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Heretical voices: the reasons of the essay in modern and contemporary literature

Deadline Abstract

One of the features that anyone embarking on the description of the essay as a genre unquestionably has to face is the indeterminacy that is germane to its essence (Obaldia 1995), which is reflected in a desultory and fragmentary style, made up of anecdotes, illuminations, criticisms and suggestions for further reflection (Berardinelli 2008). Ever since its 17th-century origins, the essay has represented a site where it is possible to engage in vehement public oration – often simply unrequired or explicitly opposed – in the manner of the famous “soapbox orators” in Hyde Park (Sanders 1989). 

Following T. W. Adorno’s 1958 definition of the essay as a “heretical genre”, we might indeed be tempted to postulate that the essayist’s voice is bestowed on his/her readers at full strength when it engages in a process of systemic critique and current demystifying of dogmas pertaining either to a specific intellectual paradigm or to a historical period at large. Embodied from time to time by medieval Scholasticism, or 18th-century Enlightenment, Victorian moralism, up to 20th-century Totalitarian ideologies, these dogmas sanctioned, by means of their inflexibility, the victory of single memorable essays that have remained, despite their original context of production, aesthetical testimonies capable of resisting the decay of the material situation they originally commented upon (Ozick 1997). 

A fierce, free, heretical voice is what allows the essayist to embark on a diffused, polemical questioning of the received doxa, of the conventional idée reçue, of ideological conformity, and it also allows a retrospective recognition of the essay as the prime literary form suitable for criticism, intended as a campaign against banality deriving its strength from an epideictic liveliness embodied by the logic of the vox clamantis in deserto.

Starting from these general considerations, we solicit proposals for contributions we solicit proposals for contributions to a monographic issue of Odradek: Studies in Philosophy of Literature, Aesthetics, and New Media Theories proposing general reflections on the form, single-essay analyses, or panoramic views of essayists whose body of work illuminated this ability of voicing the heresy. Among the possible lines of research we wish to underpin:

  • the essay as a vehicle for the critique of  religious dogma;
  • the essay as an instrument for an engaged resistance to Totalitarian regimes;
  • the essay as a tool for novel or irreverent literary criticism;
  • the essay as the scourge of aesthetical and artistic conformism:
  • the essay as criticism of social mores of a specific epoch.


Adorno, T. W. «Il saggio come forma» [1958], Note per la letteratura (Einaudi, 2012).

Atkins, Douglas G., Tracing the Essay: From Experience to Truth (University of Georgia Press, 2005).

Beradinelli, Alfonso, La forma del saggio (Marsilio, 2008).

Cantarutti, Giulia (et al., a cura di), Il saggio. Forme e funzioni di un genere letterario (il Mulino, 2008).

Gallerani, Guido, Pseudo-saggi: (ri)scritture tra critica e letteratura (Morellini, 2019).

Glaudes, Pierre (ed.), L'essai: métamorphoses d'un genre (Presses Universitaires du Mirail, 2004).

Good, Graham, The Observing Self : Rediscovering the Essay (Routledge, 1988).

Karshan, Thomas, Murphy, Katryn, (eds.), On Essays: Montaigne to the Present (Oxford University Press, 2020).

Klaus, Carl, The Made-Up Self: Impersonation in the Personal Essay, (University of Iowa Press, 2010).

Id. (ed.), Essayists on the Essay: Montaigne to Our Time (University of Iowa Press, 2012).

Milnes, Tim, The Testimony of Sense: Empiricism and the Essay from Hume to Hazlitt (Oxford University Press, 2019).

Obaldia, Claire de, The Essayistic Spirit: Literature, Modern Criticism and the Essay (Clarendon Press, 1996).

Ozick, Cynthia, “SHE: Portrait of the Essay as a Warm Body”, in The Atlantic, September 1998,

Sanders, Scott Russel, “The First Singular Person”, in Alexander Butrym (ed.), Essays on the Essay: Redefining the Genre, (University of Georgia Press, 1989).


  For further information, write to

  Paolo Bugliani,

Quelle der Beschreibung: Information des Anbieters


Literaturgeschichtsschreibung (Geschichte; Theorie), Literaturtheorie, Literatur und Philosophie, Essay, Ästhetik


ISSN: 2465-1060



Odradek: Studies in Philosophy of Literature, Aesthetics, and New Media Theories
Datum der Veröffentlichung: 30.07.2021
Letzte Änderung: 30.07.2021