September 1, 2014 § 3 Comments
We were barely unpacked from our summer vacation in Southampton, consumed with reopening Brevity submissions and screaming at the new interns to take their feet off the mahogany desks in our recently-renovated corporate towers, when we received notice of the first issue of Assay: A Journal of Nonfiction Studies.
We plan to read the entire issue once we’ve unpacked all the seashells and surplus cases of champagne, but we did dive into Ned Stuckey-French’s brilliant essay on the essay, “Our Queer Little Hybrid Thing.” Not only is Ned an absolutely essential resource on the tradition of nonfiction and the essay going all the way back to that peculiar French guy wrote about his own body odor, he also just saved us about an hour the next time we teach a workshop and someone asks, “Can you define those terms?” Here’s an excerpt followed by a link to the full and amazing and thoroughly fascinating essay:
The personal essay arrived almost two millennia after Aristotle wrote the Poetics, and after several centuries of perhaps too much universality and church doctrine, too many answered questions, too much deferral of particularity and the self, and too little democracy. As a consequence, Montaigne flipped Aristotle’s assertion, arguing instead, “Chaque homme porte la form entire de l’humaine condition,” or “Each man [or person] carries [or bears] the entire form [or impress, or stamp] of the human condition.” For Montaigne, history isn’t less than poetry, because history carries the universal within it. Any living individual can represent the whole of humanity, the possibilities within each of us. Montaigne did not apologize for himself and his new approach, but laid down a challenge instead: “If the world find fault that I speak too much of myself, I find fault that they do not so much as think of themselves.”
The essay sits somewhere between an edited, organized, largely voiceless, researched, fact-based, history-based article and a narrated, made-up, speculative, climactic, imaginary story. It offers a third way, another way to find everyone’s story in one person’s story. The personal essay differs from the inverted checkmark story in that it doesn’t tell (or just tell) the story of an event. Instead it lets you into what a particular person thinks about an event…or a subject, person, place or problem. It offers – or essays – an answer to a question, a question such as “What is an essay?” As a consequence, an essay is more digressive and meandering than a story. It may be a story, says Hoagland, but it is the story of a mind thinking.
Read “Our Queer Little Hybrid Thing” at Assay.