Author Archives: lauriemcmillan

What Is the English Major?

The English major is diverse and difficult to define, but during a semester exploring lots of ideas and conflicts regarding the major, we came up with analogies that say what the English major might be if it were a place, a movement, an animal, a time of day.

What’s the English major to YOU? Leave comments and video responses!

PS If you’re wondering about the finale, it’s because we’ve been reading The Use and Abuse of Literature, so Marjorie Garber has become our unofficial mascot. Oh, yeah.

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because writing and researching and analyzing is hard work!

David Foster Wallace in WalMart?

by Laurie McMillan

I just got super-excited. I was randomly reading this New Yorker article and at one point, the artist whose work was being described sounded a lot like David Foster Wallace. The artist, Brendan O’Connell, paints a lot of scenes from Wal-Mart, and he told a Boston Globe reporter that

“Trying to find beauty in the least-likely environment is kind of a spiritual practice.”

That line immediately brought to mind DFW’s point about everyday hum-drum life, and the many times we’re stuck in traffic or in a long line at the supermarket. It’s easy to be irritated about all the stuff that is keeping us from having a good time, but DFW says these moments are opportunities to connect with other human beings, to try to imagine what’s going on in others’ worlds.

And bringing these two guys together made me think more about the connection between literature and the visual arts, not least because Brendan O’Connell also mentions being inspired by John Updike’s story “A&P.” I love that story. And the story seems a bit like the Wal-Mart paintings and a bit like DFW.

“A&P” takes this everyday kind of scene of a grocery store, and the main character sees almost all the shoppers as sheep and cows. He sees himself, however, as a gallant hero who must rescue the hot girl in distress (spoiler alert: she gets kicked out of the grocery store for wearing a bathing suit). On the one hand, the story is about pushing ourselves to be epic and heroic through small, everyday gestures. On the other hand, it’s a critique of the shallow main character and his inability to see beyond some overly simplistic story of heroism that he really wants to inhabit.

I think that’s how WalMart art and DFW’s idea about paying attention to the water we’re swimming in need to work. On the one hand, yeah! appreciate that beauty.

On the other hand, notice the ridiculous and extreme consumption and consumerism that characterizes American life. And don’t be afraid to think twice about it.

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by Laurie McMillan

 [with my apologies to David Bowie for my remixed title]

The chapter on “The Pleasures of the Canon” in Marjorie Garber’s The Use and Abuse of Literature (2011) celebrates memorization as a form of owning a text, making it one’s own (73). I completely agree in many instances, and I know I’m not alone in collecting quotes, poems, and songs—not systematically, but as I’ve been touched or moved or entertained. Memorizing means I can take the text out when I want to and relive it or share it, bringing it into my life to speak anew.

That last part is important. Texts speak anew. That is, texts change. They mean differently in different contexts.

Garber gets at this point more literally when recounting the way “The Pledge of Allegiance” has changed over time. And the change is both in terms of words—the addition of “under God”—and in terms of context: the Pledge was initially a marketing device used to help sell flags (74). But, of course, often when the Pledge is recited, it is recited by rote, without thought or interpretation or new life. And, often people are uncomfortable with the idea of the Pledge changing in any way over time, to the point of minimizing any mention that it has ever been different.

This worry (or fear?) has something to do with being able to rely on certain things. The idea that many things are not completely reliable is scary. We don’t want to have a good text used for bad purposes. We want control over meaning.

I don’t think that desire is one that will ever disappear, either among individuals or among groups of people.  But I do think that knowing complete control is impossible helps us keep a healthier perspective, and I also believe that we can exert some control.

Finding out that a single perspective is not the only perspective is incredibly empowering. It means being able to consider alternate ways of seeing a single thing, and seeing options means being able to choose among these options. It also means being able to communicate better since knowing that multiple meanings are possible means recognizing that others may be holding assumptions that are different from my own.

It’s like the time my roommates and I went to the grocery store together to prepare for a party. Two of us set off down the fruit and vegetable aisle on the far right while the third roommate went straight up the soup aisle with a plan to circle back to the produce aisle eventually. We laughed, and we each talked about the “right” way to go through the grocery store and our reasoning. I don’t remember which way we went, but it was a neat thing to find that my default method was not the only way to go, and that I may be missing out on a better shopping experiences (and less-smushed bananas) by opening myself up to a new path.

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Fun YouTube Site!

Noelle Kozak will be working with this contemporary adaptation of Pride & Prejudice. So cool!


This blog will provide us with a way of sharing work completed in our class, ENGL 495 Senior Seminar, at Marywood University. Hopefully our learning will benefit others!

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