Thursday, September 02, 2004

Paul Graham is at it again.

Paul Graham has published yet another essay. This time the topic is, not inappropriately, essays. As expected, the essay is worth the time to read --- if nothing else his essays are entertaining. Graham presents the essay as a form of exploratory reasoning, attempting to differentiate it from the dissertation which he presents as far more rhetorical in nature. To illustrate this he draws an analogy between the relationship between thought and essay and between conversation and dialogue.

Fundamentally an essay is a train of thought-- but a cleaned-up train of thought, as dialogue is cleaned-up conversation. Real thought, like real conversation, is full of false starts. It would be exhausting to read. You need to cut and fill to emphasize the central thread, like an illustrator inking over a pencil drawing. But don't change so much that you lose the spontaneity of the original.
I couldn't help wondering if a better analogy would be the relationship between blog and essay. I certainly don't take the time to polish my blog posts Paul takes to polish his essays.

I personally found it thought provoking, and if that is a common experience, I guess that would make it a successful essay. I certainly wasn't surprised to see it dwell on Graham's other bug-bear, the shocking state of the modern high-school curricula. Still I find some irony in my main response: pondering the possibility that the internet may trigger a resurgence in the importance placed on rhetoric and the essayist in our society; this would certainly be no bad thing.

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