On Ears Essayist

On Ears Essayist-22
If Sedaris said he had an impatient French teacher, we would believe him, but not be very interested.

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It was Wednesday morning, not ‘the day after 9/11.’ ” That is exactly wrong.

The day after 9/11 was just that, and nothing else; and while doing business on such a day does not make one a monster, Crosley’s way of writing about it feels disingenuous and self-exculpatory.

“The essay, as a literary form, is pretty well extinct,” Philip Larkin wrote gloomily in 1984.

Extinct was the right word, capturing the sense of an organism that could no longer survive in a changed environment.

The subjects in The Oxford Book of Essays" to Mill on Coleridge, are engaged with texts, which is to say, with other minds.

For the essay is one of the purest ways for a writer’s mind to record its own motions, which are the basis of prose style.Sedaris’s books are sold as essays, but he is plainly trying to be Thurber, not Addison.This is a particular kind of humor, rooted in the creation of a fictional alter ego who shares the author’s name.Books of essays regularly turn up on the best-seller lists; many of their authors are stars on the radio, especially on the cult program “This American Life.” In the HBO show “Girls,” the character portrayed by Lena Dunham declared her ambition to become a writer and “the voice of my generation,” but she did not hope to write the Great American Novel: she wanted to produce a book of essays.Here as in so many of its details, “Girls” proves to be a faithful stenographer of its moment.“The crowd moved closer,” he writes,” and if the other three to four hundred people were anything like me, they watched the young woman and thought of the gruesome story they’d eventually relate to friends over drinks and dinner.” If someone told you this in real life, you would recoil; but coming from “David Sedaris” it is amusing, because it is so delightfully consistent with the egotism that we always see him display.(By contrast, when a traditional essayist such as Hazlitt confesses to hating promiscuously, in “On the Pleasure of Hating,” the result is not amusing but harrowingly self-revealing.) Sedaris’s selfishness is much like Jack Benny’s cheapness: a comic vice that we forgive because we know the difference between the performer and the performance.In Me Talk Pretty One Day", which appeared in 2000, Sedaris writes about taking an IQ test and finding that he is “really stupid, practically an idiot. Were my number translated into dollars, it would buy you about three buckets of fried chicken.” Of course, the reader does not believe this for a minute: the cleverness of the prose refutes its own premise.The effect is to call the whole story into question.Formally, one might describe the work of Sedaris, Crosley, Rothbart, and company as autobiographical comic narrative: short, chatty, funny stories about things that happened to me—weird things, or ordinary things that are made weird in the telling.What we now call an essayist used to be called a humorist.


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