Everyone knows – in theory – how to write an essay, but very few people can write them to really high standards.
Excellent essays can begin with the author in a state of frank confusion: Montaigne not only invented the form, he made an art form out of just such beginnings. But Montaigne never reached the end of an essay without having achieved a pellucid certainty about his topic. You are never confused at the end of his essays, much as you and he may be at the start of them.
Now that’s the kind of trick that very few essayists can be trusted to turn ever, let alone at will.
Inga Clendinnen wrote an indispensable book on the dawn of European occupied Australia: Dancing With Strangers. The central message of Dancing With Strangers was that 1788 need not have been (indeed did not at the time look like being) the cusp of various cultures’ destruction. This message is a useful one to remember when reflecting on Australia’s modern history, and all the more so as our history sidles haltingly into the twenty-first century. Continue reading