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Book Launch: Essayism by Brian Dillon at Camden Arts Centre

At a glance
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Time 19:00
Date 21/06/17
Price Free
  • Produced by Camden Arts Centre
  • Price Free
  • Get ready to consider the personal, critical and polemical side of the essay
  • Bring along writerly interests
  • See you at Camden Arts Centre

Imagine a type of writing so hard to define its very name means a trial, effort or attempt. An ancient form with an eye on the future, a genre poised between tradition and experiment.

The essay wants above all to wander, but also to arrive at symmetry and wholeness; it nurses competing urges to integrity and disarray, perfection and fragmentation, confession and invention.

How to write about essays and essayists while staying true to these contradictions? ESSAYISM is a personal, critical and polemical book about the genre, its history and contemporary possibilities. It’s an example of what it describes: an essay that is curious and digressive, exacting yet evasive, a form that would instruct, seduce and mystify in equal measure. Among the essayists to whom he pays tribute – from Virginia Woolf to Georges Perec, Joan Didion to Sir Thomas Browne – Brian Dillon discovers a path back into his own life as a reader, and out of melancholia to a new sense of writing as adventure.

‘Brian Dillon could easily have written another book about the essay – its hallmarks, history, current role in literary turf wars, etc. What a relief, then, to find his ESSAYISM navigating away, in its opening pages, from such a project, and turning instead toward this surprising, probing, edifying, itinerant, and eventually quite moving book, which serves as both an autobiographia literaria and a vital exemplar of how deeply literature and language can matter in a life.’
— Maggie Nelson, author of THE ARGONAUTS

‘Dillon’s brilliantly roaming, roving set of essays on essays is a recursive treasure, winkling out charm, sadness and strangeness; stimulating, rapturous and provocative in its own right.’
— Olivia Laing, author of THE LONELY CITY

‘Brian Dillon has written a moving and vulnerable love letter to the essay as a genre – a region wherein fragmentation provides secret consolation. Depression and essayism, he brilliantly demonstrates, are twins. His own language has never been so sharp, suggestive, coiled – deliciously given over to idiosyncrasy.

Interpretive treats abound: Dillon’s appreciations of Hardwick, Barthes, Sebald, and other fellow travellers are beautiful acts of critical generosity and acumen. All these wonders occur within a shattering account of literature’s power not to alleviate gloom but to justify (by illuminating) the fits and starts of consciousness.’
— Wayne Koestenbaum, author of HUMILIATION

‘This book may hover (inter alia) around Montaigne’s famous tumble from his horse; only, in Dillon’s hands, it’s the essay itself that’s tumbling, crashing through the strata of its history, all its previous landscapes (those of Woolf, Hardwick, Blanchot, Cioran…) fragmenting and spinning in delirious recombinations.’
— Tom McCarthy, author of SATIN ISLAND

‘A human brain stewed in the pits and pleasures of language is one committed to glorious and erudite disarray. A brain in love with the beauty of broad systems as equally as the algebraic minutiae of detail will move, like a carpenter, between hopeless wasted fragments and those startlingly hewn lattices of logic that launch ideas like spores in the wind. Dillon champions this gymnastic brain, and his own, here in ESSAYISM, embodies the long shadows and descriptive delicacies of many essayist masters: it is a searing and addictive voice, ambitious to probe all corners of this condition called writing.’
— Helen Marten, winner of 2016 Turner Prize

Brian Dillon was born in Dublin in 1969. His books include THE GREAT EXPLOSION (shortlisted for the Ondaatje Prize), OBJECTS IN THIS MIRROR: ESSAYS, I AM SITTING IN A ROOM, SANCTUARY, TORMENTED HOPE; NINE HYPOCHONDRIAC LIVES (shortlisted for the Wellcome Book Prize) and IN THE DARK ROOM, which won the Irish Book Award for non-fiction. His writing has appeared in the GUARDIAN, NEW YORK TIMES, LONDON REVIEW OF BOOKS, TIMES LITERARY SUPPLEMENT, BOOKFORUM, FRIEZE and ARTFORUM. He is UK editor of CABINET magazine, and teaches at the Royal College of Art, London.