A go-for-broke essay collection that blends cultural close reading and dicey autobiography.



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Essays Near Knowing

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Weight .6 lbs
Dimensions 5.5 × 1 × 8.2 in

eBook, Paperback

Past compunction, expressly unbeholden, these twenty-four single-subject essays train focus on a startling miscellany of topics —Foot Washing, Dossiers, Br’er Rabbit, Housesitting, Man Roulette, the Locus Amoenus—that begin to unpack the essayist himself and his life’s rotating concerns: sex and sexuality, poetry and poetics, subject positions in American labor (not excluding academia), and his upbringing in working-class, Primitive Baptist, central-piedmont North Carolina.

In Proxies an original constraint, a “total suppression of recourse to authoritative sources,” engineers Brian Blanchfield’s disarming mode of independent intellection. The “repeatable experiment” to draw only from what he knows, estimates, remembers, and misremembers about the subject at hand often opens onto an unusually candid assessment of self and situation. The project’s driving impulse, courting error, peculiar in an era of crowd-sourced Wiki-knowledge, is at least as old as the one Montaigne had when, putting all the books back on the shelf, he asked, “What do I know?”Listen to Brian Blanchfield read from and speak about Proxies on KCRW’s BOOKWORM.


Maybe short says it best. Sexy book.

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ISBN: 978-1-937658-45-8
paperback, 200 pages, 5 1/2 x 8 1/2 in
Publication Date: 2016

It is idle and superficial, argued Montaigne in his essay “Of Pedantry”, to take the knowledge of others on trust. “We must make it our own.” Inspired by the sixteenth-century French philosopher, Brian Blanchfield switched off the internet and swivelled away from his books to confront the question, What do I know? It is tempting to state, from the start, that he knows quite a lot. In a four-page essay about language acquisition, “On Propositionizing”, he swings comfortably between Helen Keller and Heidegger, Walker Percy, Noam Chomsky, Donald Winnicott, Aristotle, Roland Barthes, Muriel Rukeyser, Thomas Traherne and Albrecht Dürer. His fondness for arcane vocabulary – words like narreme, geophagy, sempiternal, scopophilic and detumescence – is impressive, but also irritating. If you can forgive that, along with a tendency to name-drop and construct some sentences so awkwardly that they require repeated re-reading, Proxies rewards perseverance. For at the heart of…


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Brian Blanchfield is the author of two books of poetry, Not Even Then and A Several World, which received the 2014 James Laughlin Award and was a longlist finalist for …

More about Brian Blanchfield