Cynthia Ozick is keenly alert to the sometimes uneasy tension in literature between reality and fiction, history and imagination, and she doesn’t shy away in the least from bringing moral judgments to bear in discussing this tension. Politics alone do not account for her fervid interest in these subjects. In her “Forethoughts,” Ozick lays out her view of the essay’s purpose, a discussion she further elaborates in “She: Portrait of the Essay as a Young Body.”

If there is information in an essay, it is by-the-by, and if there is an opinion in it, you need not trust it for the long run. A genuine essay has no educational, polemical, or sociopolitical use.

It is difficult to imagine an essay without information or opinions, and certainly Ozick avoids neither. Why insist opinions don’t matter in the long run when in the long run it is generally...


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