Adjustments to find a path through a labyrinth

I’m reading the slides from a presentation by Richard P. Gabriel, entitled Triggers & Practice (available on his Essays page); in it, he quotes various people’s writing about essays, and apparently the form has changed over the centuries. Its original form seems, to me, to have much in common with blogging (or at least in my view of it).

The word “essay”, according to Michael Depp in his book On Essays: Literature’s Most Misunderstood Form, was coined by 16th century philosopher Michel de Montaigne. Writes Depp: “[Montaigne’s] own prose works on matters philosophical, literary and moral seemd to find no place among prescribed forms or genres of writing because of their self-effacing, antiauthoritative posture. He called his effort essai. (The modern translation from the French corresponds simply to “attempt.”)”

Depp continues, “[Montaigne] rejected systemic thinking and hefty authoritative rhetoric. He showed readers the colliding intersections of his own thoughts. He didn’t begin with conclusions, and often he never found them.” Depp also writes that in school, one’s first encounter with “essays” is as a text with five paragraphs: introduction, three body paragraphs and a conclusion. As for myself, I certainly find it odd to think of an essay without a conclusion (which probably is why I had to read Gabriel’s “Mob Software” twice – see here and here).

As I understand Gabriel’s slides, O. B. Hardison Jr. considers Sir Francis Bacon the one who changed the essay form. Gabriel quotes his In Praise of the Essay as follows: “Montaigne’s essays suggest how the mind feels as it seeks by constant adjustments to find a path through a labyrinth, Bacon’s method is to assert the existence of the path whether one is there or not.” (That certainly doesn’t sound good.)

Weblogging, to me, is about posting thoughts and ideas, gaining understanding by expressing them in text, eventually (I hope) reaching a point where the ideas mature and stabilize (the path through the labyrinth) – and hopefully getting other people’s opinions about them, or pointers to further reading. Adjustments to the path come from yourself as you type, and from others who comment on what you post, and so on.

The above was posted to my personal weblog on November 2, 2002. My name is Peter Lindberg and I am a thirtysomething software developer and dad living in Stockholm, Sweden. Here, you’ll find posts in English and Swedish about whatever happens to interest me for the moment.


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