When essays are mentioned, there are the classics many think of – Montaigne, Woolf, Emerson – but is it not possible to think of a more comprehensive essayism? Brian Dillon's little book on the essay is a poignant little matter, deeply rooted in the essay as a brief forsøk, but even more strongly rooted in an ambition to think beyond literary. Many of the leading essays on the essay try to find something general about this genre, but it is the particularity of the essay, that which breaks with the general, that characterizes the essayist, says Dillon, and perhaps quotes the very best essay on the essay: Theodor Adornos The essay as a form.
The essay as a list. One of the pages of Dillon's reflections that interests me most – and which sets him apart from most essay theorists – is the link between lister and the essay. The essay, he writes, is a way of charting what he wants; what he desires or has not yet understood. In this way, the essay can be regarded as a way of storing its curiosity or desire. The art of the essay – which may be its essence – becomes juxtaposed and narrative when presented as a process. The course, as such, is the very binding substance in the list-making: the way the author takes through the constituents of the list, ultimately constitutes the form of the narrative whole.
Dillon thus corresponds with the art writer Jerry Salz, who says that “writing is a method of. . .
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