Paul Graham’s ‘The Age of the Essay’

A number of things struck me in Paul Graham’s essay titled The Age of the Essay. Prehaps most importantly, this line: “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. If you’re curious about something, trust your instincts. Follow the threads that attract your attention”. What about this particular line, three quarters of the way through this essay struck me? It was because that is exactly what I was doing. I was disregarding his main point and focusing on a tiny error in his writing.
Earlier in this long winded and frequently digressing essay, Graham, while explaining how he hasn’t explained himself well, says “…in the course of the conversation I’ll be forced to come up a with a clearer explanation…” You may notice the simple typo, an added ‘a’. Or you may have breezed over it as many others will, but I have always been rather against any piece of writing that had any spelling, grammar, or punctuation issues.
Again this can be linked to Graham’s later question of what makes someone qualified to write on this subject? At Graham’s simple inclusion of an extra ‘a’, I had automatically deemed him unfit to discuss literary essays. I know nothing of his qualifications, his previous work, or any other aspect of his academic life, but I have already painted the picture in my mind that he is somebody that doesn’t quite know what he is talking about.
I regularly do this while reading, if an article misses a quotation mark, I stop reading, having decided that the journalist is lacking in intelligence, or at least the ability to proof read. If a story lacks clarity in a single sentence, I will skim the rest, having come to the conclusion long ago that stories without good writers are of no importance to me. What gives me the right to act so high and mighty above all other writers? Absolutely nothing. I lack any qualifications, and my own writing is far from perfect. Yet I still dictate who I consider to be a worthy academic by their use of linguistics.
At the start of this essay, I considered Graham’s ideas to have much depth, agreeing with his scepticism of school children being forced to write about literary classics as opposed to something they actually consider relevant, or something they are passionate about. Slowly over the course of the reading though I began to have less and less belief in Graham’s opinions. Perhaps it was his constant digression from the topic, what he would most likely call ‘surprises’ in his essay.
Graham would most likely disagree with my points in this review of his work, but in a way I think he would also be proud of my focus on his finer points, rather than the overall intent of the essay, and my ‘disobedience’ as having no right to make judgement on his work, but still doing so.

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