Wednesday, December 9, 2009


I want to put this sentence in my paper:
Describing time spent playing an Xbox as leisure would likely have rendered Aristotle apoplectic.

In the past, I've often received objections to sentences like this along the lines of how I can't possibly know how Aristotle would've reacted in the situation, which I think misses the entire fucking point of the sentence. No, I don't know exactly how he would've reacted, but doesn't the anachronistic juxtaposition makes that point for me? Plus, I think the idea of Aristotle pissed off with a vein popping out of his head is funny. Furthermore, I can tell you he wouldn't like one bit calling time spent playing Call of Duty 2 leisure.



Also, thoughts on rhetorical questions? I never use them in academic papers.


Miss Self-Important said...

What is a rhetorical question?


Flavia said...

No on the rhetorical questions--I myself tend to insert them in early drafts, as place-holders, that get replaced with more thought-out declarative statements (so I think of them as lazy: either entirely unnecessary or as provisional formulations of something that deserves more time & space).

As for the Aristotle: it really depends on context. If your essay is actually on Aristotle's definition of leisure, sure, as long as you're then going on to clarify/specify that definition and what's included and what isn't. In other words, if it's a meaningful, useful example--even if it's a bit cheeky or unexpected--it's great.

But I do get annoyed when a student is writing about, say, the figure of the fool in one of Shakespeare's comedies, and randomly starts telling me that Shakespeare would be surprised by (or totally on board with!) aspects of the modern sit-com. In that context, I'm not looking for a general reflection on what comedy consists of, and I'm REALLY not looking for a totally speculative comparison between early modern and 21st century comedy in unusefully dissimilar genres; I'm looking for an essay on Feste in Twelfth Night!

But if the same student were writing an essay on, say, Shakespeare's use of physical comedy in a given play, and he contrasted it with a very specific (and brief) example of physical comedy from a 21st-century sit-com, that could be both fun and illuminating.

What I dislike is what seems to me to be laziness, lack of focus, or writerly self-indulgence. A little cheekiness or whimsicality is welcome, but only when it's earning its keep (or the writer is earning his, in other ways). . . and a little goes a long, long way.

FLG said...


It's actually part of a discussion on Aristotle's definition of leisure and how this differs from our modern conception. So, I think it fits.

Flavia said...

"Otium Through the Ages". . . ?

Dude, that totally fits. I really can't imagine anyone objecting, unless a) you went on and ON about the Xbox, or b) your reader were super lame.

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