'Reader in a Lost World" Review

My tenth grade English teacher and advisor, Dr. Holden, recently published an article, “Reader in a Lost World”, (http://marginalia.lareviewofbooks.org/reader-in-a-lost-world/) for The Marginalia Review of Books which is an online international review of academic literature on history, religion, and culture. As I was only exposed to his writing in the classroom, I was curious to read what he had to say and discover his purpose and technique as an author.

While reading about the misconception students and teachers have about writing an essay, I found myself nodding along in agreement. As I was trained to do so, I naturally formulate arguments in the standard five paragraph format. Although I often struggle to adhere to its boundaries, I continue to submit essays in this format without a second thought. However, reading this essay made me open my eyes to the truth - literature has no formula. Therefore, I should not be following one. I found this incredibly enlightening to learn about as I can apply this newfound knowledge to my own writing.

Today’s modern generation currently suffers from a lack of literary comprehension. Beginning at a young age, the classic five paragraph essay structure is ingrained in students’ minds, creating an illusion that any deviation from this norm is not acceptable. However, strict adherence to this standard format does little to enhance students’ writing abilities; rather, it creates a model they feel they must conform to which prevents them from elaborating on creative thought. As students focus on writing within this specific format, they lose sight of the true purpose of an essay. Far from merely serving as a tedious school assignment, the essay embodies a thought-provoking use of the mind “engaging with something real.”

The art of producing a well-written essay comes from one’s ability to read. As reading is the foundation in which all forms of literature is built upon, “the essayist is [therefore] … an image of the reader.” Reading also serves to convey new experiences, connecting human minds and providing insight into one’s inner thoughts through his/her subjectivity. “By reading we encounter life as another,” in which our opinions and perspectives are affected by the words we read.  

Because an essay intends to address a specific topic or object, “it is the generic form of subjectivity.” The writer strives to imprint his perspective of the subject on the reader, therefore influencing the reader’s subjectivity with his own. To do so successfully, the writer must have full freedom to explore and express his thoughts - and this is why the five paragraph essay fails. One cannot create a compelling piece of writing by conforming to restraining boundaries. In the grand scheme of things, the essay serves a much more significant purpose than what is taught in the classroom.  

Written with colloquial yet sophisticated diction, Dr. Holden draws on his experience as a teacher to express his perspective on the purpose and significance of an essay. He uses direct literary references to connect his argument with characters/storylines that readers are familiar with. In the sentence, “It is the crack in the wall through which Pyramus and Thisbe—or any two people—can speak,” Dr. Holden includes Greek mythology to further enhance his argument. To provide more substantial support for his reasoning, he also cites well-known writers such as Kant, Montaigne, and Emerson to logically appeal to readers.