Another essay on essays

Since my last post’s featured essay was a little on the theoretical side, I thought I would share another critical piece on the contemporary essay, albeit one that will perhaps feel more grounded and less equivocal than Mitch Therieau’s. I happened upon this one courtesy of local-ish author, Nathan Whitlock.

In this piece for The Drift, Jackson Arn takes aim at Anchor Books’ publication of The Contemporary American Essay, stares upon its entrails, and tells us (not unconvincingly) about what’s wrong with the state of the contemporary essay. There’s a lot here I agree with, with some of the preciousness (and vagueness) of the current style taken to task.


Something to read (February 2022 edition)

I’ve been thinking a lot about this piece by Mitch Therieau for the Chicago Review, called “Getting Personal”. It’s essentially a state-of-the-nation on the personal-critical essay, surveying where we’ve come since the latter part of the 20th century (starting with New Journalism) and bringing the reader to what might be termed “personal criticism”. Therieau’s piece defies easy summation (as you will see below), which is sort of the point, in a meta (though not conceited) way. Is there a crisis in the personal-critical essay? Yes, but it has less to do with the dominant style, which is ultimately downstream from the demands of the marketplace.

Along the way, Therieau makes use of indirect references to psychoanalysis, Marxism (neither of those in an overbearing way), feminist theory, as well as an overarching attempt to define where we’re at, which, to clumsily summarize, seems to be (here we go…) a pyretic hammering away with personal anecdote as a mimetic tool that risks exploiting the writer even though we know full-well that personal experience can only truly be secondary (and thus filtered) but what the hell let’s go out with a blaze of glory.

Anyways, it’s very good.