Merry Wanderer of the Night + TIME

Awesome Essays: Solipsism

Awesome essays has returned with a truly awesome essay called Solipsism. I first read this essay in The Best American Essays 2008 edited by Adam Gopnik and it was just a struck of luck that a week earlier I had listened to an episode of Bookworm with Michael Silverblatt that had Ander Monson (author of Solipsism) on it. I was intrigued by Ander Monson's thoughts on nonfiction and memoir, and I think Solipsism is a great entry to these thoughts. The essay poses questions that are bouncing in the nonfiction world these days. Like does nonfiction have to be memoir, and does it have to be about me? Here is a paragraph to get you started:

That is, the 768 instances of "Me." above—and don't forget the single space after each period. which means another keystroke for each instance*—would have meant more in 1895 than it does today. Physically speaking, the work required to generate the 768 instances above on a manual typewriter, where you'd have to press each key hard enough to get the system of levers moving the type bar through an inked ribbon to hit the paper, was far greater than the work it required (work is equal to force times distance, remember) to generate this page on a computer. One reason people get carpal tunnel now is because the physical act of typing (itself lessened by about 95% in electric typewriters as compared to manuals) doesn't require as much work now as it did then, so it's easier for the hands to become lazy and just rest, and not for us to arch our fingers enough etc. It would have taken me, in eighth grade, when I typed 54 words per minute in our class just recently rechristened keyboarding instead of the older typing, approximately 14.2 minutes to generate that page, possibly longer when you think about the fatigue that sets in typing the same letters over and over—no variety of motion at all, just simple repetition—and of course this was on an electric typewriter, not even one of the old manual machines. For me it took less than thirty seconds. I typed "Me. Me. Me." on my Titanium 15" Powerbook keyboard, which isn't all that comfortable, really, though I've gotten used to it because of the ease it otherwise affords, and then highlighted in Dreamweaver, copy-and-pasted a few times until I had a few lines, then copy-and-pasted that a few times, and came up with a good solid page of text, all text about me with a capital M in front. It's almost nothing. I didn't have to think about it much. It's easy to do. You try it.

The format in the online is a bit different from the way it is published in Best American Essays, and honestly I think I preferred the Best American Essays way of relaying footnotes but I think it's still worth it for you to read the essay online. Which you can! Because Ander Monson has it published on his website. This essay really stuck a chord with me because in the very first nonfiction writing class I took in college I think everyone thought that nonfiction has to be about me. But it doesn't. John McPhee is a wonderful example of this, he is one of the most well known nonfiction writers/essayists in the world and he never writes about himself. He picks a subject and intensely researches it to deliver a fascinating narrative. This isn't to say that memoirs or writing about me are bad things, it's just that nonfiction goes beyond that. The essay goes beyond that. I think this essay will really get you thinking about these things, and it's just fun to read. So go check out Solipsism!

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Awesome Essays: Solipsism + TIME