Why Taylor Swift belongs on English literature degree courses

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When I started my podcast, Research in Taylor Swift, in the spring of 2021, I felt that I was at the same time helping to invent, and attempting to capture up to, the academic self-control of Taylor Swift scientific studies. While there wasn’t substantially posted on reading through Swift as literature, I experienced no difficulties acquiring visitors who experienced some form of practical experience training Swift or considering academically about her lyrics.

I went on to design and style a summer months faculty class at Queen Mary College of London on Taylor Swift and Literature in 2023. My program designed the information – but only mainly because a journalist composing about a similar course at Ghent College in Belgium got in touch, inquiring me to validate that my course experienced been taught 1st. In truth, a class at The University of Texas at Austin in 2022 was the first literature class on Swift to attain media attention.

Pricey reader

Even ahead of that, nonetheless, Swift had been in English departments for a though. For example, immediately after her track cardigan arrived out in 2020, I made use of it to train pupils an introductory English course on the fundamentals of near looking at – a form of studying a text that examines distinct specifics.

We talked about the line “You drew stars about my scars / But now I’m bleedin’”. The notion was to consider to figure out how the “but” worked – whether or not the scars had reopened or new types had been produced. We talked about no matter if drawing stars about the speaker’s scars intended generating artwork out of her suffering, or drawing attention away from it, or fetishising it, or even scheduling foreseeable future harm to her body.

Lyric movie of the tune cardigan, from Taylor Swift’s 2020 album Folklore.

Over and above English literature, other departments this kind of as media research, supporter scientific tests and superstar studies have now developed a truthful amount of money of published exploration on Swift’s lifetime and job.

But just before she became the matter of lectures and seminars, Swift’s operate was something that a lot of people – like our learners – were by now examining and talking about with the form of consideration typically granted to texts in literature classrooms.

This is a little something Swift encourages with her elaborate process of interconnected references. For instance, her 2022 track Maroon is an older, extra experienced version of Red – also the title of her 2012 album about a doomed like affair. This matches her inclination, as in cardigan, to use images of blood and rust to describe the sticky, tough finish of a relationship.

With this recognition of Swift’s bigger human body of function, Maroon becomes a lot more than a track about one unsuccessful relationship. It is also a song about the speaker herself, a person who retains acquiring “marooned” on the shores of the past.

Hits various

Swift’s operate is by no suggests the initial incursion of new well known culture into academia. Quite a few universities give classes on Harry Potter, though the initially thing I taught, as a guest seminar chief in one more academic’s training course, was Fifty Shades of Gray.

On the other hand, there is plainly anything about the concept of lessons on Taylor Swift as literature that catches the preferred creativity. In media discussions, her name is from time to time juxtaposed with yet another 1: Shakespeare.

When scholar Sir Jonathan Bate wrote an posting praising Swift’s get the job done, the reality he was a Shakespeare professor was dwelt on in the article’s headline and subhead (he is, in simple fact, at this time a professor of environmental humanities). The Periods printed Bate’s article along with a quiz inquiring visitors no matter if Swift or Shakespeare experienced written a distinct line.

When the medievalist Elizabeth Scala taught a course looking through Swift together with several other writers, the actuality that Shakespeare was getting taught up coming to Swift was all over again introduced up in media coverage. Scala, even with staying a professor of medieval romance, historiography and culture, was described as a “Shakespeare scholar” in 1 headline.

This emphasis on Swift’s new proximity, and prospective similarity, to the most well known English language writer will make me feel that the interest in lessons on Taylor Swift and literature is led not so significantly by an curiosity in Swift currently being taught, but in her getting an “author”.

The actuality we are close-studying Swift’s terms in a college placing is introduced – no matter if this is bemoaned or celebrated – as a obstacle to Shakespeare’s supremacy as the topic of literary examine. But this is born from a popular misunderstanding about what it is we do in literature classes – even Shakespeare classes.

Regardless of a shift in English literature given that at minimum the 1960s away from pondering about authors as self-contained, crucial, authoritative figures, to wondering about texts that are formed by numerous societal and linguistic currents, we are continue to perceived as training not texts but distinct authors – particularly Shakespeare.

However, as somebody who teaches the writings of each Shakespeare and Swift, I can say this: educating every of them sales opportunities to the exact conversations about how a well-known type (no matter whether spectacular creating or tune lyrics) usually takes on literary worth, and how tough it is to different what we think and how we truly feel about a work from the price we are taught to give to it by its location in society.

The essential thing isn’t irrespective of whether or not Swift might be the new Shakespeare. It is that the willpower of English literature is versatile, capacious and open up-minded. A course on reading through Swift’s perform as literature is just a further English class, because every single English class demands grappling with the concept of looking through just about anything as literature. Even Shakespeare.



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