Essays Near Knowing
PEN Center USA 2017 Literary Award Finalist
A-go-for-broke essay collection, part cultural close reading, part dicey autobiography
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 compositional 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?”
Contact Anna Stein for more information
Claire Nozieres manages the translation rights for Proxies
The audio rights are handled by Liz Farrell.
The most brilliant book I’ve read in years.
Brian Blanchfield’s brief, multivalent essays are titled to echo the master of the form, Montaigne.
The New York Times Full Review
The quiet but searing vulnerability in Brian Blanchfield's writing is as wide and trembling as the wingspan of his otherness.Whiting Award Citation
The breathtaking excellence of Proxies is an urgent reminder of how shortsighted it would be to take identity politics as the sole measure of value in queer writing.Christopher Schmidt
Bookforum Full Review
I know of no book like it, nor any recent book as thoroughly good, in art or in heart.
An elegant and astonishing book.
Not since Hilton Als’s White Girls have I read anything as interrogative, unsettling, and brilliant.Claudia Rankine
Blanchfield is a poet, and the essays in Proxies move the way poems do, through association, juxtaposition, wild leaping. They’re exhilarating, the most exciting prose I’ve read in a year filled with excellent books. Avoiding the usual measures of mastery, disavowing the need to be right, these essays model a better way of thinking—which is to say, of being human.
While the titles (each is ‘On’ something) evoke the essay tradition of Montaigne, this is a queer work in every sense, transgressing the boundaries of form and content.
The London Magazine
The American poet Brian Blanchfield’s first collection of essays, Proxies, filled me with wonder, admiration and elation. Subtitled “A Memoir in Twenty-Four Attempts”, this outrageously intelligent book, written in a style that fuses head and heart alchemically, advances the game on both the life-writing and the essay fronts.