Old People Essays

Old People Essays-6
The topic sentence is your thesis, chosen in advance, the supporting paragraphs the blows you strike in the conflict, and the conclusion-- uh, what is the conclusion? It seemed as if we were just supposed to restate what we said in the first paragraph, but in different enough words that no one could tell. But when you understand the origins of this sort of "essay," you can see where the conclusion comes from. Good writing should be convincing, certainly, but it should be convincing because you got the right answers, not because you did a good job of arguing.When I give a draft of an essay to friends, there are two things I want to know: which parts bore them, and which seem unconvincing. But I don't try to fix the unconvincing bits by arguing more cleverly. At the very least I must have explained something badly.Defending a position may be a necessary evil in a legal dispute, but it's not the best way to get at the truth, as I think lawyers would be the first to admit. The real problem is that you can't change the question.

The topic sentence is your thesis, chosen in advance, the supporting paragraphs the blows you strike in the conflict, and the conclusion-- uh, what is the conclusion? It seemed as if we were just supposed to restate what we said in the first paragraph, but in different enough words that no one could tell. But when you understand the origins of this sort of "essay," you can see where the conclusion comes from. Good writing should be convincing, certainly, but it should be convincing because you got the right answers, not because you did a good job of arguing.When I give a draft of an essay to friends, there are two things I want to know: which parts bore them, and which seem unconvincing. But I don't try to fix the unconvincing bits by arguing more cleverly. At the very least I must have explained something badly.Defending a position may be a necessary evil in a legal dispute, but it's not the best way to get at the truth, as I think lawyers would be the first to admit. The real problem is that you can't change the question.

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The answer, of course, is that the original raison d'etre of classical scholarship was a kind of intellectual archaeology that does not need to be done in the case of contemporary authors.

But Harvard didn't have a professor of English literature until 1876, and Oxford not till 1885. [3]And so in the late 19th century the teaching of writing was inherited by English professors.

(Oxford had a chair of Chinese before it had one of English.) [2]What tipped the scales, at least in the US, seems to have been the idea that professors should do research as well as teach. The professors who taught math could be required to do original math, the professors who taught history could be required to write scholarly articles about history, but what about the professors who taught rhetoric or composition? This had two drawbacks: (a) an expert on literature need not himself be a good writer, any more than an art historian has to be a good painter, and (b) the subject of writing now tends to be literature, since that's what the professor is interested in. The seeds of our miserable high school experiences were sown in 1892, when the National Education Association "formally recommended that literature and composition be unified in the high school course." [4] The 'riting component of the 3 Rs then morphed into English, with the bizarre consequence that high school students now had to write about English literature-- to write, without even realizing it, imitations of whatever English professors had been publishing in their journals a few decades before.

In that case, in the course of the conversation I'll be forced to come up a with a clearer explanation, which I can just incorporate in the essay. For the essayist this translates to: flow interesting.

More often than not I have to change what I was saying as well. As the reader gets smarter, convincing and true become identical, so if I can convince smart readers I must be near the truth. The path it has discovered is the most economical route to the sea. Of all the places to go next, choose the most interesting.

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