Sunday, March 29, 2009

Good Gray Prose

Y’ever wake up some days and feel absolutely indicted? Christina Nehring wants you to know that you are what’s wrong with the American essay, specifically the Best American Essay series. You with your venti latte and your second-hand car and your precocious college years. Simply put, the contemporary American essay has made a virtue of being boring. Anecdote recollected under sedation. She makes the case that the cautious, ruminative voice that passes for literary meditation is a sensibility that is all-too safely circumscribed, middle-aged, and middle-class. That is to say, pathologically averse to transgression. (In fairness, I should point out that Nehring also thinks that readers are part of the problem, or represent a problem in themselves, though others disagree.) While there are plenty of essays that are clearly made by and consumed by someone who devoutly wishes to be part of the leisure class (or a reasonable facsimile thereof), there are other pieces out there I could name from Best American Essays which are a little less languid. And while I think we should all dial down the polite recollection in personal essays, saying the American essay is moribund because some of its practitioners skew toward the anesthetized, is like saying Maya Angelou cancels out C.D. Wright.

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