Imagine a type of writing so hard to define its very name means a trial, effort or attempt. An ancient form with an eye on the future, a genre poised between tradition and experiment. The essay wants above all to wander, but also to arrive at symmetry and wholeness; it nurses competing urges to integrity and disarray, perfection and fragmentation, confession and invention. How to write about essays and essayists while staying true to these contradictions? ESSAYISM is a personal, critical and polemical book about the genre, its history and contemporary possibilities. It's an example of what it describes: an essay that is curious and digressive, exacting yet evasive, a form that would instruct, seduce and mystify in equal measure. Among the essayists to whom he pays tribute - from Virginia Woolf to Georges Perec, Joan Didion to Sir Thomas Browne - Brian Dillon discovers a path back into his own life as a reader, and out of melancholia to a new sense of writing as adventure.
Brian Dillon is a freelance writer and critic. He is the editor of RUINS (Whitechapel Gallery/MIT Press, 2011) and author of THE GREAT EXPLOSION (Penguin, 2015), OBJECTS IN THE MIRROR (Sternberg Press, 2014), I AM SITTING IN A ROOM (Cabinet, 2011), SANCTUARY (Sternberg Press, 2011), TORMENTED HOPE: NINE HYPOCHONDRIAC LIVES (Penguin, 2009), which was shortlisted for the Wellcome Trust Book Prize, and IN THE DARK ROOM (Penguin, 2005) which won the Irish Book Award for non-fiction. Dillon writes regularly on art, books and culture for such publications as the GUARDIAN, the LONDON REVIEW OF BOOKS, the IRISH TIMES, ARTFORUM and FRIEZE. He is a Tutor in Critical Writing at the Royal College of Art and UK editor of CABINET, a quarterly of art and culture based in New York.