Click amount to donate direct to CounterPunch
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $500
  • $other
  • use PayPal
DOUBLE YOUR DONATION!
We don’t run corporate ads. We don’t shake our readers down for money every month or every quarter like some other sites out there. We provide our site for free to all, but the bandwidth we pay to do so doesn’t come cheap. A generous donor is matching all donations of $100 or more! So please donate now to double your punch!
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

The Legacy of Montaigne

John Jeremiah Sullivan, who edits The Best American Essays 2014, opens with an Introduction on Montaigne’s role in developing the essay (Mariner/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt). Its forms are loose and strict.

That helps the 21 contemporary writers who contribute to the collection under review to convey the personal and political, if I may borrow a phrase from the 1960s. The essays bounce from confessions to descriptions and impressions, and I can’t say one approach is the best.

I can say this. The dynamism of the essay form works in a number of ways today.

Lawrence Jackson’s essay on growing up in deindustrializing Baltimore is powerful. His narrative, at times reading like stream-of-consciousness, suggests the sensibility of Claude Brown, author of Manchild in the Promised Land.

These writers of course are generations apart. Still, there is a striking symmetry between them.

Jackson’s take on coming-of-age in the long 1980s of the Reagan Revolution contextualizes and personalizes black youth’s marginal status, and what can fill that void. The police are omnipresent, and hardly helpful, “Five-O” in his essay, and “one-time” in the 2015 film Straight Outta Compton.

Jerald Walker explores fatherhood and the color line, with a nod to Frederick Douglass, the famed 19th century abolitionist. In the essay, Walker lands in an uneasy situation, navigating skin pigmentation relations in and out of his household in a rural town in Massachusetts.

It is sad to say to be a parent can mean to outlive a precious child. Ariel Levy’s “Thanksgiving in Mongolia” paints a gut-wrenching experience of motherhood.

In a stark coming-of-age essay, Barry Lopez loses his virginity. Who takes it and how from a boy’s view reads a bit like a tale about predator priests in the Catholic Church.

On that abusive note, Chris Offutt recalls his experience with adult-minor, same-sex relations. This essay is set in the South, and delivers a slice of that region’s unique Gothic feel; think Flannery O’Connor.

In “The Devil’s Bait,” Leslie Jamison examines the health of patients who suffer from Morgellons disease. What she does (not) find at a conference of sufferers interrogates our conventional notions of sickness and wellness.

Wells Tower’s father is ill, the premise of their visit with friends to Burning Man. This essay conveyed the individual and social particulars of participating in this modern-day festival.

Emily Fox Gordon lays bare slices of the aging process. It requires, among other physical adjustments, coming to grips with an unknown future.

Yiyun Li left her homeland of China for America. In the USA, she in a letter to a friend wrestles with existential questions that speak to her immigrant writer status, and a growing consciousness of how place and time can shape self-identity.

A theme in Vivian Gornick’s essay is listening to voices, hers, friends’ and strangers’. Walking the streets of New York City provides the writer with ample opportunities to step outside the boundaries of atomized individuality, and try to make sense of the human condition as she experiences it.

The 21 essays in this book are sharp-eyed and smart. Montaigne would likely agree.

More articles by:

Seth Sandronsky is a Sacramento journalist and member of the freelancers unit of the Pacific Media Workers Guild. Emailsethsandronsky@gmail.com

Weekend Edition
October 19, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Jason Hirthler
The Pieties of the Liberal Class
Jeffrey St. Clair
A Day in My Life at CounterPunch
Paul Street
“Male Energy,” Authoritarian Whiteness and Creeping Fascism in the Age of Trump
Nick Pemberton
Reflections on Chomsky’s Voting Strategy: Why The Democratic Party Can’t Be Saved
John Davis
The Last History of the United States
Yigal Bronner
The Road to Khan al-Akhmar
Robert Hunziker
The Negan Syndrome
Andrew Levine
Democrats Ahead: Progressives Beware
Rannie Amiri
There is No “Proxy War” in Yemen
David Rosen
America’s Lost Souls: the 21st Century Lumpen-Proletariat?
Joseph Natoli
The Age of Misrepresentations
Ron Jacobs
History Is Not Kind
John Laforge
White House Radiation: Weakened Regulations Would Save Industry Billions
Ramzy Baroud
The UN ‘Sheriff’: Nikki Haley Elevated Israel, Damaged US Standing
Robert Fantina
Trump, Human Rights and the Middle East
Anthony Pahnke – Jim Goodman
NAFTA 2.0 Will Help Corporations More Than Farmers
Jill Richardson
Identity Crisis: Elizabeth Warren’s Claims Cherokee Heritage
Sam Husseini
The Most Strategic Midterm Race: Elder Challenges Hoyer
Maria Foscarinis – John Tharp
The Criminalization of Homelessness
Robert Fisk
The Story of the Armenian Legion: a Dark Tale of Anger and Revenge
Jacques R. Pauwels
Dinner With Marx in the House of the Swan
Dave Lindorff
US ‘Outrage’ over Slaying of US Residents Depends on the Nation Responsible
Ricardo Vaz
How Many Yemenis is a DC Pundit Worth?
Elliot Sperber
Build More Gardens, Phase out Cars
Chris Gilbert
In the Wake of Nepal’s Incomplete Revolution: Dispatch by a Far-Flung Bolivarian 
Muhammad Othman
Let Us Bray
Gerry Brown
Are Chinese Municipal $6 Trillion (40 Trillion Yuan) Hidden Debts Posing Titanic Risks?
Rev. William Alberts
Judge Kavanaugh’s Defenders Doth Protest Too Much
Ralph Nader
Unmasking Phony Values Campaigns by the Corporatists
Victor Grossman
A Big Rally and a Bavarian Vote
James Bovard
Groped at the Airport: Congress Must End TSA’s Sexual Assaults on Women
Jeff Roby
Florida After Hurricane Michael: the Sad State of the Unheeded Planner
Wim Laven
Intentional or Incompetence—Voter Suppression Where We Live
Bradley Kaye
The Policy of Policing
Wim Laven
The Catholic Church Fails Sexual Abuse Victims
Kevin Cashman
One Year After Hurricane Maria: Employment in Puerto Rico is Down by 26,000
Dr. Hakim Young
Nonviolent Afghans Bring a Breath of Fresh Air
Karl Grossman
Irving Like vs. Big Nuke
Dan Corjescu
The New Politics of Climate Change
John Carter
The Plight of the Pyrenees: the Abandoned Guard Dogs of the West
Ted Rall
Brett Kavanaugh and the Politics of Emotion-Shaming
Graham Peebles
Sharing is Key to a New Economic and Democratic Order
Ed Rampell
The Advocates
Louis Proyect
The Education Business
David Yearsley
Shock-and-Awe Inside Oracle Arena
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail