This class is about philosophies, by which I mean ideas about the place of human beings in the universe. Philosophies involve beliefs about what we are and how we are like or unlike everything else. Philosophies are explicitly articulated by philosophers and implicit in just about everyone’s beliefs and practices.
The philosophy that we will talk about is that human beings are made in the image of God. That has two basic parts. First, the first human being, Adam, was as close to God as a finite being could be. Second, we can recover some of those abilities if we refine our reasoning ability. These points were brought out in the handouts from Robert South and New Man magazine.
Aside from the content I described, this course is about writing. Your professors will demand a fairly specific kind of writing: academic prose! It’s unfair to demand something of you without telling you how to do it. So telling you is one thing that this course ought to accomplish.
Did I get off on the wrong foot by telling you we’re going to read a great writer who doesn’t write in academic prose? Probably. I don’t want to be misleading in saying that Menand breaks the rules for academic writing. Really, he does follow them. It’s just that he does so with style.
I can’t teach you to write like Menand. But I can show you the skeleton of a good analytical essay. What kind of flesh you put on that skeleton is up to you. In fact, most of your professors and other readers in a hurry will be quite satisfied with the skeleton.
But all of that is for later.
Right now, let me recommend Menand as an excellent thinker and writer. If you had to pick and alum to emulate, he would be a dandy choice.
In particular, why not start with some essays he wrote about college? For instance, here is a short piece that compares going to college with your first sleep-over. And here is a longer essay on college admissions.
Or how about a couple of gems on writing? For instance, here’s one that seems to be about grammar but is actually about the relationship between written and spoken language. Or how about an essay on the surprisingly interesting subject of citations?
If those don’t float your boat, go visit his fan club and see what they recommend.
I say all of this because there are two necessary steps to becoming a good writer: practice and reading great writers. Unfortunately, they aren’t sufficient. Plus, practice can be tedious and frustrating, just as it is with anything else. With the second step, at least you will have gotten to read great prose!