Critical Condition [Flash Fiction]

An Essayist Speaks of Essays Briefly

“To die, to sleep, perchance to dream . . .[,]”

and so, what dreams of death

can philosophy prepare me for, Michel,

when all of heaven and earth contain so much?

–Jay V. R.

The essays I have written . . .  what is there left to say about them–or what is there at all to say about them that they do not say for themselves? There is never much in the way of prefacing or wording afterwards that can say more than there is to say about an essay, a play, a novel, that the works themselves do not say better.

I remember Bill Packard in his play-wrighting workshops insisting that extended or extensive stage directions are unnecessary if the play is sound, is strong, that is, if the characters have wants that are vividly portrayed on stage. You had to understand that whatever you felt you needed to describe in stage directions, if it were not necessary, take them out because what is superfluous to the action in a play only served to distract or interrupt the reading–if that was what was to be done with the play. Most actors ignore them, so if they are necessary to understanding the play, then the playwright needs to get what was in the directions into the play.

The plays with the absolutely thinnest stage directions are Shakespeare’s–and I do say his name as if a whole 19th century American western town is supposed to freeze.

For as long as I can recollect having written essays, I have never felt the need to explain them, and have often referred readers back to the essay when explication has been requested. If the the clarity of meaning was actually the problem, if it were a problem of execution, then explication from me would be less effective than revising or rewriting the essay–it is always a question of whether the author should rewrite or the reader re-read.


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