Scholars' Essay Competition

'Why, if at all, is speed a distinctively modern pleasure, and is it the only genuinely modern one?’

Congratulations to Thomas Easterbrook (winner), Yusuf Ahmed (runner-up), and Siddhanth Shah (best essay from a pupil in the Thirds or Upper Thirds) for their excellent submissions to last year’s Scholars’ Essay Competition.

Taking as its cue Aldous Huxley’s declaration that ‘speed provides the one genuinely modern pleasure’, the scholars were set an essay which asked, ‘Why, if at all, is speed a distinctively modern pleasure, and is it the only genuinely modern one?’ The question therefore encouraged the scholars to think across the boundaries of their traditional subjects to consider the question of the meaning of modernity and of our experience of it. This was quite the challenge, but the quality of the responses was impressive, as was the variety of approaches to the question.

The three winning essays stood out, however, for their intellectual ambition and their sophisticated engagement with the concepts in the question. Thomas’s winning essay drew on the critiques of modernity offered by Nietzsche, Weber, and Freud to question the very idea of a modern pleasure, whilst also (rather boldly) suggesting that perhaps psychedelics might be the modern pleasure for which Huxley was searching. Meanwhile, Yusuf’s elegantly written essay acknowledged the transformations wrought by the industrial revolution but argued that the pleasure derived from speed in fact had ancient roots and stemmed from man’s recognition that his time on earth was limited. By contrast, Siddhanth focused on the experience of speed and took a more biological approach to the question, emphasising the release of dopamine and considering what other features of modern life might have comparable effects.

Congratulations once again to all who entered, and especially to Thomas, Yusuf, and Siddhanth. It is clear that a great deal of reading and thought went into these essays, and the judges greatly enjoyed reading some of the submissions. I am confident that all those who submitted an essay will have encountered some fascinating and worthwhile ideas in their research, and I hope that they will continue to ponder the issues raised in the question over the course of the coming year and even beyond.


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