The Observing Self: Rediscovering the Essay

First published in 1988, this title is a study of the essay as a literary genre, not just in terms of its general intellectual and literary history, but as an exploration of the creative possibilities of the form. The rise of the essay is discussed in relation to the rise of the novel and the emergence of empiricism in science, but the main focus of Graham Good's study is on the inner workings of the essay itself. Drawing on criticism by Adorno and Lukacs, Graham Good presents the genre as an expression of individualism, freed from tradition and authority, in which the self constructs itself and its object through independent observation. Through analysis of the work of such essayists as Montaigne, Bacon, Virginia Wolf, T. S. Eliot and George Orwell, the potential of the genre for independence and individualism is illustrated, and the essay is resituated as an intellectually challenging form of creative and critical writing.