The actor that I wished for most was Dalí: for the role of the insane Emperor... Which adventure!... The Emperor buffoon, seemed to me it, could be played only by one man of the great delirious personality of Dalí . To New York, with Michel Seydoux and Jean-Paul Gibon, I arrived at our hotel, San Régis and in the hall I sees sitted El Salvador Dalí . I guess that it is indelicate to approach him immediately and the following day I called him by telephone. I speak Spanish. Dalí had not see my films but friends spoke to him about them with enthusiasm. He invites me to a very private surrealist exposure and promises to leave me the invitation under the door.
 Noel Coward likened footnotes to the doorbell ringing when you’re in bed with someone. Few people welcome such interruptions (though as Joseph Epstein wryly observes, it all depends who’s in the bed and who’s at the door). Essays tend to eschew footnotes, not just because they force a kind of coitus interruptus on readers, but because they’re viewed as unnecessary encumbrances. Mostly, I share that view. But it seems appropriate in this piece—as much a meta-essay as an essay—to ring the doorbell once in order to identify the voices I’m quoting on the key topic of the essay’s fragmentariness. Theodor Adorno’s “The Essay as Form” is in New German Critique 32 (1984), 151–71 (tr. Bob Hullot Kentor & Frederic Will). My first quotation is from page 164, the second from page 162. Adorno’s reflections on the essay remain essential reading for anyone trying to pin down the nature of this mercurial form. Some of his characterizations have the gnomic suggestiveness of graffiti. For example: “luck and play are essential to the essay” (152); “the essay shies away from the violence of dogma” (158). He suggests that the essay proceeds “methodically unmethodically” (161), that it “verges on the logic of music” (169), and that “the law of the innermost form of the essay is heresy” (171). Such pithy apothegms repay careful reflection. Georg Lukács’s remark can be found in “On the Nature and Form of the Essay,” in Soul and Form , tr. Anna Bostock (MIT Press, 1974), 17. On the same page Lukács makes his famous claim that “were one to compare the forms of literature with sunlight reflected in a prism, the writing of the essayists would be the ultraviolet rays.” Lane Kauffmann’s “The Skewed Path: Essaying as Unmethodical Method” is included in what remains one of the most compelling collections of reflections on the nature of the genre, Alexander J. Butrym, ed., Essays on the Essay (University of Georgia Press, 1989). My quote is from page 232. (Alongside Butrym’s collection, it’s interesting to read Carl H. Klaus and Ned Stuckey-French, eds., Essayists on the Essay: Montaigne to Our Time [University of Iowa Press, 2012].) Lydia Fakundiny’s The Art of the Essay (Houghton Mifflin, 1991), contains what I regard as the best short introduction to the nature of the essay. My quote is from page 17. Philip Lopate’s comment is made on page l (., 50) of his preface to The Art of the Personal Essay: An Anthology from the Classical Era to the Present (Doubleday, 1994). Walter Benjamin’s comment is quoted by G. Douglas Atkins in Estranging the Familiar (University of Georgia Press, 1994), 54. Atkins’s title deftly identifies an important characteristic of the essay.