I’m thinking of the clothed essay versus the nude essay. The clothed essay prizes craft and subtlety, evocation and song. “Nakedness is uncomely, as well in mind as body,” Francis Bacon wrote four hundred years ago, “and it addeth no small reverence to men’s manners and actions if they be not altogether open. Therefore set it down: That a habit of secrecy is both politic and moral.” The vulgar, nude essay has no secrets, is uncomely not in an other-century modesty or prudishness, but in its artlessness. An autobiographical essay moves from private to personal, but the nude essay is too private and too personal, smirking that its nakedness is subject enough, its tan lines and scars and piercings doing all of the work. The nude essay says, I see you gawking at my flesh and curves, my sinew and sex, what else do I have to do but preen. The nude essay spreads its legs and the gesture of seeming confession is mistaken for content.
The clothed essay demurs, covers up, led by the voice’s intimacies and the sensuality of contemplation. The clothed essay doesn’t keep secrets—it’s not coy—the clothed essay evokes, believes that abstraction and consideration can be hot. The clothed essay, layered, offers a wealth of ideas, reflection, doubt, patience, uncertainty, less the hot now of the nude essay. It doesn’t shy from writing about nudity, but it keeps its dress on, and wonders how. The clothed essay might offer you its jacket, saying It’s too large, but it will fit. Clothes, carefully selected, aesthetically pleasing, shape and form, are a kind of craft against the nude essay’s raw data. The clothed essay might think about flashing, but doesn’t. The clothed essay’s privacy settings embarrass the nude essay. The clothed essay doesn’t Tweet. To excess.