Thinking about thinking about thinking
May 30, 2013 10:30 AM   Subscribe

I think it's the result of everyone being given a soapbox from which, potentially at least, they can harangue the whole world. They make their observations, which they think are original but may or may not be so, and offer them up. And, true to "essayism," they are arguing against their many but invisible adversaries, so they anticipate objections, make allowances here and there, and so on.

I'm certainly guilty of this myself — I write for a living, and regularly end up doing this type of essay for my columns. I've largely managed to stay away from the eye-roll-inducing trappings of "On ____" and "In defense of ____" but in the end I'm still writing out my thoughts in long form so that others may know their most minute details. Sometimes they're even worth reading!

At any rate, I think it's a good thing. People essay-izing their thoughts on things may lead to their forcing an incongruous formality on what is in reality a mess of interconnected notions, but in doing so they sometimes must examine their own thought process and even modify it. At the very least, it's good to write and it's good to share one's opinions, even if they aren't worth any more than the next guy's.
posted by BlackLeotardFront at 10:46 AM on May 30, 2013 [2 favorites]

Essays are not the best subject for essays.
posted by Termite at 10:51 AM on May 30, 2013

Isn't this a nonfiction equivalent to literary "late modernism," where uncertainty and ambivalence are treasured and literary or cultural traditions are selectively invented? I don't think it's an accident that the literary examples stop at the early 20th century, nor that the genealogy of "essayism" basically jumps from Montaigne to Musil. Even the conditions that Wampole describes seem to be the sorts of boilerplate conditions used to "explain" modernism.

The article also seems interested in performing the kind of cultural labor that literary late modernism also performs. The resistance to "dogmatism" and the emphasis on process put this pretty squarely in the tradition of modernist critical writing aimed at constructing a liberal consensus framed as if it were post-ideological; "essayism" as defined by Wampole is hardly anti-technocratic in that regard.
posted by kewb at 10:59 AM on May 30, 2013 [3 favorites]

I read somewhere that at one time, literacy was defined partly by the ability to read something and summarize it, or expand upon it. Hey, I just summarized that argument. I'm not going to expand upon it, other than to say, if someone objects to "essayification," they are objecting to intellect.
posted by charlie don't surf at 11:00 AM on May 30, 2013 [2 favorites]

Lately, you may have noticed the spate of articles and books that take interest in the essay as a flexible and very human literary form.

Once again the proud Martian and Dolphin peoples are ignored.
posted by DU at 11:07 AM on May 30, 2013 [2 favorites]

In conclusion, essays are a land of contrasts. Thank you.
posted by oulipian at 11:13 AM on May 30, 2013 [7 favorites]

Essays are when you take someone else's light and shine it around in your own room, then describe the furniture.
posted by mule98J at 11:15 AM on May 30, 2013 [2 favorites]

The composition of essays does not deserve to be classed as authorship. The essay-clerk is no author, but rather only a good reader. He belongs therefore to the audience, showing the rest of the audience what he read and how he found it. I count only Emerson as an exception. He is an author who uses the form of the essay. He is an author for this reason, that he operates on the basis of the will.--Constantin Brunner
posted by No Robots at 11:16 AM on May 30, 2013

Hamburger essay.
posted by Kabanos at 11:43 AM on May 30, 2013 [1 favorite]

"Essays are when you take someone else's light and shine it around in your own room, then describe the furniture." posted by mule98J at 8:15 PM

Wonderful. There are other, better types of essays, but still, this describes one type of essay perfectly.
posted by Termite at 11:51 AM on May 30, 2013

Hamburger essay.

posted by kewb at 12:06 PM on May 30, 2013

I think the problem is that we have too many essays and not enough manifestos or polemics.
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 4:49 PM on May 30, 2013

but honestly any long form writing is a balm in this age of cat videos and gifs
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 4:50 PM on May 30, 2013 [2 favorites]

Yeah, anything that isn't a tweet is a freaking miracle these days. I would expect an article on this subject these days to like, not exist.
posted by jenfullmoon at 10:31 PM on May 30, 2013 [1 favorite]

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