Natalia Ginzburg’s “He and I”

Nataliaginzburg

The Lost Origins of the Essay

I have enjoyed many essays in this book but if I were to pick one I haven’t commented on before, it would be Ginzburg’s “He and I.” A lot of writers featured our texts tend to experiment with form and approach but this one is one that is at once both experimental and complete thus appearing to be the essay at its best. Ginzburg uses the character of ‘He’ to create her own reality. Much like the crows in Lopez’s “The Raven,” Ginzburg uses the unnamed ‘he’ character to create and establish the speaker of the essay. The speaker (presuming she as the author) is forged in opposition to ‘him’ and the reader is presented with a cohesive understanding of both characters as individuals and as a couple.

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T’ao Ch’ien’s “The Biography of Mr. Five-Willows” & Li Shang-Yin’s “Miscellany”

Tao_yuanming_by_chen_hongshou-2

 

The Lost Origins of the Essay

I don’t think either of these qualify entirely as essays and therefore fall into inferior category for this collection. Ch’ien’s essay is thoughtful and poignant, causing me to underline and re-read entire portions (especially, “He loved to read books, and yet never puzzled over their profound insights”). The piece has a healthy doze of subtle sarcasm as well as irony but it reads more like a prose poem than an actually essay. Nevertheless, Ch’ien’s piece qualifies more for the category than Shang-Yin’s “Miscellany.” This essay disguised as a list is organized into categories with headings like “Incongruities,” “Shameful,”Dismaying” and “Desecration of Scenery.” It is brevity at its best and I found myself laughing out loud (Indications of Prosperity–> The sound of reading aloud). Yet I again can’t quite put it in the category of a superior essay in that I don’t really see it as an essay. As a prose poem and a list of aphorisms both pieces are great but I cannot go as far as to call either an essay. Perhaps, I am being too conservative in my thinking. Any thoughts?

Response to ‘The Night’ by Campana, The Lost Origins of the Essay

The Lost Origins of the Essay
This essay is broken up into numerous disjointed paragraphs that are more like a collection of prose poems than anything else. One thing that I noticed right away is Campana’s use of setting and colons. Each paragraph discusses setting, making the entire essay appear almost obsessed with it. Even the characters (the narrator and others) are somehow part the setting, as if they are mere placeholders within the setting.

Another major thing that stands out about this essay is the author’s use of colons. I’m undecided whether it is the colons or the author’s approach to sentences that give many of the sentences within the essay an uncomfortable feel. For example, “at the edge of the countryside a door cut in the stone, watched by a young woman in a red dress, pale and fat, caught its eye: I entered.” There is a definite lack of action verbs and I’m sure that this is a conscious decision on the part of the author. However, I’m not sure if that works. Furthermore, there are many other sentences which are much more complex, mostly as a result of the use of more than one colon within the same sentence.

I have never seen more than one colon used per sentence before and, though it makes for an interesting style, I’m not entirely sold on it. It seems to me the literary devices such as these should be used sparingly so that they did not standout too much and take away from the actual writing. This essay’s style makes me consider my own essay and my decision to use footnotes. I’m trying very carefully to use footnotes in such a way that they actually add to the writing and the content of the story rather than standout as a novelty act (even though footnotes in fiction are no longer that novel). Perhaps footnotes and colons and other devices in writing should be treated like decorations in a house. While a few oddball pieces may add just the right amount of eccentricity to enhance the house’s beauty with a touch of authenticity, a large amount of oddball decorations can hide the house’s beauty and make it look like a bad garage sale/crappy thrift store.

Response to Egypt by Butor, The Lost Origins of the Essay

The Lost Origins of the Essay

This is an interesting essay that expands and plays with the concept the sentence. After checking a couple of times, I am confident to say that the first sentence ends in the middle of page 546. The author makes use of semicolons, commas, and paragraphs to allow the sentence keep going in a semi-organic form. The essay is both set and centered around Egypt but the author’s use of literary devices appears to take away from the content of the essay. I don’t think I am a very old-fashioned reader or writer and I enjoy experimental writing. However, my enjoyment of experimental writing ends when the experiment interferes with the actual writing. In particular, this essay is a good example of a literary device which passed the first paragraph or two starts to take away from the actual quality of the writing by bringing too much attention to itself.

Response to “The Death of a Moth” by Virginia Woolf

Response to “The Death of a Moth” by Virginia Woolf, The Lost Origins of the Essay

The thing that is at stake in this essay is the life and death of the moth. As a simple creature that is often overlooked, the moth has a lot to teach people. The moth is the main character that undergoes a change from living (and fighting to live) to dying. There is no traditional dialogue but Woolf does put herself in the story in first person. The moth fights its epic battle in the corner of a room with a window (setting). The theme or the moral of the story is life is worth fighting for no matter how insignificant and inconsequential one might feel.

This is a marvelous essay which works on many levels, just like “The Raven.” It uses a simple commonplace being like the moth to illustrate the meaning of life, perhaps to say that the meaning of life is just to live. For example, “this gigantic effort on the part of an insignificant little moth, against a power of such magnitude, to retain what no one else valued or desired to keep, moved one strangely.” Perhaps what Woolf is also trying to say is that people need to stop relying on other people’s metrics of what is valuable and instead find their own value in life. The essay does not cross into fiction and there is nothing about this essay that does not work.