Russian Postmodernism: New Perspectives on Post-Soviet Culture

By Mikhail Epstein; Alexander Genis et al. | Go to book overview

Chapter 10
ESSAYISM An Essay on the Essay

Mikhail Epstein

The essay is part confession, part discursive argument, and part narrative--it is like a diary, a scholarly article, and a story all in one. It is a genre legitimated by its existence outside any genre. If it treats the reader as a confidant to sincere outpourings of the heart, it becomes a confession or a diary. If it fascinates the reader with logical arguments and dialectical controversies, or if it thematizes the process of generation of meaning, then it becomes scholarly discourse or a learned treatise. If it lapses into a narrative mode and organizes events into a plot, it inadvertently turns into a novella, a short story or a tale.

The essay retains its character only when it constantly intersects with other genres. It is driven by a spirit of adventure and motivated by the desire to attempt everything without yielding to anything. As soon as the essayist tries to take a breath, to come to a stop, the nomadic and transmigratory essence of the essay crumbles to dust. If sincerity threatens to cross a limit, the essayist intervenes with abstractions. If abstract reflection threatens to grow into a metaphysical system, the essayist unexpectedly throws in a peripheral detail or an anecdote in order to undermine its systematicity. The essay is held

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