The irony of Graham’s essay

During the symposium today, the panel discussed the 3.1 readings. Esther mentioned the irony of Paul Graham’s discourse on essay writing. He bemoaned the essay’s traditional structure, yet his essay was, ironically, very similar to the conventional sort, i.e. making a point and proving it (or what Graham calls the “defend-a-position variety”).

In a real essay, you don’t take a position and defend it. You notice a door that’s ajar, and you open it and walk in to see what’s inside.

– Paul Graham, The Age of the Essay

Elliot disagrees a tad with Graham, noting that it is important to learn how to write a good essay. He’s right; essay writing is helpful in teaching us to substantiate our assertions and helping us craft effective arguments. Writing is a powerful, influential tool that can shape society and alter history. Say, feminists want to make a point about issue so-and-so, but are unable to articulate their argument well. That would be a huge impediment.

However, at the end of the day, I think what matters most is, not the structure of an essay, but the core of it all – its content. Like Graham said, good writing should be convincing because it has the right answers, not because the writer did a good job of arguing.

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