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Book Festival: the art of the essay

A panel discussion by noted essayists Ed Dobb, Chuck Palahniuk, Steward Justman, Jim Robbins, and Sharon Butala.

“I don’t seek resolution,” said Ed Dobb. The essay form permits exploring a topic and considering its aspects without trying to reach a neat conclusion.  An essay, Dobb said, might be thought of as “fiction in the guise of fact.” All the writers stressed the importance of factuality, citing the newsroom saw: “opinions are cheap and facts are precious.”

The panel talked for some time about the role of emotion in essays. Chuck Palahniuk noted that although his presentation had the audience laughing loudly, he was not himself cracking up. He cited Derrida, who said that a story is software that runs on the hardware of the brain. His job as a writer is to evoke the desired emotion in the audience rather than to focus on his own feelings. He said that when he was researching a topic, he gathered insights from as many people as he could, and then attempted to present a feeling that would be widely shared by the audience.  His essays draw on the feelings of as many people as possible, and by creating a kind of “software” of those feelings, he could write essays that created a kind of community.

Stewart Justman noted that while it was possible to buy good collections of essays as readers for students ten years ago, this is no longer the case. Most readers now available contain “op ed sorts of writing.”

Posted by Michael L Umphrey on 10/03 at 10:35 PM






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