Manguel’s tribute to dissatisfaction

Putting into words the role of an essay

Less a question than a series of questions, less an argument than a string of observations, the subject of these lectures is a confession of bewilderment. I have discovered that, with the passing of the years, my ignorance in countless areas – anthropology, ethnology, sociology, economy, political science, and many others – has become increasingly perfected while, at the same time, a lifelong practice of haphazard readings has left me with a sort of commonplace book in whose pages I find my own thoughts put into the words of others. In the realm of storytelling I’m a little more at ease, and since stories, unlike scientific formulations, don’t expect (reject, in fact) clear-cut answers, I can muddle around in this territory without feeling bullied into providing solutions or advice. Perhaps for this reason, these talks will have something unsatisfactory about them: because my questions must remain, in the end, questions.

Alberto Manguel, The City of Words, pg. 3

With characteristic eloquence, Manguel touches on so many of my favourite themes. If asked why I love so much the form of the personal essay, Manguel’s words here would serve well in explaining my own thoughts.