Friday, March 26, 2010

Thoughts on the Personal Essay. Phillip Lopate (10)

10-second review: Montaigne invented the essay. He meant by the term “essay” to experiment, to test, to try out. William Zeiger has a final word on the nature of the personal essay as used by Montaigne: “The practice of experimenting, or trying something out, is expected in the now uncommon sense of the verb to prove—the sense of ‘testing’ rather than ‘demonstrating validity.’ Montaigne ‘proved’ his ideas in that he tried them out in his essays. He spun out their implications, sampled their suggestions. He did not argue or try to persuade. He had no investment in winning over his audience to his opinion; accordingly, he had no fear of being refuted. On the contrary, he expected that some of the ideas he expressed would change, as they did in later essays. Refutation represented not a personal defeat but an advance toward truth as valuable as confirmation. To ‘prove’ an idea, for Montaigne, was to examine it in order to find out how true it was.”

The Art of the Personal Essay. Ed. Phillip Lopate. New York: Anchor Books. A Division of Random House, Inc. 1995.

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