Professor D.A. Miller speaks at the UCLA Forum Forum on the Futures of Literary and Cultural Studies

UCLA Department of English continues an on going forum that discuss the challenges in pursuing a career as an English major, the traditional methods of teaching this principle, the difficulties in the curriculum and its effect on the student’s ability to find jobs during the current difficult economy. On September 29 UCLA’s English Department hosted D.A. Miller, American literary critic, English scholar and English professor at the University of California Berkeley who applied his literary and film background in treating this argument through a comparative analysis with film.

The UCLA English Department has started a three-year forum that aims to address the issues concerning the curriculum that for the longest time have been followed in the English and Literature studies. According to statistics pertaining the enrollments in the English undergraduate majors and graduate levels, the number of students entering as an English major has dropped dramatically over the years. Moreover, the statistics show a dramatic decrease in English major students entering the workforce and seeking jobs related to the field of their studies. The decrease has been as much as 34 percent. Also the budget-cuts resulting from the shattered economy is having a strong effect on the Humanities majors more than any other majors in the UC system. This is partly due to the nature of these programs and how they are among the easier programs to have their funds cut. The forum is aiming to argue and analyze the current English Literature curriculum and assess them in relation to the current job market available to the students graduating or continuing their education in this field.

Based on many nationwide research conducted among different Universities, one of the main reasons for such dramatic changes and struggles is embedded in the educational system or better say in the core foundations that exist in the English departments. The traditional methods of teaching as well as the rigid philosophical changes that are less prone to change among the scholars teaching these courses and the decision makers of these curriculum have all made a great contribution to these upsetting results.

Unlike the expected arguments on politics, education, and the existing dilemmas in the UC system in regards to the Humanities majors, D.A. Miller unexpectedly framed his argument around the hidden pictures in the Alfred Hitchcock movies, the transient nature of Literature in society and its affect on today’s system of teaching literature. D.A. Miller is known for his literary works being different from the last by a great degree and can be thought of as a thinker who carries such method into his style of teaching.

In his speech, Miller talks about the hidden pictures that are always embedded in the Alfred Hitchcock films, that are key in understanding the transient, transferable, ephemeral and malleable nature of Literature, English, and the practice of this art. According to the mostly academic-driven audience, the topic could have been approached through various angles of socio-economic, literary, and academic aspects; yet Miller approached the topic strictly through “literature as an art form” and its effective nature on film. He approached the criticism on the “English major” and the ways in which this principle is being thought, through Hitchcock’s own appearance in all his movies. Miller described Hitchcock as “a character without a character that is merely just a face.” Miller thinks that these “different but similar characters have been a lot of times over analyzed by many scholars, yet we should not be ignorant of them either.” On literature and its linkage to Hickok he says: “similar to the overall study of Literature and English, we are learning and understanding principles that are different from one another but are similar in many ways”.

He concludes that a good analysis of the movies and a good contemplation in the mysterious hidden pictures embedded in the films would result in understanding more of the Alfred Hitchcock the director as an “author”. “Nevertheless too much analysis would throw us off the big picture”. The same exist for Literature and being an English major, “if we are studding this principle for the mere pleasures of the principle, we will succeed in carrying it to our work; yet if over-analyzed we will lose the bigger picture.”

With over six books and many published articles, D.A. Miller is John F. Hotchkis Professor of English at the University of California- Berkeley. He received his PhD in Comparative Literature from Yale University in 1977 He has been a professor of English at UC Berkeley, Columbia University, and Harvard University before returning to the English Department at UC Berkeley. He works in the areas of nineteenth-century fiction, film, and gay and cultural studies.

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