“Essay is a way of life, where culture is the foundation”: Ola Hnatiuk
This week in Kyiv starts a mini-festival “Days of Essayistic”, including a series of discussions, lectures, and the most important event in Ukrainian essayistic – the Yuri Shevelov Prize Ceremony. How different s an essay from other genres? What is its significance? Response by Ola Hnatiuk, a member of the Capitula of the Award.
Essay is a genre of syncretic literary or literary-scientific form representing views of an author. The themes of the essay can vary: philosophy (the father of the essay – Montaigne, “Essays”, 1580; Bacon, then Pascal), literature (Goethe), art, society, politics.
Of course, talking about marginal genres, where the essay belongs, it is at times easier to interpret out of defining what it is NOT.
Therefore, the essay is not a fictional prose, nor a publicistic article, nor a journalistic outline, nor a sketch, nor a reportage, and not a feuilleton or recollection, and not a scientific disquisition (though an element of the essay, as an example of something, can be an illustration of the phenomenon, encrusted recollection, reporter’s opinion and fiction).
Essay is a way of life, where culture is the foundation. Essay is an active search, that is a reflection or record of individual search of the truth, attempts to comprehend it, desire to understand oneself and the world. The word “search” should probably be stressed here.
Essay is always a dialogue with someone / something (e.g. a tradition), not a monologue. The essay is the uniqueness of style, thought, worldview. Essay is syncretism, that is to say the combination of fiction and documentarism, historicism and autobiographicalism with philosophical ambitions.
Essay is a combination of the opposites: the fictional and scientific basis, freedom and strictness, old-fashioned and modern ways. Essay is dominated by fragmentation (not comprehension or completion), associativity (instead of sequential rendering), formal and contextual freedom.
The genre of essay envisions absolute intellectual freedom, excluding any dogmatism, propaganda or subordination to any requests, rules and utilitarian requirements. The genre of essay perishes in totalitarian conditions; it is in its very form and essence of the genre resisting totalitarian ideology.
Essay is an intellectual provocateur questioning usual assertions. The essayist is ready to alter, does not set the tone, but reconsiders and reevaluates. The importance for an essayist lies not in conclusion but the process of thinking engaging the reader.”
Founders of the Yuri Shevelov Prize: PEN Ukraine, Kyiv-Mohyla Business School, “Dukh i Litera” Publishing House, Harvard Ukrainian Research Institute.