Rethinking Certain Trends in the Lyric Essay

Cover of Planet of the and dog....

Montaigne: “I have set myself no other end but a private family one’ ”

From the beginning the essay was designed to involve the reader as a Peeping Tom. The question is why? Because Montaigne was writing for literate people who possessed, however incompletely, a newfangled capacity for comic irony. The private family turns out to be unreliable, the furniture is wrong. In other words the reader must supply the larger world.

From the start the essay was built from the premise that there is no ideal reader. There are only readers.

I distrust essayists who, in every line, attempt to typecast their readers. What’s wrong with many “lyric essays” is they presume to enjoin readers to share an arid conspiracy of aestheticism. The reader is no longer trusted to supply the larger world of irony but is inveigled to hop aboard the writer’s sense that literacy is itself problematic.

There. I’ve got that off my chest.

Once, a famous lyric essayist (who has dined out on his prominence regarding same) told me my writing was “too experiential”—said it without irony—really an ableist assumption since disability is often my subject. I trust my readers to recognize that disability is in fact a rich way of knowing. I refuse to tell them what they ought to know; I trust the ironic capacities of my readers—the experiential irony of the crippled body and mind.

When I write lyric “bits” or fragments they are propulsive and inviting for whoever would stray there. The private family furniture is wrong, the people unreliable, and the readers does indeed get to supply the larger world. I like my readers. I know how they suffer too.

Author: skuusisto

Poet, Essayist, Blogger, Journalist, Memoirist, Disability Rights Advocate, Public Speaker, Professor, Syracuse University

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