Due to popular demand (most of it imagined and/or based on anecdotal evidence), I hereby inaugurate a new category for this blog: whatcha gonna do with that?!
The bane of English majors everywhere, and thus to the professors who teach said English majors, “whatcha gonna do with that?!” is the battle-cry of those of little faith; those who are convinced that students studying literature, theory, philosophy, humanities of all stripes will end up starving, holding up a sign at freeway entrances that says: “will close read for food.”
For them, I offer up this category. Whatcha gonna do with that?! will chronicle the innovative and variegated mix of vocations, lucrative passions, and self-supporting hobbies taken up by erstwhile literature majors. I hope it will be a rich archive to show parents, loved ones, and “realists” everywhere.
The inaugural pair for this category will be Stacy London and Stephen Johnson.
Pop culture mavens may recognize the name Stacy London from the addictive and vexing television show What Not to Wear. It may come as a surprise to viewers that London’s undergraduate career focused on—wait for it—“20th century philosophy and German literature.” According to her biography, London parlayed her skills in Germanistik and symbolic logic into fashion, eventually becoming the senior fashion editor at Mademoiselle. Apparently neither of those courses of study asked her to consider gender normativity, but regardless, an employed literature major!
Stephen Johnson (who blogs here) is a prolific writer of non-fiction that examines connections among everyday life, science and technology. His recent book, Everything Bad is Good for You, takes a close look at popular media and traces its neurobiological effects. He makes the counterintuitive argument that, rather than functioning as evidence of the moron-ification of modern society, things like video games and television shows reflect an increasing ability in modern audiences to seek out and understand more complex entertainment. In a recent interview at Pop Matters, Johnson discusses his new book The Ghost Map: The Story of London’s Most Terrifying Epidemic—and How It Changed Science, Cities, and the Modern World. In the course of the interview, he reveals his early educational history:
“I suppose I should make a goal of trying to write one book without a reference to Dickens. It’s funny, I went to Columbia, in the English program, in a sense to do theory. I had been a semiotics major in college, and that was Brown in the late ‘80s—it was the third most popular major in the humanities. It had no faculty of its own, but it was third: history, English, and semiotics. And so I went there because Said was there, and Gayatri Spivak was going to be there, and a bunch of other folks who were in that world–it was either going to be Duke or Columbia. I got there and they actually had this weird thing where they made you read novels, which [laughs] was odd, and then I fell in with Franco Moretti, who ended up having the most influence over my intellectual life at that period. He was really doing the nineteenth-century novel, and so I took a couple of different classes with him and I just got really interested in the period. “
There it is, folks. Not just a background in literature, but also in theory. Theory!
So, the preliminary answer to whatcha gonna do with that?! is plenty.
Stay tuned for the next thrilling installment.