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Portrait Of The Essay As A Warm Body Syntax


“I'd have him love the thing that was 

Before the world was made.”

–     W B Yeats

At the time of my parents’ wedding, my mother was teaching in Mathura, far away from the Himalayan foothills where my father was posted. When my mother quit her job to move in with my father, my grandfather wrote angry letters to them, accusing my father to have become a Majnu – an Indian Romeo. Baba’s disdain rose from his handwriting, like heat coming off the tar roads outside our village at the end of a summer day. 

Everyone dreaded my grandfather’s letters. They were erudite and impenetrable, filled with the vomitus of his thoughts in a small yellow postcard. A banal life event could conjure acerbic shayri, erotic poetry or mathematical theory, creeping horizontally and vertically all over the postcard until no space remained.

He was a poet who scaffolded our lives with his prose. His words slinked on every piece of paper that lay around us. Every time my father brought him books from the library, he reminded Baba to not write on them. Baba never remembered. Besides the piles of notebooks in his room, we saw his writing littered on newspapers, calendars, junk mail, telephone diaries, schoolbooks and take-away menus.

He read voraciously and wrote the same way. He spoke of quantum physics and Jungian psychology, of Medieval English literature and German metaphysical writers. He wrote about all this to our relatives in villages and tiny towns across north India who turned the postcards in their hands and said, “What is this?” Their lives – mired in grocery lists, local gossip and car loans – had no space for Baba’s words.

Adapted from Gulliver’s Travels, by Jonathan Swift (1726)

This academy is not an entire single building, but a continuation of several houses on both sides of a street, which growing waste, was purchased and applied to that use.

I was received very kindly by the warden, and went for many days to the academy. Every room has in it one or more projectors, and I believe I could not be in fewer than five hundred rooms.

The first man I saw was of a meager aspect, with sooty hands and face, his hair and beard long, ragged, and singed in several places. His clothes, shirt, and skin, were all of the same color. He has been eight years upon a project for extracting sunbeams out of cucumbers, which were to be put in phials hermetically sealed, and let out to warm the air in raw inclement summers. He told me, he did not doubt, that, in eight years more, he should be able to supply the governor’s gardens with sunshine, at a reasonable rate: but he complained that his stock was low, and entreated me “to give him something as an encouragement to ingenuity, especially since this had been a very dear season for cucumbers.” I made him a small present, for my lord had furnished me with money on purpose, because he knew their practice of begging from all who go to see them.

I went into another chamber, but was ready to hasten back, being almost overcome with a horrible stink. My conductor pressed me forward, conjuring me in a whisper “to give no offense, which would be highly resented”; and therefore I durst not so much as stop my nose. The projector of this cell was the most ancient student of the academy; his face and beard were of a pale yellow, his hands and clothes daubed over with filth. When I was presented to him, he gave me a close embrace, a compliment I could well have excused. His employment, from his first coming into the academy, was an operation to reduce human excrement to its original food, by separating the several parts, removing the tincture which it receives from the gall, making the odor exhale, and scumming off the saliva. He had a weekly allowance, from the society, of a vessel filled with human ordure, about the bigness of a Bristol barrel.

I saw another at work to calcine ice into gunpowder, who likewise showed me a treatise he had written concerning the malleability of fire, which he intended to publish.

There was a most ingenious architect, who had contrived a new method for building houses, by beginning at the roof, and working downward to the foundation, which he justified to me, by the like practice of those two prudent insects, the bee and the spider.

There was a man born blind, who had several apprentices in his own condition: their employment was to mix colors for painters, which their master taught them to distinguish by feeling and smelling. It was indeed my misfortune to find them at that time not very perfect in their lessons, and the professor himself happened to be generally mistaken. This artist is much encouraged and esteemed by the whole fraternity.

In another apartment I was highly pleased with a projector who had found a device of ploughing the ground with hogs, to save the charges of ploughs, cattle, and labour. The method is this: in an acre of ground you bury, at six inches distance and eight deep, a quantity of acorns, dates, chestnuts, and other mast or vegetables, whereof these animals are fondest; then you drive six hundred or more of them into the field, where, in a few days, they will root up the whole ground in search of their food, and make it fit for sowing, at the same time manuring it with their dung: it is true, upon experiment, they found the charge and trouble very great, and they had little or no crop. However it is not doubted, that this invention may be capable of great improvement.

Based on the excerpt, we can infer its primary purpose is to show which of the following?

Possible Answers:

Thinking "outside of the box" is important.

Innovation for innovation's sake can lead to absurd results.

The narrator was only impressed by the last experiment described in the passage.

Academies should cover many different disciplines and subjects.

Even the most ingenious experiment can be improved.

Correct answer:

Innovation for innovation's sake can lead to absurd results.


The correct answer is "innovation for innovation's sake can lead to absurd results." The author wishes to convey to the reader the absurdity of trying to develop unnecessary innovations. The academy tries to help society through their experiments but ultimately wastes its resources and destroys the countryside.