The thesis is modest—the essay as democratic form—but the telling is refreshingly commonsensical, sprinkled with engaging bits of trivia (Charles Lamb’s overwhelming popularity in Japan, for instance). The early essays’ anti-scholasticism is memorably compared to the anti-institutional streak of the essay form today. Bibliographic notes list several studies on the essay from the early 1980’s backward.
An understanding of the essay can thus supplement our readings of these complex texts. In my essay below, I will argue that essays exist as knowledge possibilities in addition to real, material texts composed and constructed by writers. As Theodor Adorno noted in his influential piece “The Essay as Form,” the essay functions as “an arena of intellectual experience” in which knowledges can be brought together, tested, and complicated (161). Feminist writers from Wollstonecraft to Woolf, de Beauvoir to hooks, have often turned to both the category of experience and the genre of the essay to explore ways of knowing grounded in a deep skepticism of received knowledge, disciplinary divides, and false binaries. The essay as a genre then, and the fluid, hybrid forms Anzaldúa composes, serve as key texts through which to consider feminist epistemologies. What ways of knowing do writers offer via their texts? How can feminist knowledge strategies exceed traditional, often linear, argumentative or narrative structures? And how do these texts thus offer possibilities for knowing ourselves, our identities, and our worlds otherwise?
Theodor Adorno, “The Essay as Form” I feel vindicated
"...the essay is decried as a hybrid; that it is lacking a convincing tradition; that its strenuous requirements have only rarely been met: all this has been often remarked upon and censured." The quote is from Theodor Adorno's essay, "The Essay as Form."