Response to Egypt by Butor, The Lost Origins of the Essay

The Lost Origins of the Essay

This is an interesting essay that expands and plays with the concept the sentence. After checking a couple of times, I am confident to say that the first sentence ends in the middle of page 546. The author makes use of semicolons, commas, and paragraphs to allow the sentence keep going in a semi-organic form. The essay is both set and centered around Egypt but the author’s use of literary devices appears to take away from the content of the essay. I don’t think I am a very old-fashioned reader or writer and I enjoy experimental writing. However, my enjoyment of experimental writing ends when the experiment interferes with the actual writing. In particular, this essay is a good example of a literary device which passed the first paragraph or two starts to take away from the actual quality of the writing by bringing too much attention to itself.

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2 thoughts on “Response to Egypt by Butor, The Lost Origins of the Essay

  1. Loree Westron says:

    There’s a problem when the cleverness of the writing is overshadowed by the cleverness of the writer and one can only speculate about the author’s reasons for putting himself above his own work. I’m not familiar with this book, but it appears that the self-conscious style of the writing is a major impediment to accessing the content. Experimental writing, if that’s what this is, is something to be valued for the way it pushes language forward and invites the reader to think in new ways. Too often, though, I fear the experimental writing is simply a case of ‘the emperor’s new clothes’, with academics and the literati pouring praise on work which is made incomprehensible to the vast majority of readers by the manner in which it is delivered. This does not mean that, as a reader, I want everything handed to me on a plate. When reading academic work, I enjoy being made to work at deciphering new concepts, and in fiction, I enjoy puzzling together the pieces of a complex plot. But without that eureka moment, when everything becomes clear, the work fails. Language is about communication. It is a tool for disseminating ideas and information. Used well, it can be beautiful. Sometimes, however, in academic circles, I feel that language is used as a means of asserting power by dividing people into camps: those who ‘understand’ and those who don’t. What is the purpose of deliberately creating obstacles to the understanding of one’s subject? Perhaps it is a case of style over substance?

  2. Kate Prudchenko says:

    I totally agree, language is about communication. As you know, I’m actually on the side on making writing simpler and less cluttered, along the lines of Cormac McCarthy’s style. Academic and legal writing on the other hand seems to aim at alienating others who are not part of the group, something I don’t appreciate. I think the desire to alienate comes from the desire to show others up, as if to say, “hah, see how well I can write?” In many circumstances it’s completely juvenile.

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