The Essay as Reality Television

Adam Kirsch discusses whether or not essays are “extinct” as a form of writing, and references Michel e Montaigne, whose work is studied in CC201. Here is a sample:

The essay, traditionally, was defined by its freedom and its empiricism—qualities that it inherited from its modern inventor, Montaigne. “What do I know?” Montaigne asked, and the essay is the form that allows both the “I” and the thing it knows equal prominence. For this reason, the essay could address any subject, exalted or trivial, as long as it displayed the mind of the writer engaged with the world. The subjects in The Oxford Book of Essays, edited by the late John Gross, range from truth and dreams to wasps and the Hoover Dam. Not coincidentally, some of the greatest essays, from Addison on Paradise Lost to Mill on Coleridge, are engaged with texts, which is to say, with other minds. For the essay is one of the purest ways for a writer’s mind to record its own motions, which are the basis of prose style.

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