I am not a bibliophile. I was not one of those kids who stayed curled up with a book all day, nor have I ever recorded my innermost feelings in journals. In elementary school, I hated spelling, grammar, composition, or anything that had to do with the written word. I would much rather watch a story unfold on a television screen rather than between the pages of a book.
Yet, I chose to be an English major in college. Why would I do such a thing to myself?
I made the decision to get serious about the study of English when I was a junior in high school. I had always been a math and science guy. Up to that point, I craved the admixture of finality and irresolution achieved from combining these two subjects—like combining sweet and savory, the perfection resulting from opposition. With Algebra and calculus, I could immerse myself in the complexity of things, evoke a few rules, manipulate them cleverly, and then resolve the whole matter. With science, I was more intrigued by the impossibility of resolution—the search for Earth-like planets light years away, designing an aircraft that could make such a journey, and the seemingly infinite regressions of matter (molecules, atoms, quarks, and so on).
I was very envious, however, of those kids who could read Moby Dick in a matter of hours, had read thousands of books by the age of 16, and were naturally eloquent in their spoken and written articulations of ideas. To me, these were the smart ones. So, from that wrinkled space of a 16-year-old ego, where insecurity fuels competitiveness, I committed myself to what would become a six-year apprenticeship—two years of AP English and an undergraduate major in English—in rhetoric and literary criticism. While I appreciated and found utility in both, it was the latter that proved more arresting; for, the latter satisfied the “sweet” and “savory” urges at the core of my intellectual disposition. Charlotte Bronte, Shakespeare and Chaucer held for me no inherent interest. Yet, the possibility that these authors could be communicating in the more subtle energy fields of meaning had for me a vibrant, visceral appeal. It is as if underneath the surface of the text, there were exceedingly more interesting texts—almost like the complex ecosystems that lie beneath the apparent homogeneity of the ocean. Beneath this surface one finds the same infinitude as one discovers in the Big Bang or subatomic particles. Delineating the contours of one of those ecosystems gives me the same satisfaction as solving a complex system of equations.
Learning how to analyze texts and situations, and how to channel these insights into clear, compelling prose have been the skills that have propelled me through life. The combined force of critical analysis and effective writing have rendered me adept in other areas: the ability to find interesting connections between seemingly incommensurate ideas, compose documents swiftly, edit my own prose, and distill the most important parts of a large body of information. This collection of skills has been responsible for most of my major academic and professional accomplishments: I wrote my way into doctoral admission at Yale; I was able to compose the first draft of my dissertation within only two months; landed a book deal and a slot in an anthology right out of graduate school; composed all of the web content, contracts, a 150-page curriculum, pedagogy and all other documents to start and maintain a successful academic services company; received two choreography grants to study dance and music in West Africa; and the list goes on.
Whether it’s a business plan, funding proposal, a graduate school application, cover letter, an article or an entire book, a rigorous apprenticeship in the English language will confer the independence to build a brand, business, or at the very least, a presence in the world. If you are like me, and have never been madly in love with reading and writing, you might want to consider complementing your major in mathematics or astrophysics with a minor in English literature; the long-term practical advantages will far outweigh the immediate drudgery.
More than its practical utility, English language study has sharpened my mind and my sense of morality. For, if writing is to be “good,” it must be inspired, emanating from a place of clarity and authentic conviction. In these ways, critical analysis and rhetoric have made me more honest, and given me a compass for what feels right and what does not. The alignment of conviction and utterance is itself reminiscent of the same balance of “sweet” and “savory”—the infinitude of joy that attends living with integrity, and the sense of resolution derived from a word well-crafted.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Dr. Darian Marcel Parker is a psychological anthropologist who does work in existentialism, phenomenology, educational philosophy and neuroanthropology, among other topics. He earned his PhD, M. Phil and MA from Yale University’s departments of anthropology and African American Studies, and BA’s in English literature and anthropology from UCLA’s College of Honors. He is the founder and CEO of Parker Academics (www.parkeracademics.com), an innovative academic services company that provides a neuro-existential approach to test prep and academic subjects tutoring.