The topic of refusal was inspired in part by Teju Cole’s essay titled “A Time for Refusal.” “Refusal” probes deeper than the ubiquitous “Resistance” in that it invites an assessment not only of men and their regimes, all temporary. It also invites an assessment of everyting that allows political, social, and moral disaster to transpire. Resistance is easy, an outlet for sanctimonious outrage. Refusal brings enduring requirements, not the least of which is to become, at last, the change we wish to see in the world. The imperative of refusal will remain long after the push for resistance subsides.
Michel de Montaigne is regarded as the father of the essay. We tend to define the essay as a deductive genre: I have my point to make, and I will take these prescribed, recognizable steps to convince you of my point. This is how students are taught to write, and it is a formula as old as Aristotle, a formula rooted in oratory. Montaigne subscribes to a radically different definition of “essay,” one especially suited for writing. The French word essayer means “to try, to attempt, to test.” An essay, in Montaigne’s conception, is a trial, a test-drive of an idea, a throwing of noodles against the wall.
I am not old enough in years to be wise. I am not young enough at heart to be wise. I must grow involuntarily in one direction and strive voluntarily in the other. Along the way, we are struck by unbidden moments that accelerate our journey, moments that precipitate dramatic internal change. Joyce knew this well. Many of the stories in Dubliners contain what scholars and teachers of Joyce call “epiphanies” - moments of insight, revelations. More than anagnorisis, where a character learns of his change of fortune (usually sometime after the audience learns of it), the epiphany goes deeper than the events and circumstances of the stories, allowing the present moment to enlighten the character to some truth about himself, the self, the world, or God. It is a turn inward, a turn that Joyce would embrace in groundbreaking fashion in Ulysses.