'Essayism': Special Issue for Electronic Book Review

deadline for submissions: 
October 15, 2018
full name / name of organization: 
electronic book review
contact email: 

electronic book review is currently seeking submissions for a new gathering on the theme of ‘Essayism’

What is an essay? “A type of writing,” writes Brian Dillon, “so hard to define its very name means a trial, effort or attempt.” Little wonder, then, that its major theorists are among its most memorable practitioners. For Michel de Montaigne, the essay is not the writer’s teaching, but his study: the form thus binds writing to reading, thought to citation, invention to discovery. For Georg Lukacs, it straddles the realms of art and criticism: in the essay, as in the portrait, the distinction between known and knower, between reflection and creation, blurs. For Theodor Adorno, it is “the critical form par excellence”: precise but provisional, it is implicitly opposed to positivism; where the treatise would transcend, the essay ambulates, considering its object from multiple sides. For Joan Retallack, it is a wager on the merit of a mind thus in motion: “neither poetry nor philosophy but a mix of logics, dislogics, intuition, revulsion, wonder”…

On the other hand, the ambiguities that attend the essay’s definition have led some to doubt there is any such thing. It is instead, some aver, an attitude assumed within other genres (thus the essay invades the novel, the poem, the memoir, the play) and even other media (thus the essay as film, as website, as game). A millennial extension upon this view has been crucial to the ascent of the essay in recent years: the essay, insist some of its champions today, is what comes after genre—indeed, after literature. But if the essay is a post-literary genre, it is equally a pre-literary one. And not just in the sense that, in finding form, it often appears akin to the draft, the notebook, the journal, the jotting. If, with the rise of the essay, we reach the ragged right margin of literature, and of the modernity in whose pages it was written, we are prompted to ask what that era tried to leave behind or push aside. In the end, the essay returns us to the beginning.

With these matters in mind, electronic book review is requesting submissions that, in both form and content, extend the rich tradition of critical and creative engagement with the question of the essay in new directions. Above all, we aim to test the idea that a resurgence of interest in the essayistic today represents something more than the fashionable movement of a marginal form to a more privileged position within a stable cultural hierarchy; that it bespeaks, instead, a deep shift underway in the general conditions of writing, reading and thinking. Especially, but by no means exclusively, we invite contributions that assay the essay in the work of the following contemporary and modern authors:

  • John D’Agata
  • Ali Smith
  • Rachel Cusk
  • Ben Lerner
  • David Shields
  • Karl Ove Knausgaard
  • Brian Dillon
  • Julian Barnes
  • Rebecca Solnit
  • Geoff Dyer
  • Claire Louise-Bennett
  • Maggie Nelson
  • Aden Rolfe
  • Maria Tumarkin
  • David Markson
  • Tan Lin
  • Teju Cole
  • Matthias Énard
  • Siri Hustvedt
  • Mark Z. Danielewski
  • Tao Lin
  • Valeria Luiselli
  • J.M. Coetzee
  • Yiyun Li
  • William T. Vollmann
  • Roberto Bolaño
  • Don DeLillo
  • Joseph McElroy
  • Michael Joyce
  • Steve Erickson
  • David Foster Wallace
  • Diego Marani
  • William Gass
  • W.G. Sebald
  • Alexander Kluge
  • Joan Didion
  • Paul Auster
  • Chris Kraus
  • Richard Powers
  • John Berger
  • Sven Birkerts
  • Inga Clendinnen
  • John Ashbery
  • Harry Mathews
  • Joshua Cohen
  • Joan Retallack
  • Gerald Murnane
  • Milan Kundera
  • Jorge-Luis Borges
  • Lyn Hejinian
  • Gertrude Stein
  • Wallace Stevens
  • Tomas Tranströmer
  • Martin Harrison
  • Robert Musil
  • Hermann Broch
  • Thomas Mann
  • Theodor Adorno
  • Peter Weiss
  • Karl Kraus
  • Claire de Obaldia
  • George Steiner
  • Stefano Ercolino
  • Carl H. Klaus
  • Mark M. Freed
  • Hélène Cixous
  • Jean-Luc Nancy
  • Jacques Derrida

We also encourage attempts to explore areas where critical questions about the essay and essayism overlap with those concerning:

  • the novel/poem/short story/collection
  • memoir/reportage/journalism/documentary
  • the ontology of the literary work
  • the poetics of prose
  • cognition, mediation, experience, imagination
  • the ethics of writing
  • narratology and theories of reading
  • metafiction/autofiction
  • maximalism/minimalism
  • the unfinished/the unfinishable
  • realism
  • post-truth politics
  • ekphrasis and art criticism
  • ecology
  • digital and new media
  • film/visual arts/multimedia
  • modernity/postmodernity/post-postmodernity
  • humanism/post-humanism
  • pedagogy in literature and creative writing
  • critical theory
  • phenomenology
  • interdisciplinarity
  • theories of fictionality/non-fictionality/post-fictionality
  • palimpsests and paratexts

‘Essayism’ will be edited by Joseph Tabbi (University of Illinois at Chicago) and Jason Childs (University of Technology, Sydney). Potential contributors are invited to send an abstract, along with a brief autobiographical note, to ebr Managing Editor Will Luers: wluers@gmail.com.

DEADLINE: 15 October, 2018