essaying the essay – again?

by diverse means we arrive at the same end — Michel de Montaigne

Is the essay dead? Or, is it about to take on life in another form? What do you think?

I concluded a recent post with the following rather optimistic sentiment:

. . . the interpretive scholarly essay was and still is the best form of interpretation—far better than the interactive web page or social media. When it comes right down to it, scholarly essays are still the name of the game. [1]

Admittedly, I intended to be provocative inasmuch as I didn’t say what form the essay will take in the new digital environment. I have to confess, however, that I wasn’t really provocative so much as unclear and confusing. Provocation might have opened discussion; being unclear closed it down instead. I apologize.

In the brief time since I made the above declaration, I picked up (actually downloaded) a copy of Kathleen Fitzpatrick’s Planned Obsolescence: Publishing, Technology, and the Future of the Academy. Perhaps this quote from her book will open the floor:

. . . to the degree that scholarship is about participating in an exchange of ideas with one’s peers, new networked publishing structures can facilitate that interaction, but will best do so if the discussion is ongoing, always in process.

This foregrounding of conversation, however, will likely also require authors, who are in dialogue with their readers—who are, of course, themselves authors—to relinquish a certain degree of control over their texts, letting go of the illusion that their work springs wholly from their individual intelligence and acknowledging the ways that scholarship, even in fields in which sole authorship is the norm, has always been collaborative. [2]

Thank you, Kathleen.

So, I repeat, is the essay dead? Or, is it about to take on life in another form?

It would be far less interesting to hear simple agreement or disagreement on this question than to get some feedback about what form(s) you think these texts could possibly take. This would be very useful, indeed.

[1] See my “imagination and good cataloging.”

[2] Fitzpatrick, Kathleen (2011-11-01). Planned Obsolescence: Publishing, Technology, and the Future of the Academy (p. 12). NYU Press short. Kindle Edition.

Top of page: Montaigne, Les Essais, Abel L’Angelier, 1588, exemplaire annoté de la main de l’auteur, dit “exemplaire de Bordeaux” (source: ARTFL, Montaigne Project)


Roger Shepherd is the Creative Director of panOpticon.


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