The essayist is allowed to be familiar, with the understanding that familiarity differs crucially from being personal. What has changed in recent years, and not in the essay alone, is the new penchant among writers for the uncomfortably personal, chiefly residing in confession. The great essayists have also been great adepts of tact, with bone knowledge of precisely how much of themselves they should reveal, how much to hold back. They did not foist their sadnesses on their readers, did not feature their weaknesses. In contemporary writing, consummate tact has been replaced by constant confession. Contemporary writers, essayists among them, provide us with accounts of their sexual kinks, their addictions, their longings, the nightmares of their childhoods, their mental illnesses. Balzac called the artist, by which he meant chiefly the writer, a prince among men; today the prince has increasingly become a patient.
Monday, December 03, 2018
… ‘Essayism’ Review: Tell Me a Bit (Less) About Yourself - WSJ. (Hat tip, Dave Lull.)