A strange conjoining of forces—as against BlurbMart
Kent Johnson’s short essay is about reviewing, but I’ve chosen to focus on the blurb, which I believe has relevance to the topic. I should start by saying that I’m genuinely interested in the making of blurbs: how to lend (—wait, not “lend”, but freely give) the book or author’s aesthetic-political trajectory “legs” in several (and often contradictory!) fields of poetic practice. A strange conjoining of my current political concerns and general aesthetic tendencies with that of someone else’s amalgamation of concerns is what (for me) constitutes “the moment” of the blurb. But the act of blurbing is also a “hailing” of future potential allies and collaborators, while also putting political-aesthetic adversaries on notice. In my opinion, it is this double (organizational) function (gambit) that is all too often flattened into the old game of imprimatur-ship (“Ashbery is ‘big’, so now I’m bigger by this here blurb”).
But the blurb can also be a place for new vistas—in the midst of the Blurbosphere itself. What do I mean? Too many blurbs these days re-double a given book’s “internal” “aesthetic” tendencies, rather than launch from those tendencies into something that itself can be constituted as an act on the social-at-large. Now, some people might take what I’m saying here as simply returning to some notion of literature engagé (i.e., alignment writing). But here’s the difference, here’s what’s new. How also (as on a high wire, balancing) can one get past the deep trench of trans-authorial boomerang self-colonizing. In plain language, if you blurb a book to merely make way for yourself, your schtick, your (so-called) “aesthetic”, without thinking of the multiple historical relays that you’re both grappling with and reaching for, then what results is a poetic Return To Go / back to where we started: authors for authors, unlimited. And what’s the point of that! I mean that the act of the blurb is also a way to transform the very practice of blurbing (to submit it to experimentation to enable a larger portion of that “social-at-large” to be seen). So from this point of view, concerns of over whether a blurb is in the main “positive” or “negative” is of little interest to me. The blurb, after all, is a consensual activity between several parties. People can say, “I think your blurb is a piece of shit, R, and it I won’t have it on my book!” Okey doke. You know.
But what of the case if an anonymously written blurb? That might change things for sure. It might, in the short run, temporarily break the daisy chain of necrophiliacs feasting on a shared hope of “canonicity.” But one thing that it might do, and I think, already tends to do is give more (even more) authority to the publisher. And is that something that we want? Full disclosure here, I myself have written some of those “anonymous” thingies on the backs of my books. I’m not really embarrassed about it. But if I signed my name to it, honestly, I might be. Ha! What gives here? What is all this mucky muck? What might this décor of “true critical” expectations be, these cloaked ethical schemes that we adhere to?
And also, some people might say, “who cares who wrote ‘it’—or anything for that matter!” Well, ok, if someone really believes that the “author is dead”, and that language can invisibly hand its way through the reader’s (or book-fondler’s) mind (can one say “mind”, these days? I’ll check with the text police to see if it’s ok), then what matters the seal? Joe Blow Blew Here, Jill Quill Got Her Fill Here. It can only be an additive energy flux, no? To the whole (faux) “author function”, to such a hard-won utopia of agent-less wordery. A little noise, a little mess here and there, and the clouds turn to lead and fall?
So for me, the blurb has always a matter of threading complicated interlocking social-political phenomenon in ways that can be (and I won’t check in with the police on this) sensed and acted on, and not so much a matter of literary country club membership standards.
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