Thursday, October 24, 2013

An essay can eat itself. Then what?

In the fun-house mirror of the essay, an idea can take many iterations: as idea, as idea dramatized, as dramatization of idea dramatized. An essay can essay itself coming into being, keep making left turn after left turn in pursuit of story and commentary on story and the story of commentary and commentary on that commentary, until it turns back on itself and begins consuming what it produces. Then what? Well, if the reader is still around, an apology is in order. And then a wholesale rethink. We don't want our essays so consumed with themselves that they vanish into their own making. Ultimately what's of greater value, a working watch or a watch taken apart.

I'll let Annie Dillard have the last word, though she was probably going somewhere else with this. Still, it's one of my favorites: "You can't put together a memoir without cannibalizing your own life for parts."

Essayists beware.


Image via Avantgarda.

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