Personal Essays

Creating writing exercise: Paradox

  1. One foot in front of the other. Carefully, slowly – stopping to pee in random bushes, not caring if any passersby notice. At 5am, they would have to be just as drunk as us, anyway. We are two, having left the other half of our coterie with the gentlemen in whose company they had chosen to spend the rest of the evening (or, the wee hours of the morning). Two, blurry-eyed, determined to make the most of our time on this campus of lascivious and extravagant living. Paradoxically, higher education’s expansion to the middle-classes, who only a few decades ago could not access it for want of status, money, or both, has resulted in a lack of appreciation, or maybe an absence of understanding of just how unique such an opportunity is. Unaware of the historical cultural shift that opened the doors to people like us, normal, everyday Americans, and furthermore women, we stumble, blindly, back to our dorms, where we will sleep half the day tomorrow and stare blankly, hungover, at our books.
  2. “The welcome paradox in How to Be Alone,” writes the Times reviewer quoted on the cover of Franzen’s collection of essays, “is that the reader need not feel isolated at all.” Of course, Franzen writes out of a yearning to unite with other lonely readers – to be alone amongst others, one could say. The paradox of being alone, for Franzen, is that it is derived of a disbelief in the existence of others like you, who also feel misplaced in society – yet, all the while other lonely people out there are feeling precisely the same thing, locked in their own little self-imposed bubbles.
  3. How would Van Gogh feel if he knew, in his last days, crazed with religion and bereft with poverty, that one day, khaki-and-sneaker adorned Americans would be pointing their cheap camera lenses at his paintings, which he filled with passions that were so otherworldly they earned him not a dime, and capturing images of his labors, to take home and upload to their computers and share on Facebook? Museums represent the central paradox of cultural production – that in being an ecumenical medium of communication, art inevitably loses some of its aura, to quote Benjamin, in this “age of mechanical reproduction.”
  4. If a paradox is something that seems contradictory but isn’t, then the problem of “paradox” appears related to the tension between logic and intuition. It is a situation in which an idea makes sense on the surface, but can be proved wrong through formal analysis. What is profoundly confusing about this is that even the logical can be contradictory when it is examined through a moral lens; in other words, is it paradoxical to say that intuition is as correct as logic?
  5. One of the doors of a faculty office in the hall of the Spanish department at UVa had a sign on it that read: “Democracy cannot be two wolves and a sheep deciding on what to have for dinner.” The notion that what the American government is doing in Iraq and Afghanistan is related to democracy-building is not only paradoxical, it is a lie.
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