September 9, 2004

From Gerald R. Lucas

Age of the Essay

Paul Graham, in his essay “The Age of the Essay,” provides a thorough, if somewhat simplistic and generalizing, view of the history of Western academia and the genesis of the essay that’s taught in school and what he calls a “real essay.” While many of Graham’s points are made eloquently and much of his insight into writing seems valuable and pragmatic, some of his assertions — like all we teach is writing about literature in the university — are not necessarily correct, and have not been for some time, at least not where I’ve taught. Still a good read, and I do like much of his writing advice, including: “Above all, make a habit of paying attention to things you’re not supposed to, either because they’re ‘inappropriate,’ or not important, or not what you’re supposed to be working on.”