Accessibility statement

Essayisms Reading Group: Coercive Style

Monday 24 May 2021, 5.00PM

What constitutes a style? When we talk about the essay we often characterise it as playful, as resistant to completion, to ending, as dwelling in the fragment, all features that would suggest a subtle aversion to totalising meaning. But the essay is also a persuasive form, a method of argumentation however meandering. How are we to think about essayistic style as caught between the observational and the aggressive? As Joan Didion claims in her essay 'Why I Write' - itself a writerly response to George Orwell - "setting words on paper is the tactic of a secret bully, an invasion, an imposition of the writer's sensibility on the reader's most private space." The three essays we are reading this week expose and experiment with the notion that the essay's formal playfulness might disguise its ideological, philosophical, and literary assertiveness. Each essay also considers how individual styles are folded into various stylistic traditions and literary models. Readings available via Essayisms Google Drive or as webages below:
  • Susan Sontag, 'On Style' (1965) in Against Interpretation [Available as an eBook on Yorsearch or a PDF in the Google Drive] 
  • Joan Didion, 'Why I Write' (1975) 
  • Lydia Davis, 'Fragmentary or Unfinished: Barthes, Joubert, Hölderlin, Mallarmé, Flaubert' in Essays One (2019) 
If you do not have an institutional York account, please contact Lola at for access to the Google Drive, or for any other queries.
If you would like to sign up to The Contemporary Essay mailing list, please fill in this form.
Register here in advance.




Location: Online via Zoom