Somewhere in the middle

A month or so back, prompted by this post, I toyed with the idea of writing on a relatively obscure topic. Later I realized, a lot of people found writing an essay on “The Death of the Essay” quite a puzzle to solve.

But I kept toying until the night before the deadline when a friend motivated me — at midnight, to actually start writing on it. I had no leads, a lot of confusion and a tough deadline to beat and then I had to come up with something that made sense.

I ultimately came up with this, what lies below. It was not crap because it did clear the first round. Though it did not make it to the final round, on the points table it landed itself somewhere in the middle of it all.

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Last night I woke up at 3 AM. Coming out of the air of haziness was the question — Why would the essay die? That is of course if it’s not dead already, which I don’t think is true in its entirety. Dying? Slowly, yes.

Probably this slow death is something of the writer’s own doing. The essay may be striving hard to breathe but originality is dead and buried. Most believe, people have less patience, lesser time to read and almost no time to ponder. And the writer? Has there been no change in his levels of patience? Can a writer afford the luxury of losing patience? Most will agree that it’s a crime.

There could be a parallel derived between less patience and lack of originality in prose. Does the average essay writer, and I do mean average, continue to derive inspiration from the simplest things in life? Ominous sign there, if the answer is in the negative.

In this age of less attention spans, the writer’s attempt would be to build around the time given by the reader. Instead, it should be aimed at increasing the span period. Or has the essay writer already given up on it? Certainly old school won’t do here. With some minor tweaking the essay writer could do well with the audience. Theoretically, the writer is on a higher ground — for he is talking and the reader is listening (and won’t talk back). Why can’t the reader be trusted not to be stubborn and to give in? Good prose coupled with a rational point of view is not too hard to recognize and appreciate.

But “Good Prose” has changed. It could mean original, compact, crisp and precise. Would the essay writer listen? He has to come out of the bounds and be innovative at the right juncture. If need be, he has to throw out of the window all that is learnt and devise own methods.

And after all, this is no golden age of fiction writing. Novels aren’t as good as they used to be. Besides, the thing about non-fiction writing is that it can make even the sternest of non-readers come to the book. For a person who doesn’t read books and yet is inclined to pick one, chances are, he’d pick up a non-fiction. There lies an excellent opportunity for the essay writer to build upon.

At 3 AM, I didn’t have the answers but the situation warranted some. A day and half later, I probably don’t even have them now. But I am looking. And it is almost ironical that I seek them while writing, of all things, an essay.

2 thoughts on “Somewhere in the middle

  1. Is the Essay dying? No, I would say. And, despite the quest, you do actually provide the answer yourself – At 3 AM, I didn’t have the answers but the situation warranted some. A day and half later, I probably don’t even have them now. But I am looking. And it is almost ironical that I seek them while writing, of all things, an essay.

    By the way, very well written.

  2. I don’t think essays are dying. It may not lot of readers. But goodness has never been determined by popularity; Nor the other way round. All newspapers, including TOI, carry articles, that are indeed good essays, though not called so.

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