Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Essay and Self

From a recent review of books on essays by Harper's:
To throw in our lot with the essay — to place it at the center of our literary culture — is to accept the idea of a more or less continuous self that can make its observations, emotions, interpretations, and opinions intelligible to others. From Montaigne to Didion, essayists have shown that even questions about the very coherence of the self or the legibility of experience can be addressed from within the essay. Does this mean we’re walking away from the more recent modernist and postmodernist challenges to certainties about the self? Can everything important be filtered through a talking “I”? What do we do with our skepticism of the bourgeois subject and his abiding interest in his personal experiences, his foibles, his feelings?
Is that true? Is it even coherent?

I somehow doubt it. To use Montaigne's as a proof for an abiding self seems rather strange--just as strange as the claim that essays are the center of literary culture, or the claim that literary culture is most central to our understanding of self.

Hume (and others) have shown--at least to my satisfaction--that there is less to "self" than this articles implies.

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