baldwin and Shakespeare in bomb-proof shelters just yet—Greenblatt and Vendler are doubtful of this cosmic apocalypse in English studies. Soldier on, ye brave English concentrators!