Archive - Nov 26, 2012

The Great American Essay

Recently, I read Robert Atwan's article, The Top 10 Essays Since 1950. It is a formidable list with links to many of the essays. It struck me, ten essays spread out over a sixty year period; on the average, there should be a new top essay every six years or so.

The most recent essay on the list is David Foster Wallace's "Consider the Lobster" from 2004. Seems like we're about due for another great essay. It made me wonder, what makes for a great essay? Are they like wine, something that needs to age? Perhaps an essay written a few years ago will eventually make it to the list.

Or, are there societal changes affecting the essay? I'm not thinking about the latest is post-modern, post-structural, neo-retro-whatever. I'm wondering, has the change in the printing industry affected the essay? Has the hit that print journalism has taken left us with few people to write great essays? What has blogging done to the essay?

It also caused me to stop and think a little bit about my writing. When I was younger I wanted to be a poet. At other times I dreamed of writing great short stories or perhaps the next great American novel. Now, mostly I write blog posts. Should I work on my essays? Are there great essays, besides the ten that Atwan listed that I should read? Mostly, I've been read transcendentalist essays of late.

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