One thing that I love about studying English (though I suspect that it is true in many other fields as well) is its continuing ability to express my identity. I don’t mean that in a “writing helps me express myself” kind of way, but rather in the sense that analyzing and studying literature enables one to find patterns of identity.
I was writing a reflection in one of my classes in which we were asked to consider what our particular critical standpoint was. I suspect that my initial reaction was similar to most people in the class; I thought to myself, “I don’t have any particular critical standpoint or inclination.” But, when I stopped to think about it I found that I did to some extent. When I write papers my first instinct is, almost without fail, to write about women and gender. Surprise! I’m pretty sure that makes my critical standpoint to be at least nominally feminist. (As a male, I question how truly feminist I can possibly be.)
But beyond this one example, in taking numerous literature classes and critical theory, I found my temperament. I know what I like, and for the most part, I know why. Just being a part of English studies, I have honed my ability to predict what I will and will not enjoy. For example, taking my experience in the classroom, I can pretty accurately predict that, at any given moment, I would probably rather hear a lecture or take part in a discussion about gender than I would like to watch a football game (though, the two issues have some interesting overlap). And while I realize that makes me sound strange to many people, I am glad to have that self-knowledge.
Has English English, or any other area of study helped you find out who you are? Do you think that identity formation should be a more intentional part of a college education? If you have any thoughts, please, feel free to comment, or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you’d rather more anonymity.