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For a description of essays as used by Wikipedia editors, see Wikipedia:Essays. An essay is, generally, a piece of writing that gives the author’s own argument — but the definition is vague, overlapping with those of a paper, an article, a pamphlet, and a short story. Essays are commonly used as literary criticism, political manifestos, learned arguments, observations of daily life, recollections, and reflections of the author. The concept of an “essay” has been extended to other media beyond writing. A film essay is a movie that often incorporates documentary filmmaking styles and focuses more on the evolution of a theme or idea. John Locke’s 1690 An Essay Concerning Human Understanding.
An essay has been defined in a variety of ways. One definition is a “prose composition with a focused subject of discussion” or a “long, systematic discourse”. It is difficult to define the genre into which essays fall. Aldous Huxley, a leading essayist, gives guidance on the subject. The personal and the autobiographical: The essayists that feel most comfortable in this pole “write fragments of reflective autobiography and look at the world through the keyhole of anecdote and description”.
The objective, the factual, and the concrete particular: The essayists that write from this pole “do not speak directly of themselves, but turn their attention outward to some literary or scientific or political theme. Their art consists of setting forth, passing judgment upon, and drawing general conclusions from the relevant data”. The abstract-universal: In this pole “we find those essayists who do their work in the world of high abstractions”, who are never personal and who seldom mention the particular facts of experience. Huxley adds that the most satisfying essays “make the best not of one, not of two, but of all the three worlds in which it is possible for the essay to exist. The word essay derives from the French infinitive essayer, “to try” or “to attempt”.
In English essay first meant “a trial” or “an attempt”, and this is still an alternative meaning. The examples and perspective in this article may not represent a worldwide view of the subject. As with the novel, essays existed in Japan several centuries before they developed in Europe with a genre of essays known as zuihitsu — loosely connected essays and fragmented ideas. Zuihitsu have existed since almost the beginnings of Japanese literature. Many of the most noted early works of Japanese literature are in this genre.