By: Micah Pava  | 

 In Praise of English at YC

I am a recent graduate of Yeshiva College, where I majored in English and minored in Media Studies. The English department at YU is a small, close-knit community, where I had the opportunity to work extensively with faculty members on a wide-range of pursuits. 

With Dr. David Lavinsky, I took classes in which we studied texts spanning from the Classical and Medieval periods, including Plato’s dialogues and epic Arthurian romances, to the utterly contemporary, like the Netflix series, Stranger Things. In his classes, we explored the ways in which humanity continues to contend with timeless issues through methods which are nonetheless historically contingent. 

In Dr. Paula Geyh’s classes, we studied classics of American literature and visual art in modern America. The semester began with Walt Whitman’s expansive vision of lyrical subjectivity and continued to trace the contours of the development of American identity across a diverse spectrum of experience, concluding with an exploration of fractured postmodern self-awareness, as encapsulated by the novels of Thomas Pynchon and Don Delilo. With Dr. Geyh, I was also initiated into the world of cinema, watching and discussing masterpieces like Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo and Ingmar Bergman’s Persona. These elliptical films may be returned to over and over, and I am grateful for Dr. Geyh’s patient exploration of not only what these movies mean, their content, but how they mean, or the cinematic language of representation. If I hadn’t taken The Art of Film with Dr. Geyh, I may have never known there is an alternative to the vulgar commercialism that dominates the box office and streaming platforms in our current moment.

I studied with Dr. Elizabeth Stewart for five consecutive semesters and was granted a research position through our university to work more intensely with her this past summer. Dr. Stewart’s expertise in psychoanalytic theory is enlightening and has allowed me to develop a more rigorous and consistent theoretical framework through which to approach texts of all kinds. Although I have spent a semester with Dr. Stewart reading classics of European literature in translation, including novels by Flaubert, Goethe and Dostoevsky, I have also taken a class with her on graphic novels and animated films, which culminated in the production of my own graphic dream-diary, in which I explored images taken from arthouse films interwoven with my own ruminations and surreal associations. Additionally, my research over the summer in critical theory, focusing on the writing of Michel Foucault and Judith Butler, provided an essential foundation for my Senior Thesis, which I completed this past fall.

At the Wilf Campus Writing Center, where I have worked for two years and continue to work after graduation, I am supervised by Dr. Lauren Fitzgerald and Professor David Puretz. Dr. Fitzgerald’s careful approach to pedagogy is illuminating, as is Professor Puretz’s deep understanding of the creative process, and I hope that my experience as a Writing Center tutor will help me as I move forward to pursue my own career as an educator.

With Dr. Brian Trimboli, I renewed my passion for poetry and he advised me as I drafted my Senior Honors Thesis, a poetry manuscript that I will continue to revise and rewrite as I seek to publish this work. I also hope to gain admission to a Masters of Fine Arts program concentrating in poetry in the coming fall, and Dr. Trimboli spent countless hours with me providing feedback on my writing portfolio and personal statement. It has been an honor and a privilege to work with Brian. 

During two consecutive semesters with Dr. Rachel Mesch, my classmates and I read widely on the topics of gender and race throughout history, this year of coursework serving as a senior capstone for the English major. Again, I must emphasize the way in which the curricula in the English department give students an understanding of literature that is rooted in an awareness of the historical conditions which produce a text. As James Baldwin writes in Notes from a Native Son, “People are trapped in history and history is trapped in them.” 

It is through my education at Yeshiva College that I have come to realize that we don’t need to blindly “cancel” texts from the past which seemingly promote problematic perspectives. We can appreciate the beauty which inheres in a work of literature while also working to gain a clearer understanding of the ideologies which are reinforced or resisted by a text, whether this text is a “timeless” classic or a work of pop entertainment created in the 21st century. Although some may call for a return to the “canon” in the YC English department, it is my hope to clarify to the student body and administration that the canon is still very much alive here, even while our understanding of this canon is informed by contemporary discourse. This dynamic approach allows all English majors at YU to remain connected to our traditions, both secular and religious, while actively engaging with the world today in pursuit of justice and progress.