On Not Knowing

How to Love and Other Essays

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Pub Date 20 Apr 2022 | Archive Date 01 Apr 2022

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Description

A beautifully written suite of personal essays on the value of not knowing.

Moments of clarity are rare and fleeting; how can we become comfortable outside of them, in the more general condition of uncertainty within which we make our lives? Written by English professor Emily Ogden while her children were small, On Not Knowing forays into this rich, ambivalent space. Each of her sharply observed essays invites the reader to think with her about questions she can’t set aside: not knowing how to give birth, to listen, to hold it together, to love.
 
Unapologetically capacious in her range of reference and idiosyncratic in the canon she draws on, Ogden moves nimbly among the registers of experience, from the operation of a breast pump to the art of herding cattle; from one-night stands to the stories of Edgar Allan Poe; from kayaking near a whale to a psychoanalytic meditation on drowning. Committed to the accumulation of knowledge, Ogden nonetheless finds that knowingness for her can be a way of getting stuck, a way of not really living. Rather than the defensiveness of willful ignorance, On Not Knowing celebrates the defenselessness of not knowing yet—possibly of not knowing ever. Ultimately, this book shows how resisting the temptation of knowingness and embracing the position of not knowing becomes a form of love.
A beautifully written suite of personal essays on the value of not knowing.

Moments of clarity are rare and fleeting; how can we become comfortable outside of them, in the more general condition of...

Advance Praise

“Ranging among subjects as various as parenthood and desire, psychoanalysis and poetry, the essays in On Not Knowing move by surprise, often veering in directions they hadn’t let you see they were going. The only certainty in reading them is that every arrival is worth it. Ogden has a knack for developing single words and small inklings into full-blown ideas and philosophies. Her anecdotes are as unexpected, her sentences as exquisite, and her conclusions as moving as Emerson’s. Surely this book secures Odgen’s place as one of our finest writers: thinking with her is exhilarating.”—Erica McAlpine, author of The Poet’s Mistake 

“Ranging among subjects as various as parenthood and desire, psychoanalysis and poetry, the essays in On Not Knowing move by surprise, often veering in directions they hadn’t let you see they were...


Available Editions

EDITION Other Format
ISBN 9780226751351
PRICE $16.00 (USD)
PAGES 144

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Featured Reviews

This book is a collection of thought-provoking essays on motherhood relating to the world. Although I don't think these were essays in the traditional sense, more like observations starting from one point and building the idea, they were still interesting and I'd love to read more from this author.

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On not knowing is a collection of beautiful essays on love and life by Emily Ogden.
I loved the thought-provoking yet easy to read essays written by the author.

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I think a lot about not knowing. Will I someday know — finally get it, really get it — that I don’t know? What is the point of thinking to know things, or thinking about knowledge itself, if there is nothing to be known at all? Well, it happens — the thinking, anyway.

These essays are — and of course, now, the word escapes me, I simply do not know it — gosh, what is the word for something that is small, short, brief, doesn’t take up much space or time, yet gazes off as if into another plane of being, partaking of that otherworldly depth, leaving its own borders undefined? What is that white blotch on the book’s cover: a painstakingly creased, palm-sized square of origami held in front of the eye, or a mile-high cloud beyond the control of any technology?

They are personal and philosophical essays. They are about knowing — or not knowing — when to see possibilities, when to desire, when to hope, when to listen. The answer is when we are alive, since it's hard to get more precise than that. We just don't know.

If we do not know how to live, or even whether to live, surely we do not know what is in a book, or what ought to be said about what the book has accomplished or should accomplish. And yet we do live, and we read books, and here we are.

I think that if we take time to perceive problems from a different angle, as with a poem, they may dissolve, may crystallize into something else, as with a poem, as with time. Then finally we may know, but we will no longer be who we were before, and the question will be: Who knows?

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A brief, lovely collection of essays arranged as "How To"s, melding nature, motherhood, politics, storytelling, film, language, Freud, and a lot of imaginative literary references. A dip-into-and-come-up-for-air kind of book to live on the bedside table or on the shelf next to Sarah Manguso and Deborah Levy.

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On Not Knowing is a touching collection of essays written by the immensely talented Emily Ogden. I read this collection when I was personally going through a difficult time, and I felt as though Ogden's honesty was a helpful, guiding light as I worked through my own life's issues. Her writing style is uniquely frank. I appreciated how Ogden wove her own personal narrative through snippets of literary criticism and interesting references.

On Not Knowing was a refreshing take on the essay genre—each essay was perfectly paced. I didn't feel as though any idea, sentiment, or essay dragged on for longer than necessary to achieve the point. Ogden beautifully balanced the task of achieving what she wanted to say without using an entire dictionary's worth of words, or an entire catalog of references, to do so. This was really a wonderful, insightful book that I thought about long after I finished the final page.

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It took me some time to sit with this book but once I picked it up it was impossible to stop.
I believe there's a time for this book.
Whenever you are in a period of questioning a lot of things, grab it, you won't regret it.

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