Reading Essays: An Invitation

By G. Douglas Atkins | Go to book overview

“On a Line Between
Two Sturdy Poles”
Edward Hoagland’s “What I Think, What I Am”

almost literature and almost philosophy …

—Eduardo Nicol, quoted in Philip Lopate,
The Art of the Personal Essay

Some, to whom Heav’n in Wit has been profuse,
Want as much more, to turn it to its use;
For Wit and Judgment often are at strife,
Tho’ meant each other’s Aid, like Man and Wife.

—Alexander Pope, An Essay on Criticism

IN THE ART OF THE ESSAY, Lydia Fakundiny opines that “‘What I Think, What I Am’ must be the best short essay in English on what an essay is.” That may well be—and not only because most of the considerable number of essays on the essay are long. “Needless to say,” Fakundiny adds, Edward Hoagland’s essay, from his 1976 collection The Tugman’s Passage, “shows even as it tells” (690). It is, in other words, an essay about the essay: both an essay and commentary on the essay. An elegant modesty attends and striates the entire essai.

Its opening paragraph marks “What I Think, What I Am” as an essay— in style and tone. That opening is also unhurried and indirect, the way essays are. Hoagland makes some essential points, proffers some crucial distinctions:

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