Taylor Swift in Belgian University Literature Program

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For Elly McCausland, assistant professor at the University of Ghent, the lyrics composed by the 33-year-old singer, in addition to their own stylistic qualities, are an open door to immerse themselves in the masterpieces of Anglo-Saxon literature and their themes.

According to the English literature teacher, we can for example rely on titles like “The Man” to explore feminism, or take an interest in the figure of the anti-hero thanks to the piece “Anti-Hero” ( in his 2022 album, “Midnights”).

A long-time fan of the world-famous songwriter herself, Ms. McCausland dreamed up this study program a few months ago while listening to the song “The Great War.”

“The way she uses war as a metaphor for a relationship bothered me a bit, but above all it made me think of Sylvia Plath’s poem, +Daddy+, which does the same thing and whose reading raises also the discomfort,” she told AFP.

The academic insists from the outset: the course she offers, entitled “Literature (Taylor’s Version)” and intended for master’s students, aims above all to make literature “more accessible”, and “it is not a question of to create a fan club” of the singer.

“The aim is to make students realize that English literature is not a pile of old books written long ago and gathering dust in a library, but is a living, breathing and that is constantly evolving”, to inspire the pop music of today, she underlines.

In the course concocted by Elly McCausland, Taylor Swift’s lyrics are “a gateway” to reading the giants of British literature: William Shakespeare, Charlotte Brontë (“Jane Eyre”), Geoffrey Chaucer (the “Canterbury Tales”) or William Thackeray (“Barry Lyndon” or “The Vanity Fair”).

One can also see in his songs references to writers as diverse as the English novelist Charles Dickens or the American poet Emily Dickinson, and weave parallels with the style of the romantic British poets of the early 19th century.

love of words
During an interview with Beatles singer Paul McCartney, published in 2020 by the American magazine Rolling Stone, Taylor Swift poured out her love of words and writing, telling how, in the midst of a pandemic, she read ” more than she had ever done” – immersing herself in particular in Daphne du Maurier’s “Rebecca”.

The popularity of the course seems to be there, Ms McCausland having even received registration requests from students outside the Flemish university, including via her Instagram account.

But her project has also sparked waves of critical comments online, questioning the need to introduce Taylor Swift into a university arts curriculum, and more so at the master’s level.

For Elly McCausland, this is reminiscent of the controversy sparked in 2016 by the awarding of the Nobel Prize for Literature to Bob Dylan, a singer-songwriter also steeped in book references.

The Ghent University initiative comes as Taylor Swift, who released her first album in 2006, saw her career reach new heights this year with her “Eras Tour” (more than 100 concerts), a world tour which could exceed the billion dollar mark in revenue.

The American singer became in July, with her latest album “Speak Now (Taylor’s Version)”, the female artist with the most number 1 albums in sales, dethroning Barbra Streisand with twelve albums having topped the Billboard , benchmark ranking.

While Ms McCausland’s course is undoubtedly a first in continental Europe, similar programs have already emerged across the Atlantic and in the United Kingdom: the Clive Davis Institute at New York University launched one first courses focused on the singer, and Queen Mary University of London offered a summer session in July on “Taylor Swift and literature”.

This article is originally published on lanouvellerepublique.fr

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