He can make sense of them analytically or artistically.
In either case he renders the real world coherent and meaningful, even if only bits of it, and even if that coherence and meaning reside only inside small texts.
Comparing the extinction of the essay with the shrinking of other literary forms — including a particularly ungenerous but, perhaps, tragically accurate account of poetry’s role in the literary ecosystem — Dillard presages the rise of the narrative essay: Poetry seems to have priced itself out of a job; sadly, it often handles few materials of significance and addresses a tiny audience.
Literary fiction is scarcely published; it’s getting to be like conceptual art — all the unknown writer can do is tell people about his work, and all they can say is, “good idea.” The short story is to some extent going the way of poetry, willfully limiting its subject matter to such narrow surfaces that it cannot address the things that most engage our hearts and minds.
She places particular focus on the narrative essay — a genre that “demonstrates the modern writer’s self-conscious interest in writing” — especially narrative essays that “mix plain facts and symbolic facts, or that transform plain facts into symbolic facts.” A great many narrative essays appear in the guise of short stories…
My guess is that the writers (quite reasonably) want to be understood as artists, and they aren’t sure that the essay form invites the sort of critical analysis the works deserve.The range of rhythms in prose is larger and grander than that of poetry.And it can handle discursive idea, and plain fact, as well as character and story.In more human terms, this means that whenever you buy a book on Amazon from a link on here, I receive a small percentage of its price. Ever since it was first published in 1982, readers—including this one—have thrilled to “Total Eclipse,” Annie Dillard’s masterpiece of literary nonfiction, which describes her personal experience of a solar eclipse in Washington State.You get to make up your own structure every time, a structure that arises from the materials and best contains them.The material is the world itself, which, so far, keeps on keeping on.Dillard argues that American literature “derives from the essay and hinges on the essay,” for it stems from Emerson, who was an essayist.She lists among the notable godfathers of the genre Thoreau, Twain, and Poe, then turns to Melville and what his underappreciated essays reveal about the general cultural conceits toward the genre: There is no reason why anyone should read, touch, or publish this brilliant stuff (“The Encantadas” [Melville’s essay about his ephemeral experience of the Galapagos Islands]) as fiction — except that the world is curiously blind to the essay, and to the essay’s imaginative and narrative possibility, as if it didn’t exist, or as if a work by its very excellence should have mysteriously tiptoed out of its proper (but dull-sounding) genre and crept into a more fashionable (but incorrect) one.It was like slipping into fever, or falling down that hole in sleep from which you wake yourself whimpering.We had crossed the mountains that day, and now we were in a strange place—a hotel in central Washington, in a town near Yakima. I lay in bed and looked at the painting on the hotel room wall.