“I believe the essay you asked me to write is beneath what I have been trained to expect to believe you would have expected from me, and I feel ashamed for you.”
(This doesn’t quite rise to the level of the most epic student email ever, and in truth more likely belongs to my series on how to write an academic essay, but as it hovers somewhere between one awful mode and another, I thought I’d leave it up to you to decide. Have—shall we call it fun?)
If I begin my essay with a rhetorical question, I contradict the Great French Thinker Montaigne, who believed I should not, because as he wrote, a “mind could not find a firm footing, [therefore he] should not be making essays, but coming to conclusions.” Those conclusions, which were important, are sadly lost to history, but the fact that Montaigne’s name remains reminds those who remember it that his failure was reason enough to memorialize it. My professor said that we should not write in the style of Montaigne, presumably because the stench of his insufficient success might sour my prose, but I believe the best essays are the ones that I write, and if my Professor thinks differently, he can take it up with Montaigne.
First, my professor told me to write a paragraph like a hamburger. Can you believe that? That is not a rhetorical question: my college professor told me that the best paragraphs are structured like a hamburger. But I must follow my muse, Montaigne, and insist that I am not interested in stabilizing my subject, however slight, in a structure of such déclassé fare, or that if I were, mine would tower above that base alternative in direct proportion to the extent of my genius. My paragraphs will, instead, inform my audience about the manner of their composition, paying special attention not to structure or transitions but to the brilliance that I mustered to tame into interest material others might find trite.
By “others,” I refer explicitly to my Professor, whose ability to mix a metaphor is nearly as impressive as his encyclopedic knowledge of all things which will never make him money. He claims that an essay is like the relationship he’s clearly never had: it begin with a witty conversation, an introduction, if you will, in which impress upon your reader the timeliness and worthiness of your subject. For those who fail to recognize the universal validity of Foucault, this could be an issue, but Montaigne and I know that so long as we only speak engagingly about ourselves and Foucault, the right kind of people will recognize our brilliance and gravitate to the empty table we have saved for them.
My professor then proceeds to argue that the remaining paragraphs in an essay constitute an evolving relationship between the writer and reader not unlike the one initiated in the introduction. “Just as a relationship explodes with initial insight in those first heady weeks,” he says, “so too should a first paragraph make good on the promise of its introduction.” Which is simply wrong — the purpose of an introduction is convince your future reader or paramour that you are to their moon like the heavens above. Moons are wonderful, albeit limited, objects who cannot escape the gravitational conventions of the Earth without an intervention by the likes of myself or Montaigne. Any conversation in which I deign to speak of moon matters is one which is inherently beneath me and an insult Montaigne. An introduction should present a reader with an incomprehensible possibility that may, in the presence of a sufficient genius, become a comprehensible plausibility that only someone unworthy of their humanity would deny.
As for the rest of my Professor’s foolishness? That the third paragraph should, like any “good” relationship, continue to develop the feelings fostered by having made good on the promise of the introduction? This line of thought strongly suggests that relationships continue to develop after protestations of genius have made and accepted, which clearly falls under the aegis of facts not in evidence. Once proof of inferiority is established, the mendicant mind has no choice but to reel, twirling by half, then again, as if shielding itself from a light so bright it penetrates directly into its tiny brain.
Because knowing what it knows now, it will never know peace. It will only know humiliation. For there are no limits on the number of Grade Change forms I can request, or if there are, I plan to collect them like an ignorant naturalist on a well-trodden shore and submit them in perpetuity.