How All Letters are Essays, but not All Essays are Letters

The Letter

[A Short Story]


A letter is an essay; all letters are kinds of essays. All the modern genres are plastic; all the genres of antiquity are not. They are fixed–what more need I say. The essay and the novel; just when does modernity begin. I have a more acute sense of what could be meant by modern. Let me just say again, all letters are essays–that said, let it begin . . . but before it begins, let me say that this is a letter that I had found in an envelope inside an anthology of poetry I had bought used in a bookstore in Portland Maine how long ago now I cannot say. I did not find it unusual that this typed letter had been folded in an envelope and had made its way between the pages of the anthology–I forget where in the anthology pages, a book mark of a kind. It did not strike me as unusual that it had not been discovered–yet perhaps it was discovered and left where it was found by one of the proprietors of this used bookstore in Portland, ME.

You know Richardson is enormously important for the development of the Novel as a genre, and not solely for what he did for the novel, or how he resolved certain problems in narrative, they being the problem of creating a webbed structure to the story; that is, how to avoid being episodic, as epic had been; what to do with the telling, the unfolding, the whatever else we have in the manner of examining novelistic discourse. What Richardson also does do is, in the matter of narrative, he uses the letter, itself having become something else, something akin to the journal, which had begun to take off socially, intellectually, rhetorically and epistemologically in the 17th century; yes, Richardson uses one of the great genres of historical modernism, which is a counter offer in epistemology to the medieval or the classical—the essay. Montaigne’s essay has enormous influence on journal writing and letter writing; the letter then is adjunct to the essay which Richardson employs in his novels as part of the shift in narrative structure avoiding an episodic development. The essay in service of narrative in the service of developing what we have come to call novelistic discourse. You do know that what Montaigne does with The Essays, either by design or in effect, is write his extended, protracted, exegetical autobiography; the exegesis of the Self

“The Letter”

Dear Anonymous,

I hope this letter finds you in good health and good spirits. I have been considering the task at hand with the upcoming inaugural publication of The Review, how it is that I am going to go about it, what it is that I need to do to make sure it is of the quality necessary, with the mutual integrity I desire for it–that is, what is necessary, of course–I do not like this of course. I used to resist it. There was a time I never wrote it.

Integrity is always a necessity, and you know how I feel about this idea of mine, this literary integrity I have spoken so much about over the years.

What is the review going to be–I am this review–that is absolute. The review is I, as much as Madame Bovary was Flaubert. I relates to me, the actual person me, for sure, but it also relates to the review as a whole; I am the Review and the Review, it’s me . . . Flaubert’s c’est moi again. The person me and the inter grammatical reference of one pronoun case to another–

I know you understand what I am driving at, I have driven home this idea about myself as editor, publisher, writer of a review, how these roles coalesce singularly in me although retaining their separateness, thus the I as a plurality again–I am we, of course, as surely as I am I or I am me, singular and plural, how could it be otherwise?

How something as inanimate as a review could–could what? What is the review? When is it? Where is it?

There is something of it apart from the hard copy people will hold in their hands when reading it. The review has a life as an entity could be said to have life. It exists, but does it have being although it can be said to have something we correlate with entity, yes, this entity, the review?

I am me; yes, this me that I am is the principal writer of texts within the confines of this review, as we have discussed, as the Self has many selves, the review can also have many me(s) as well, each one me, each one . . . yes, I am every word; every word is me, c’est moi, I could say again. I do remember Flaubert’s defense of the novel and the character Madame Bovary/ Madame Bovary. [Remember, title and character are not one.]

Defending the character was a defense of the novel. But this kind of defense has little to do with the mask of we . . . or the one of I that I wear when I write social or political commentary in the review . . . when I engage in critical commentary . . . and the strategy I employ is one where I as we is included.

The writing has energy, has spirit, we like to say, emanates some of this off the page that is read, in the reading, but how and when and with what force . . . it is agreed that writing takes something from the author, that the author invests something of his energy into the writing, something that is palpable to a reader who reads with sensitivity, yes, the appropriate sensitivity, we cannot democratize or popularize the literary.

There is so much more to say and no more to say about the review except that what it is is what it is when it is how it is where it is for whomever it will be. And that is whatever I am in the writing, the editing, the publishing . . . again, as elsewhere, I am the writing in search of which author me can be found among the selves inside my many selves Self and then how many roles can this writer self play the masks we wear on the masks we wear inside and outside, one mask on another mask inside behind the masks we wear in the world, masks on outside and masks on inside. . . for me at me whatever time, moment, the writing happens, I am that I am who I am at the moment I am, and no matter what I become I am who I always am, me. How many writerly masks do I wear, can I wear, have I worn? I do not want to get back into this discussion we had how long ago now I cannot fathom on the beach together at Land’s End, everything comes together there, I had wanted to call the review The Land’s End Review, I might yet name another review later in my life this–what? What next what more how much less, there is no way to pre-gage, one must feel know what is when it is where it is happening, in the middle of things.

Do we have to ask if I believe an editorial can really be written from the pov of I? I am sure it can. I do know that one from the pov of I and another from the pov of we has a different rhetorical edge, each one sharpened by its separate rhetorical strategy, which is always a whet stone for every critical edge. All writing cuts. Which way it cuts and how deep is up to the writer–could it also be up to the reader? There is everything and nothing up to the reader. We cannot be so deluded–I am not so deluded that I imagine I can write in way that leaves everything up to the reader. There are mistaken readings and I am not here to pander to the stupid, and there is an inordinate amount of babbling that is stupid although trying desperately to pass for thinking, independent-and-worthy-of-respect-and-maybe-even-praise thinking.

Publishing has its history as does automotive manufacturing and sales, as does prostitution and political corruption in communist societies. No editor wants his journal to be has been; if it were has been, so much the worse for those working toward publishing this has-been-magazine. This review will not become has been. There is a debate, on-going inside me, over the merits of, as well as the implications between, editorials addressing readers from the point-of-view of we and those that address readers from the point-of-view of I. I do both; yes, I am the editor thus the editorials, as I am also all the writing herein, every opinion, every critique, every argument, every defense, every idea, every everything herein. The internet and website management make this possible in a way it was not before in a time when you had to disseminate through hard copy print.

I understand that a literary review must be committed to the highest quality in the writing, the highest quality in the thinking, the highest quality in the strength of its critique. I have said this before; I will repeat this again and, of course, again. There is no sense in asking me if I believe in hierarchies of value or of achievement. I do. I am not going to delineate what this literary review has been; any reviewing of the review by anyone sensitive and open will reach this end. Read. But I am saying, read, not skim the page.

I have a good sense of what is necessary–I do not need the imposition of petty authorities. I guess I have that American cultural prejudice against anything phrased as should–it used to be reserved for must, what we must do; however, we have been so overloaded with doubt, doubt and more doubt for what we know–and not just what we know, but what we can know; and not just what we can know, but what knowledge itself is–that we have little faith that we can know anything; therefore, no one else can know anything either, and so we cannot be told what we must or should do, except through coercion, never reason. Yes, in our delusion that we were making things more democratic socially and politically, we only created a condition where the Will to Power has flourished; that is, by undermining faith in knowledge, by giving in to all the gripes and resentments and disillusionment of our adolescence. Yes, the business of America is business, finance, and in the making of money we have come to a place historically where we have the ultimate consumer society, consumerism is our politique, our etiquette, our everything. Since the Second World War, and most prominently since the Fifities, teenagers have been the focus–the axis–of our economy. It was only a matter of time before adolescent thinking, if it could be called that, adolescent psychology/mentality crept into our epistemology. And I do hate it when educated Americans have an aversion to using the names of the branches of philosophy as if there were a necessarily plebeian way of speaking about this, as if everything needed to be dumbed down, only we do not call it dumbing down, do not even think it is dumbing down–we have become so horribly semi-literate, yes even more than the too many before.

I do not want to define what this review should be–everyone needs too much in the way of explanation. We’re getting like Russians–or I should say all foreigners–we need pictures to understand what is being said, no matter of inference understood by our manner of thinking. Not how it used to be. I recoil from external shoulds, those subjunctive constructions made by others to impose will, views, opinions, rules, all of them that especially do not matter and could never matter to any thinking person, and I said thinking person, which means a person who does more than randomly pass images in the mind, or bend to some imagined convention, the sense of which is governed more by their anxiety and fear than good thinking.

I do not want to discuss what a literary review is anymore–I have my ideas, my convictions, and you know what they are. I do know that I should–discuss, not want to; I still do not want to discuss what one could be because I am only publishing this review for those who understand, and it would be a lie to say I am trying to convince anyone of the valency or validity of publishing a literary review. I am not. Why should I could be a question, but I will not ask it. All Publishing-Editor-Authors–this means me, who I am, what I am, when I am whatever it is I am for this review, in this review, I have wanted to publish a review I cannot say for how long already–I am the only authority over everything herein.

I am the first and the last word about the words I write, which is how I approach the writing of this review . . . as the writing of all reviews such as this one are only ever for those who agree. I am preaching to the choir. Am I in search of a choir? Should the heading of this review be “A Preacher in search of a Choir?” I would not know off hand.

I am not going to venture a guess, or perhaps I will, to will or not to will seems to be everyone’s question in this world, Who is willing to endure the slings and stones to get what he wants. What do I want is not the question I ask when publishing this review, but what should it be, how should it accomplish this, what should I do to reach the necessary end of this review, the end not its finality but its perpetuation each time it is published . . . perpetually me, I am.

Yours, ever more,


A letter to posterity, perhaps? A letter to himself or herself–it does not have to have been a man. An outline of what this possible publisher of a literary review wanted as his guiding manifesto? Is it like that? Whatever it is, it is a letter composed on the theme of publishing a journal or a review, what exactly the differences are I do not want to discuss here, now. It is what it is, and what is is right? What is that supposed to mean? I have published this here in my web journal as a clue to what this journal could be, should be, might be, what I have myself also envisioned–no one is alone in the ways he might imagine; no one is solitary in the course of human events–how they happen, why they happen, with what accompanies them in the matter of words expressed about them, the happenings of our lives, my life, this author’s life, his letter as a part of that, what has resonance for me, for my review . . . what else am I supposed to say? To say or not to say, what? Again I ask and wait for a response in me;no one is talking in there at the moment. I should just go about my business this morning; have some more coffee, turn on the A/C; it is horribly humid today, this month so far. What needs to come will come. 


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