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What Makes an Essay Literary?

david lynn“Just what makes an essay literary ?” begins David H. Lynn’s Editor’s Notes in the Nov/Dec 2015 issue of Kenyon Review. “I’ve been challenged on that recently, not least because I’d like to extend the capaciousness of creative categories. These notes provide an early opportunity.”

Included in his discussion were these comments:

  • Referencing Montaigne – “typically founded on memoir, reflection, or some other form of particular personal experience.”
  • The writing can be “rich with the lyricism, the punch of fine fiction”; employ “rhythms, repetitions, and dramatically significant details.”
  • “engages something external in the world and undertakes the research or journey necessary to bring the subject back to readers for reflection and meditation and greater knowledge.”
  • Language: “Its rhythms, its diction, its metaphors are more than merely precise and effective—they exhibit a particular beauty of sound and sense and expression.”
  • “The end here for the reader is pleasure. And literary writing strives always toward such feelings. We delight in, for example, le mot juste.”
  • “the experience of fully engaging an essay’s tenor—the argument or subject or meaning—may sweep a reader toward a far deeper sense of fulfillment.”
  • Reading the literary essay is “a process that catalyzes us into seeing in a new way, to grasping what may intuitively lie beyond language itself.”
  • “readers themselves, engaged and moved by sharing in the transformative experience of the narrator, are not only enabled to see the world differently, they themselves are subtly but meaningfully transformed by the crucible of the literary.”

Read the full edtiorial here.

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