Group Therapy with NTU Lit Lurkers

In this extended dramatic interview, the Unseen team reaches out to several literature majors from NTU at Cathay Cineleisure to have candid conversations about the experiences of living and studying literature. In giving visibility to these literally ‘unseen’ lurkers in the literary periphery in Singapore, this interview seeks to uncover perspectives and questions often discussed privately in groups or alone, with little room for grievances to be aired collectively. We hope to have more “Group Therapy” sessions in future.

Dramatis Personae (in alphabetical order)
Al
Jaf’r
Liana
Maya
Mel
Unseen
Y

***

One.
Maki-san, Cathay Cineleisure. Monday afternoon. Table of 7 at the back of the shop. All orders have been collected. Green tea slurping.

UNSEEN
How do people-at-large perceive you when you tell them that you are an English major?

AL
People tend to give an “Oh okay” with a somewhat pitiful look and then “So what do you do in lit? Read books ah?”

JAF’R
Many people think that all English majors do is read fiction, but we also watch films and read theories from various disciplines such as sociology, philosophy, and psychology to name a few. We incorporate so many ideas and concepts from other disciplines but the common perception is that we just read fiction.

MEL
Perhaps these misconceptions come about because not much has been done to bridge the gap between literature and other disciplines.

JAF’R
Is that why NUS has a general first-year module to bring about that kind of interdisciplinary appreciation?

MEL
The way people phrase it, I see a lot of uninformed assumptions being made – that writing or teaching is the only thing we can do with an English degree. People don’t know that lots of English majors end up pursuing careers in business, marketing or the civil service. We also have peers who end up working in the social service sector or even the medical humanities.

MAYA
I’m pursuing a career in teaching because I have a genuine interest in it, so it gets really frustrating when people assume that I’m only doing so because of a lack of options. Cabbies especially have a lot of opinions. “What are you studying?”, “Literature”, “Oh Shakespeare ah so you want to become teacher is it?”

MEL
Some people are impressed though.

MAYA
I guess most people don’t see English majors as having a real skill set. Compared to engineers or even media students, we don’t come across as being very learned in any specific area.

LIANA
Someone once asked me “So how are you going to contribute to society?” Basically what he was trying to say is: what is the point of literature? I think that’s why many of us tend to be very defensive about what we study.

MEL
In a pragmatic, practical society like Singapore, people want to see tangible results and rewards from what we study. With a degree like English, the skills we learn cannot be clearly identified or directly applied in a workplace. It’s hence regarded as less valuable.

***

Two.
Enter stage left service crew, exit stage right service crew.

UNSEEN
What then, do you think literature at large, or studying literature could be useful for?

MEL
I guess a common misconception of English majors is that we’re self-absorbed – you know, hopeless romantics who are caught up in our own make believe worlds of fantasies and dreams. But studying Literature has helped me come to terms with a lot of internal struggles and given me many insights and entry points to resolving some of them.

I believe that a lot of individual, social, and political problems stem from deep-seated emotional issues—insecurity, jealousy, greed, the need and/or desire for power, etc—and reading about character struggles in fiction can help us understand how these internal conflicts manifest in real world situations. However, I’ve also learnt that not everyone thinks nor feels the same way as me – many people are most often only interested in solutions to problems, not with an understanding of where or how these problems come about.

MAYA
I definitely found the process of studying for my degree fulfilling – I’ve learnt how to draw connections between literature, myself and social issues happening all around the world.

LIANA
Yes, things which most people would otherwise not have thought about or considered before.

JAF’R
Perhaps we are able to question and challenge things that are commonly accepted at face value and go against them? I’ve read about racial and religious tensions in some books and the many different perspectives surrounding things commonly thought of as the truth.

So in terms of usefulness – by thinking critically and not taking things at face value, we may have an advantage over others in terms of discernment. This may not always be accepted because questioning the status quo is not always welcome.

MAYA
Yes, I agree with you all. But are we just self-gratifying here?

LIANA
Are we trying to make ourselves feel better?

JAF’R
We all knew that taking Literature was a risk. There is this perception that English majors are always on the defensive. Maybe the reason we turn to self-gratification is because we aren’t always given the opportunity to demonstrate the abilities and skills we’ve picked up in our study of Literature.

Many employers don’t give us the chance to prove ourselves, and I think that most of us are bitter at being subjected to this kind of dismissal from the get-go. Having said that, we have peers who balance their English Lit degree with modules from other majors like Economics to diversify their academic portfolio.

MEL
It is common knowledge that some degrees are more prestigious than others, and it is an unspoken perception that some courses are just ‘dumping grounds’.

 

JAF’R
All degrees are not created equal.

Y
Looking past these stereotypes though, I think it is important to negotiate the distance between “Is literature purely for our own gratification?”, not just for us English majors but also those who read for entertainment, versus “Is literature for something bigger?” Even while these two aren’t mutually exclusive, we cannot avoid asking the question of usefulness. Jaf’r brought up the importance of multidisciplinary learning, but it could be a disadvantage to be socially aware, because we intensely tune in to all these sociological issues but there has been little guidance for how to manage or act upon them.

***

Three.
Collective deep breath.

UNSEEN
Is there an inherent link between literature and empathy?

MEL
There is correlation but not necessarily causation.

LIANA
Those of us who love to read are probably already empathetic people to begin with. Perhaps that’s why we’re drawn to literature?

MAYA
Yet another stereotype of literature students is that we are too emotional and sensitive, and that we’re too attuned to our own perceptions of other people’s emotions and sensitivities. But there are many literature texts and theories that show indifference to emotions, such as nihilistic and postmodern ones. Perhaps reading and studying literature may make us more empathetic, but this empathy doesn’t necessarily translate into action.

JAF’R
Some people spend 4 years of their literary lives (or longer) not being more empathetic people. For some people, literature is just a subject or a degree. Just because you are exposed to many different perspectives and are able to discern different emotions doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re an empathetic person.

MAYA

If you think about it – when you read a novel or a poem, you usually put yourself in the shoes of the characters. Therefore, the empathy we feel towards them could actually just be snippets of ourselves reflected in them. For instance: I am Harry Potter, Harry Potter is me.

LIANA
Yes, there can be a relation, but is it enough to spur us into action? You can feel so deeply for a character but like what Maya said, it does not necessarily translate into any action in the world.

JAF’R
On the flipside, when you don’t relate to a character or when there is something that conflicts with your belief system, sometimes you disengage? While it is important to ask what attracts you to a character or a text, it is also meaningful to ask what your points of contention with the texts are.

Y
I did a research project on one stratum of the disadvantaged by looking at postmodern literature, and actually found that it is (perhaps unexpectedly) likely to create more empathy than some other types of literature. I also got to read texts that focus on empathy as a topic, so at least literature might introduce us to these questions of empathy.

While literature may not be inherently interdisciplinary, interdisciplinarity is the intersection where I believe empathy can be enhanced. It’s hard to even define what empathy is, which is why there are such intricate studies about it, but I do think that critical theory and its very specific language (not quite the brevity that limits coherence) go a long way in giving clarity to issues that might not make it into mainstream discourse.

Literature might not directly result in empathy, and I am greatly skeptical that there’s even a correlation, but I think a nation that does not teach literature will not have a history and a mutually fulfilling relationship between the individual and society. I would say there is a link but there has to be a root cause as well as a catalyst, and then especially an end.

Like Liana expresses, the underlying factor might be exactly what brought us to literature in the first place, which needs to be met with action, as Maya says. What happens in this intermediary period? Could literature result in the opposite effect – being aware of the social and existential threats that pertain to us, but without a mode of action, would we turn away from empathy or withdraw from social interaction? After all, literature is interpretive and there are theories that support the idea that every man for himself is the best way to be socially contributive. But I do think that literature and the study of it tries to challenge the desirable idea of an invisible hand.

Mel mentioned that literature helps us work on a lot of emotional or moral issues, but because of the way literature is taught, a lot of the learning about ethics is done on our own. Then again, these observational skills allow us to create more links. Maybe at the end of the day, what we need is conversation, and any kind of link is refreshing, and heartening.

MAYA
Maybe it’s good clickbait? I’m not completely sold on it but neither am I completely off the idea.

JAF’R
Perhaps it goes back to that point about usefulness. Honestly I think the link between literature and empathy came about because we wanted to try and sell the subject to others. People want to justify why students should continue studying literature—a subject that seems useless—so we cling to this idea that it promotes empathy. It might for some, but not for all of us.

***

Four.
Collective deep breath.

UNSEEN
Do you strongly identify as a literature student or person?

JAF’R
I don’t strongly identify as a literature student. In fact, I avoid being known first as a literature student [Laughs] because I’m aware of these associations and stereotypes placed on us. I don’t want to colour others’ impressions of me.

MAYA
Just because you read a book doesn’t mean you are a ‘literature person’. I’ve seen how some people present themselves on social media and it really does come across as pretentious. Suddenly it’s become cool to be a ‘lit person’ – whatever that means?

Y
Friends have always told me that I “belong in literature”, but I don’t think they know what that really means. It could be that literature comes a bit more naturally to me than to some others, but whether or not one has that flair or not shouldn’t matter because it is a choice to feel.

I would say I’m a literature person because I make it my lifestyle to philosophise, but that’s all there is to it. Ironically, I have also felt like a fraud for the same reasons that reinforce my identity, or for other reasons such as the presumption that literature students pronounce every word correctly and are adept at public speaking at all times. I have encountered a professor who focused on this and emphasised that we will need this skill when working in communications, business, and public relations – perhaps as a way of deflecting the difficulty of working in these industries as an English major, while playing up the prestige.

Society causes literature students to differentiate themselves from other literature students based on negatives, and not just in terms of specialisation, which would actually be communal and productive. It is hard to understand why being passionate is equated to being a ‘closet mugger’. But another assumption that literature must be a talent is counterproductive when push comes to shove. I knew someone who, perhaps in response to such false equivalence, regularly tried to create an effortlessly artsy image of herself, by taking private classes in using nail polish to paint the tabs of cans, for instance.

LIANA
It is an aesthetic identity.

MAYA
At least we can laugh at our shortcomings?

Y
One reason why I stopped using Instagram was because I couldn’t meet the expectation of keeping up a poetic identity on a daily basis. Even if that is who I am, there are also moments where my thoughts go off on a tangent or simply don’t match any of the photographs I have. The difference between editing words and curating content, especially if representative, is quite wide.

Then there is the problem of presentation being associative – I don’t want to be a face to my work. As I am a serious person, the humour I inject is often interpreted unironically. If I use big words, people may think that I’m being pretentious and this alienates them, but if I use everyday words, am I being crude? It seems that I get stuck between being either too formal in my use of language or too ‘not-artsy’.

MAYA
This dilemma reminds me of the Rupi Kaur controversy. Just because there is enjambment, does it mean it is proper literature? Just because she says she doesn’t like to read and is more concerned about book covers, does it mean she is not considered a literary figure?

MEL
Lang Leav and Rupi Kaur appeal to the masses because of their easy readability and relatability. Their writing is less of an intellectual pursuit than an attempt to express themselves.

Y
When I saw the headline, I thought—or rather, hoped—that Rupi Kaur was referring to the readership of the canon and maybe her selectivity of less well-read books. But from her succinct language in the actual article, it could be that she was really trying to be honest about caring for the marketing of reading platforms, and that books are just one of these?

LIANA
Then there is the case of ‘you care, but you cannot be seen to care’.

MAYA
We want literature to be a leisurely pursuit, not something to be associated with commercial or business aspects because it ‘pollutes’ the essence of it.

LIANA
Writing may start off as a noble pursuit but monetary issues do come into play after all. You need to be able to network and sell both yourself and your work in order for it to be sustainable as a career.

MEL
In an interview I had with a local publishing firm, I’ve learnt that even a seemingly superfluous thing like how visually appealing a book is goes a long way in determining how well it would sell.

JAF’R
Have you guys heard of The Chance Encounter? It’s a very clever concept where this guy and his team wraps books up in very nice covers but replaces the titles with very generic synopses of the books. I thought of getting one, but I realised that I could not bring myself to buy it – what if I don’t like the book, or what if I already have the book?

***

Five.
Enter stage left service crew. Exit stage right service crew with empty trays.

UNSEEN
While we are on the subject of how literature is commercialised in Singapore, what are your views on the present state of SingLit? What are some of your hopes and concerns for SingLit?

JAF’R
There is a lot of published SingLit but my sense is that the writing can be very obscure. If you don’t have knowledge of certain concepts and references, it gets hard to follow.

LIANA
Are we writing with marketing in mind? As Singaporeans, are we too concerned with trying to define and market the Singaporean identity even in our local literature?

JAF’R
I notice that representations of the Singaporean identity always fall back on the rhetoric of the kampung community or of racial harmony… These are the same themes which many politicians raise during election season or National day but haven’t these ideas evolved by now? Or are people just clinging to the past?

MAYA
We are in a perpetual state of nostalgia. Also, I feel that the local lit scene is very upper middle class. I don’t feel like I see enough writers and subjects who are underprivileged or of colour. Often I see writers who have extensive education and their writing is not always something you can relate to.

JAF’R
In my mind, I automatically think of two categories when it comes to SingLit. The first one is the kind of Singaporean literature you come across in secondary school where you discuss it in a very fun and sheltered way. You act these texts out in group activities and you never quite realise how exclusive the texts we’re made to study are. While my classmates and I felt very connected to some of these texts, we didn’t realise how our teachers very purposely guided us into interpreting them in a certain way.

The second category comes into play when you’re older and you have all these peers and classmates who are already very involved in the scene. You start to feel a certain kind of alienation when you research about all these prominent local writers or poets because they seem to occupy a space that isn’t very accessible. While some writers are vocal about social issues, they don’t always make people feel welcome. It’s my perception—whether you agree or not—that the approach between local writers and Singaporeans is still very top-down.  

MEL
In the local lit scene, just like all other scenes and subcultures, there will always be people who are left behind and forgotten.

JAF’R
My impression of some people in the scene is that they’re socially exclusive. They come across as very detached individuals and it seems as if they’re always observing others and using everyone else’s opinions and beliefs as fodder for their writing. When I’m called upon to give my opinions, it doesn’t always feel like a very engaging effort. To me, this is reflective of how the local lit scene works – people are asked to contribute but made to feel that their input is not valuable ultimately.

Y
I’m not sure why the barrier to entry is so high, especially for writers who don’t have connections. If this is intellectual elitism, it’s a construct. If this is quality control, I can understand because people commit in different ways. Personally, I’m not fond of doing something for the sake of doing it, so I’m happy to be disconnected from the scene. I would rather start my writing career overseas even if it’s bound to be more difficult.

Al has highlighted the desire for authenticity and this inspires me to consider whether what we have is an invented culture felt in writing only. There is that slippage between textual tokenism and real, richly subjective experiences of the minorities who may feel displaced from certain hyper-identities. I think it’s very telling that the theme of nostalgia in Singaporean films is usually a result of something unfulfilled.

LIANA
I’ve noticed that there are not a lot of Malay writers writing in Malay in Singapore. I studied Malay Language and Literature for A Levels and most of our texts were from Malaysia and Indonesia. They have a much more vibrant literary scene there and it’s a pity we don’t have something similar. We don’t have enough support and visibility for local Malay writers. It’s also very hard to share this with friends.

***

Six.
Pause. Texting break. Pause. Resume conversation.

UNSEEN
Do you find it difficult to share your literary enthusiasms with others?

Y
I’ve always thought of my love for literature as an independent journey, without the romanticism of being a reclusive poet. There have been times where I wanted to start a project of my own but didn’t know who to ask – and it wasn’t a matter of my friends having different interests and approaches. How did new literary movements begin, and is it possible in the 21st century?

MEL
Being with lit kids mitigates the loneliness, but it feels like once you leave university your safe space is gone. Perhaps that’s why some English majors pursue careers in teaching or even academia – so that they can share their joy for literature with like-minded students and peers.

JAF’R
Some of us incorporate our literary enthusiasms into our lifestyle while some make it a lifestyle altogether. However, people who don’t ‘get it’ seem to almost always pity you.

MAYA
This is the first time in weeks (or months) that I’ve gotten to talk about my views on literature so it’s really very comforting. Perhaps because lit is quite a nerdy topic, it’s hard to share your enthusiasm with others?

JAF’R
When people find out you did English at university, they’re not always very impressed by it.

LIANA
There is also this sense of atas-ness—of class consciousness—when people think of English majors.

MEL
We are all we have then? I did feel a certain kind of loneliness at one of my internship places where conversations were very different.

***

Seven.
Collective sigh.

UNSEEN
What were some of the more confusing aspects of studying literature?

JAF’R
I had to learn to find an opening within the essay structures given even though I was supposed to make my own stand on things. After all, a literary essay is not a stream of consciousness – reasoned argument is absolutely necessary and you need to write clearly to be understood.

MAYA
As a student, I had many burning questions. I kept wondering “What do I read?”, “What do I know is worth reading?”, “What kind of cultural capital do I need to read certain books? Am I reading to gain some kind of cultural capital?”, and “Is it by trial and error that I find out what I like, or do I follow the literary canon?” Till today, I still don’t understand why I needed to learn the canon.

MEL
The jump from A Level to Uni level lit was huge. Suddenly we had to cite all these academic articles and we were more or less thrown into the deep end of figuring everything out by ourselves with some help from our tutors. There was little to no spoon-feeding at all – at least in Year 1. It was also very frustrating for me to be studying Early American lit in the first semester of Year 4. I kept thinking: “Why am I studying this when it’s not going to be relevant once I start work?”

MAYA
Should we introduce literary theories to students at a much earlier stage? It could be useful in sparking interest in students and making the learning of literature more fascinating.

JAF’R
How do we know the age at which students are intellectually ready to be exposed to these kinds of texts?

Y
It’s true what Maya says about cultural capital. When there is an insisted cultural identity based on narratives that are subverted and therefore more reliable, sometimes the sense of displacement is doubled. I had to consciously teach myself Singlish based on observation, and I identify as an internationalist, so an admired professor’s insistence on linking our writing back to the context of local culture was disconcerting. This is a class issue as well. There shouldn’t be the assumption that we know classical or biblical literature just because we may have studied literature – or even contemporary literature just because we are from this generation. There’s also a certain amount of respect accorded to those who can make literary references and jokes, so much so that it’s become something for many to aspire towards. However, our reading choices are largely determined by what our family and peers have been exposed to, and perhaps the 2-5 texts on most syllabi exclude those who, for various reasons, find it difficult to choose literature. I feel like primary and secondary schools could create non-generic reading lists, perhaps with an innovative one-line summary to each title. Spoon-feeding of analysis is OK—even welcome—but personal control is also important. Literature is subjective (as it ought to be), but even professors have conflicting preferences about when to use which types of reasoning. I find it usefully relevant when professors create connections between texts and films or games, usually more effective than in lower levels of education. However, the structure of essay writing is still rather rigid and taken for granted, so perhaps critical writing classes should be monitored at all levels to make sure they are not fillers.

An inconsistency in university might be that there is a lot of ambitious interest in integrating other disciplines like sociology, philosophy, psychology, etc., but the constraints of the degree means that these are not grasped in-depth. It is so frustrating when some links are not made for the gaps introduced that I’d almost rather not have these tidbits until interdisciplinary studies become more of an established field, in both education and administration, which is critical. The stigma of studying humanities, especially if not at established schools, and the lack of information regarding a tangible future are so pervasive that I did not know what was available to me. It is not just that we are expected to be independent, but that there aren’t services available for alternative needs or secondary skills, which require more professionalism throughout all institutions at the very least. The structure of admissions based on a set of general subjects, from L1R5 to UAS (which is very unlike universities in the UK and the US) also causes delays in what and how we learn.

I think even the personal trajectory of those who have taken literature as a subject for a while becomes confusing in itself. I’ve had to backtrack a lot in terms of what vocabulary is socially suitable, but these values change, as proven by the trend of memes and intentionally bizarre language. Although university allowed me to challenge myself, it follows from secondary school that the impulse to be experimental in creative writing is shut down before efforts can find an effective style congruous with the subject. Thankfully there is only one major experience I had, which was being continually discouraged from exploring the genre of noir in screenwriting. I was simply told “I find it hard to give regular notes to you because what you do is quite outside of the conventions I usually work within”. Other experiences include this informal comment on my work, “you are trying too hard to sound academic!”, from someone who uses ‘autochthonous’ for ‘indigenous’. Once, an economics teacher kept emphasising that humanities is not about memory work, but that does constitute a significant proportion of what we are judged on. How much of such examinable writing is the mimesis of what’s been approved before, and how much room do we have for personal styles and complex discoveries, purposeful or accidental?

Children are quite severely underestimated. It can be difficult for the authorities to imagine that we could have cultivated a certain level of commitment to what we study to the point that it has already become a ‘life career’ at a young age.

***

Eight.
Stage is empty of all other calefares eating maki-san except Group Therapy participants.

UNSEEN
Why did you decide to study English at university?

JAF’R
I didn’t choose the lit life – the lit life chose me. I wanted to apply for Flight School after my A levels but failed to make the cut. I was always better at the Humanities and had a good command of the English language. Eventually, I applied to both NUS and NTU and got a space in NTU Lit.

MEL
I think many acquaintances of mine have this presumption that I wanted to go to law school (or some prestigious course) after the A levels. However, I’ve never in my whole life ever bought into the idea of the proverbial rat race. I’ve always admired high flyers because of their dedication to work but I’ve never aspired to be them because I know for a fact that I am not competitive nor hardworking enough.

I didn’t know who I was back in JC and still didn’t know what I wanted to do when I was applying for university. Like Jaf’r, I just knew that I was good at lit. I also didn’t have a strong understanding of other disciplines so I just applied for whichever courses my grades allowed – which were very limited. I got rejected by NUS and came to NTU, which has been one of the biggest blessings in my life thus far.

LIANA
I’ve always had to fight to study lit. I came from TKGS where the culture was such that if you were good at English but not good at Maths or Science, you weren’t good enough. In JC, I decided to study both English lit and Malay lit, but I still had to take an aptitude test for them even though these were subjects I knew I could do well in. The school put me on probation because they thought that their own students were incapable of handling the subject.

MAYA
For me, it was really quite a stumble. I graduated from secondary school with good O Level results. I then went to the science stream in NYJC where I absolutely hated it. After a few months of sulking and emotional blackmail, I finally convinced my parents to let me go to polytechnic. I went to SP for a few months but quit without telling my parents – I would go to the library and read books instead of going to school.

In the following year, I applied to IJC and took literature as a subject. I had the chance to study postcolonial lit and it was then that I understood my position as an immigrant child better. For those who are curious, I read The Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri, Sour Sweet by Timothy Mo, The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde, The Spirits Play and The Eunuch Admiral by Kuo Pao Kun). The rest is history.

AL
My A level grades were bad and that’s why I came to NTU to study lit. I got rejected twice from the course because I didn’t take literature at the O or A Levels. Having studied literature for close to 4 years now, I still don’t find it very relevant to bread-and-butter issues in life. Because of our constant analyses of texts, I’ve come to dislike reading almost altogether. My impression of academic writing is that it’s pretentious and convoluted. However, that’s not to say that I hate literature entirely. Some of the literature I’ve read has helped explain some of the angst I feel towards my family and society at large. Also, I’m better able to appreciate good writing when I see it now.

Y
I don’t really know when it began or who inspired me, but literature was always there for me, even in my personal life. I missed my desired JC by one point, despite having distinctions in the languages and humanities. I then missed the choice university for arts and social sciences by 1.5 rank points even though I did well for my H2 subjects that were relevant. I might have gotten a more prestigious—or rather, more stable—education if I had opted for one of Singapore’s top secondary schools. I was always somewhat of a big fish in a small pond, and I suffered for it.

My narrative goes in the opposite way of a success story, both as a trope that evolves failure and as a standard path. But there are definitely uplifting and humbling moments, and people whom I’m grateful for. I am where I need to be, simply because my experiences are mine. I don’t know if I would have blossomed as much elsewhere. While I do wish there was more I could have done with literature, it did give me something precious: a voice that I myself could hear.

All the signs pointed me to literature, so it was really kind of a FoMo when I had to do my university applications. My first choice was something else and I might have gone to another local university for it, but NTU was nearer, more familiar, and had lower tuition fees. Also, I didn’t want the one subject of mathematics to weigh me down like it had. Literature was safe: it wouldn’t get too technical and it wouldn’t play with my sanity. I was wrong on both counts, but it wasn’t that which had me thinking to myself every now and then, ‘Am I in the right course?’. I’m not proud to say that I considered dropping out or switching courses, though it was mostly because of other issues I was going through. There is always time to branch out into my other interests, but looking back, I might have tried another course in the same university if it had been better acknowledged. The literature department is relatively stable and has been readily improving over the years, which is something that I envy of the newer cohorts. I would certainly have benefited from that and the multifarious sharing we are doing now, instead of letting myself get riddled with the global viability and local credibility of my degree. For one, even the most related job openings tend to be remotely relevant to what we study in English, so I don’t feel that I would be happy in a lot of jobs.

***

Nine.
Bums shifting in seats. The ice in the cups have melted.

UNSEEN
What are some burning questions you have been harbouring about/around the study of literature, that you feel has been overlooked or not raised sufficiently?

LIANA
Translation work. To what extent should we study translated works in English literature? Is a translator’s work their own work instead of the original? How do you reconcile all these dilemmas?

JAF’R
The usefulness of literature – but that’s something that is almost impossible to reconcile it seems?

MEL
How we can make literature graduates more relevant when it comes to employability.

JAF’R
This may be a bit off topic but the essays I’ve written in uni may not at all be relevant when employers ask for ‘writing samples’. Moreover, when English majors know of any kind of job opportunities, I sense that most would keep it to themselves. I can’t think of many who would share it with like-minded peers.

MEL
I strongly believe that your friends should not be your competition. Perhaps this lack of sharing is a result of scarcity in job opportunities for English graduates?

JAF’R
A more sharing culture—

LIANA
More collaborative—

JAF’R
How can we communicate more opportunities around lit to students and people without assuming their lack of interest depending on where they are?

UNSEEN
Don’t mind me interrupting, but I need to go toilet quite urgently.

ALL
It’s okay, it’s okay, no problem—

Shuffle of bags, chairs and feet. Phone screens brighten. PayNow transactions commence.

Pause? End? To be continued…?


Unseen The Magazine would like to thank the NTU Lit Lurkers for their time and brainpickings. The NTU Lit Lurkers are:

AL drinks more coffee than the daily recommended limit and mercifully hasn’t been admitted to the hospital for caffeine-related issues. His dream is to have a good cuppa everywhere in the world.

JAF’R wants to live in a world that mandates 4 weeks paid vacation leave and where books come bundled together with mint chocolate.

LIANA is an aspiring writer, occasional traveler, and lurker of designer cafes. True to the spirit of an English graduate, her sustenance includes books and copious amounts of tea collected from all over the world.

Born to migrant parents, MAYA found the cure to her maladies in the form of postcolonial literature which explains her unabashed passion for all things race, identity and culture.

Educator by vocation, Instagram aficionado by passion. In addition to her love for social media and all things artsy, MEL’s interests include reading, photography and procrastinating.

Y is student is student is student.

Photo credit: Rachel Eng

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