The Golden Ass Essay

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There were the one-off body-horror pieces, such as “My Gynecologist Found a Ball of Cat Hair in My Vagina,” published by xo Jane, or a notorious lost-tampon chronicle published by Jezebel.

There were essays that incited outrage for the life styles they described, like the one about pretending to live in the Victorian era, or Cat Marnell’s oeuvre.

These essays began to proliferate several years ago—precisely when is hard to say, but we can, I think, date the beginning of the boom to 2008, the year that Emily Gould wrote a first-person cover story, called “Exposed,” for the , which was about, as the tagline put it, what she gained and lost from writing about her intimate life on the Web.

Blowback followed, and so did an endless supply of imitations.

For the first two years that I edited personal essays, I received at least a hundred first-person pitches and pieces each week.

But an ad-based publishing model built around maximizing page views quickly and cheaply creates uncomfortable incentives for writers, editors, and readers alike.Attention flows naturally to the outrageous, the harrowing, the intimate, and the recognizable, and the online personal essay began to harden into a form defined by identity and adversity—not in spite of how tricky it is to negotiate those matters in front of a crowd but precisely because of that fact.The commodification of personal experience was also women’s territory: the small budgets of popular women-focussed Web sites, and the rapidly changing conventions and constrictions surrounding women’s lives, insured it.When I began writing on the Internet, I wrote personal essays for free.For some writers, these essays led to better-paying work.It has long been disputed whether Apuleius meant this last-minute conversion seriously or as a final comic surprise, and the challenge of interpretation continues to keep readers fascinated.Apuleius' enchanting story has inspired generations of writers such as Boccaccio, Shakespeare, Cervantes and Keats with its dazzling combination of allegory, satire, bawdiness and sheer exuberance, and The Golden Ass remains the most continuously and accessibly amusing book to have survived from Classical antiquity.There were those that incited outrage by giving voice to horrible, uncharitable thoughts, like “My Former Friend’s Death Was a Blessing” (xo Jane again) and “I’m Not Going to Pretend I’m Poor to Be Accepted by You” (Thought Catalog).Finally, there were those essays that directed outrage at society by describing incidents of sexism, abuse, or rape.And so many women wrote about the most difficult things that had ever happened to them and received not much in return.Most sites paid a few hundred dollars for such pieces at most; xo Jane paid fifty dollars.

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