Essayism by Brian Dillon review – pure creativity on the page

It is a critical commonplace to begin an essay about essays with etymology. Essay: noun, from the French essayer , verb, to try. Next is the requisite hat-tip to Michel de Montaigne , Renaissance philosopher and one-time mayor of Bordeaux, who is considered to have been the first great essayist; his Essais , published 1580, includes disquisitions on, other things, idleness, liars, imagination, pedantry, the custom of wearing clothes, sleep, names, drunkenness and smells. “ know too well how that particular essay on essays written,” Brian Dillon writes in his new book, Essayism , refusing to rehearse these familiar ideas, even as mentions them. Over the course of this meditation on that most elegant and slippery of , he identifies some “combination of exactitude and evasion” at the heart of it, an inner “conflict”, whereby it “aspires to express the quintessence or crux of its matter … to a sort of polish and integrity”, while also insisting “that its purview is partial, that being incomplete is a value in itself for it better reflects the brave and curious but faltering nature of the writing mind”. The essay has to convey mastery while admitting partiality. This […]

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