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The Age of the Essay 286

bluFox writes "Paul Graham, has just published a new article on the English literature and role of Essays. It is not connected to lisp or languages or hackers for a change, but still feels like a continuation of his earlier articles."
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The Age of the Essay

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  • by lawpoop ( 604919 ) on Tuesday September 07, 2004 @05:27PM (#10182334) Homepage Journal
    "Basically Heinlein was of the opinion (and I agree) that it is ONLY misfortune that we find funny."

    I disagree about the only. I think there are two parts to humor, misfortune and puns. As I paraphrase from the 2000-year-old man, "A hangnail for me is a tragedy. If you fall down a manhole, now that's comedy!" But there are also linguistic jokes that don't necessarily involve tragedy, yet people still find them funny.

  • Re:what a clown (Score:1, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday September 07, 2004 @06:39PM (#10183089)
    There's a difference between reading/studying the works and and assigning rote analysis of minutia in those readings. In other words, one can read "The Merchant of Venice" to get an example of the differing practices of Christians and Jews, what anti-semitism looks like, and how others deal with issues related to vengeance. On the other hand, writing an essay on whether or not Shylock was justified in his actions usually only serves to bore the student into hatred of Shakespeare. At the very least, it does little to enhance writing skills except perhaps in the persuasive form (which is covered in the essay). In addition, only in its most rarefied form could an essay legitimately compare the life experiences of the characters in MoV to our lives today.

    Studying biology in college allows one to work in fields related to biology. Studying literature today usually just prepares you for work analyzing pre- and early modern literary works. Much else a lit graduate takes to the working world is largely not given by the college but rather the fruits of personal initiative and curiousity.

    Ask someone with a degree in literature what they do for a living and I'm sure they will respond with something drastically different than "discussing Captain Ahab as a Christ figure."

    And if your thought is that this analyis is teaching students to think, you obviously haven't met a large number of students in the humanities today. The author of the essay about essays said it well in his essay "What You Can't Say" [paulgraham.com]: "...most physicists could, if necessary, make it through a PhD program in French literature, but few professors of French literature could make it through a PhD program in physics."

  • by bugbear ( 448726 ) on Tuesday September 07, 2004 @11:25PM (#10185782) Homepage
    There is a big connection to the Internet, if not to hackers per se. Roughly that blogs will lead to a renaissance in the essay.

    I went back and forth about mentioning blogs by name, because not everything people publish on their own site is really "blogging" in the strict sense. "Blog" implies "log", which implies a time quantum of less than a day. Whereas it takes me weeks to write an essay.

    Here's a footnote I commented out that made the connection to the Web more explicit:

    When I first heard about blogs, I imagined they would be a complete waste of time. Blogging sounded like a long-play version of netnews. But I was mistaken; people care more about something that stays on their site, and the Web supplies a filter that's missing in newsgroups. The best writing online is not only better than netnews, but better than most print media.

Never tell people how to do things. Tell them WHAT to do and they will surprise you with their ingenuity. -- Gen. George S. Patton, Jr.