What is an essay?

This extract from Xavier de la Porte’s The Imposter: BHL in Wonderland loc 1946 captured something important about intellectual culture in late neoliberalism: the essay sits in between specialised writing and the popular press, in spite of the tendency of essayists to elevate it above everything else:

At the same time a structural evolution was taking place in publishing production. As Rémy Rieffel notes in L’Édition française depuis 1945, ‘In the human sciences, the division between “specialized” and “popularizing” works saw the appearance of a third category, the “essay”’.41 A new format emerged, which was shorter, less subject to academic pre-scrutiny, and addressing current events directly.