The Heresy of the Small: Jenny Diski's Disguised Essays
AbstractThis paper explores a dimension of heresy in the essay tradition which I call the heresy of the small, arguing that the essay is heretical not despite but because of its apparent modesty and smallness as the meaning of the term ‘essai’ expresses. I focus on two short essays by the recently deceased British writer Jenny Diski, who was a major contributor of the London Review of Books which provided a space for her writing that combined personal essays with review essays. “Being 50” and “A View from the Bed” exemplify Diski’s heretical modesty because of the challenge they make to the patriarchal cultural orthodoxies of middle age and of being married “happily ever after”, but also because they are distinguished by a conversational, modest tone, are written from small places of retreat such as bedrooms, are characterised by a mobile, shifting, persona, and work not by making assertions but by raising questions and launching flights of fancy. As such, they demonstrate the persistence, into the contemporary era, of traits we find in Montaigne (to whom Diski devoted a novel) and on through the long history of the essay.
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