The Contaminated Essay

August 14, 2009 § Leave a comment

From Dislocate, the journal:

Contaminate’s root is the Latin word tangere, “to touch,” and contamination usually refers to “touch that makes bad.” But there are ways that elements become stronger as a result of corruption: steel gets stronger when tempered in extreme heat, and chemotherapy purifies the body by nearly destroying it. In literature, stories are retold and recontextualized in an endless and productive series of contaminations. Perhaps, even, the limit toward which we speed is for every sphere of life to be contaminated by every other sphere. The question looms: How do people survive, and even thrive, within this contamination? You need not answer this question directly. But let the question contaminate your work.

Your essay may be contaminated in form…

What happens to the essay when we contaminate it with heterogeneous elements? You might add photographs or screenshots from a PowerPoint presentation. You might mix up formal conventions, and make the piece extremely short, or especially lyric. You might transcend generic boundaries and integrate elements of fiction or poetry.

You may contaminate your process…

Write under the influence of giardia, or in traffic jams, or in the presence of small, demanding children, and find ways to incorporate those impositions into your text.


Length: Up to 3,000 words.

Deadline: December 1, 2009

Contest Fee: $15 (includes at 1-year subscription to dislocate)

1st Prize: $400, publication in dislocate #6, and 4 contributor copies




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