As a textual form, the
essai predominates in modern and contemporary literature in French. Emerging from an earlier tradition and distinguished from its English-language counterpart, the French-language essay ranges from Stéphane Mallarmé to Colette, Victor Segalen to Aimé Césaire, Jean Grenier to Pierre Michon. The
essai remains, however, one of the most hazily identified of textual forms, its definition often depending on the progressive elimination of all other generic possibilities. Excluded from the
archigenres (theatre, poetry,
récit), it can even be seen as a hold-all category whose role is to absorb the anarchic extremes of writing.
It is perhaps this very lack of pretension to orthodoxy that has drawn so many writers to the
essai. The conventional understanding of the term – as a tentative, unsystematic exploration – stresses the genre’s provisional nature, its refusal of any claims to comprehensiveness. The
essai exploits the devices of anecdote, illustration and humour; it is addressed to a wide and often general audience; it is also intricately linked to the performance of ideological and writerly strategies, often reordering the classical art of rhetoric and persuasion. As the contributions to this volume show, there is a need to outline an ethics and politics, as well as poetics, of essayism.
Oxford, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Frankfurt am Main, New York, Wien, 2005. 295 pp.
Contents: Charles Forsdick/Andy Stafford: Preface – Peter France: British and French Traditions of the Essay – Charles Forsdick:
De la plume comme des pieds: the Essay as a Peripatetic Genre – Mar Garcia: Ethno-fictions: Ethnographie, Narrativité
et Fiction chez Marc Augé – Sonia Lee: The Emergence of the Essayistic Voice in Francophone African Women Writers: Véronique
Tadjo’s L’Ombre d’Imana – Michael Sheringham: The Essay and the Everyday: Reading Perec with Adorno – Andy Stafford:
Non-pareille: Issues in Modern French Photo-Essayism – Patrick Crowley: Pierre Michon: Self-Performance and the Marchland
of the Essay – Anne Freadman: A Couple of Cusps: Devices of Generic Self-Situation in a Piece by Colette – Toby Garfitt: Ceci
sort du cadre limité de cet essai: Jean Grenier and the Essay as Art Form – Marielle Macé: Paysages du Genre: Segalen
et l’Essai – Aedín Ní Loingsigh: Essayistic Practices in the Non-Fictional Prose of Pius Ngandu Nkashama – Claude Coste: Les
Essais de Pascal Quingnard sur la Musique – Robert Crawshaw: The Essay as Performance: Michel Foucault’s L’Ordre du discours
– Kuisma Korhonen: A Flower? Stéphane Mallarmé and the Poetic Essay – Fui Lee Luk: Extimate Self-Portraits: the Inversion
of the Journal Intime in Michel Tounier’s Essays – David Murphy: The power of reason: Universality and Truth in the