Wednesday, 11 March 2009

more on the personal essay

In his introduction Lopate writes that “The hallmark of the personal essay is the intimacy. The writer seems to speak directly to our ear, confiding everything from gossip to wisdom.” The reason why this personal talk is so attractive is, in the words of Montaigne, that: “Every man has within himself the entire human condition”, so in telling about himself the essayist is, to some degree, talking about all of us.
Virginia Woolf knitting, painted by her sister Vanessa Bell

I agree with Montaigne - but only to a certain point, since I’m skeptical of the idea of universality. In the light of feminism we know that when talking about humanity one tends to talk about the experience of a selected group of white men. Still the idea of the intimacy of sharing collective experiences is attractive. Maybe we have to look for something in this intimacy which is at the same time general and unique?
... and the painting; one of the greatest essay-writers ever, Virginia Woolf.

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