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Essays Near Knowing
Brian Blanchfield

2016 • 200 pp. 5 1/2 x 8 1/4"
Memoir / Essays

$15.95 Paperback, 978-1-937658-45-8
$9.99 Ebook, 978-1-937658-52-6

Check your ebook retailer or local library for ebook availability.

No sales to UK Europe Common. x CA

“A collection of idiosyncratic, candid, devastating essays…it’s the most brilliant book I’ve read in years. Anyone who has been amazed (and rightly so) by Maggie Nelson’s The Argonauts should read this book posthaste.” —Garth Greenwell, The Guardian

A go-for-broke essay collection that blends cultural close reading and 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 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?”

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Reviews / Endorsements

“The quiet but searing vulnerability in Brian Blanchfield’s writing is as wide and trembling as the wingspan of his otherness. He writes with a beguiling sagaciousness that made me bow my head so many times that I lost count. These are essays about honesty and the revelation of self in which shame and guilt are dissected and anything extraneous scrubbed away. Each sentence is a live wire. Diverse, maybe mismatched styles, genres and topics accrue to great and moving effect, a profound whole made from an unlikely assemblage of parts. He appears to be forging a new genre before your very eyes.” —2016 Whiting Award Judges’ Citation

“Brian Blanchfield’s brief, multivalent essays are titled to echo the master of the form, Montaigne. They include ‘On Withdrawal,’ ‘On Tumbleweed’ and ‘On House Sitting.’…Mr. Blanchfield’s more high-flown reflections [are] slyly used in juxtaposition with the plain-spoken memories of this ‘working class white boy’ from North Carolina….He calls the essays “inroads to disinhibited autobiography.” One becomes acclimated to, and impressed by, the way he transitions from, say, an etymological investigation of billiards terminology to the way his father shot pool.” —John Williams, The New York Times

“The 25 essays in this collection from poet Blanchfield (A Several World) are small, highly polished jewels that together form an intricate mosaic. Giving himself the project of following a thought to its uncomfortable edges, in each entry Blanchfield picks a subject—foot washing, authorship, owls—and examines it from several angles until the connection between metaphysical principle and lived experience suddenly crystallizes, often producing an analogy as surprising as it is lovely. Blanchfield will typically betray a glimpse of erudition—a reference to cult cinema, Greek tragedy, or Noam Chomsky—alongside raw confession, balancing “a poetics of impersonality” with “disinhibited autobiography.” Thus, the billiards term “leave” proves connected to his father’s departure, a meditation on ingénues extends to his experience of 9/11, and the story of a dog bite becomes the story of his coming out. The themes of secrets and concealment pervade the collection, as does a “spellbound trade in vulnerability and openheartedness” conjured by Blanchfield’s prose style, with its catch-and-release rhythm—sometimes lyrical, sometimes barbed. The concluding essay “Correction,” which fills in or corrects details for the other selections, offers its own tribute to the processes by which we construct meaning—the real subject of this elegant and astonishing book.”—Publishers Weekly (starred)

“Excellent....a book of dynamic, thoughtful, and flat-out moving essays. These proxies are short but extremely sticky. They stuck with me. I’m carrying them with me as I write this sentence. I think you’re going to want to get sticky too.”—Ander Monson,
BOMB Magazine

“[The essays] reward us with the pleasures of narrative, but also because they welcome us so fully into the life of their speaker, allowing us to spend close time with him, his family, his partner John, his friends and former lovers. His presence is a generous one, his voice surprisingly approachable despite its sophistication, his modesty negating both pretension and undue self-regard.”—Scott Nadelson,
Los Angeles Review of Books

“Brian Blanchfield is [a] terrifyingly good contemporary poet. . . . In his new book, part memoir part criticism, Proxies, he becomes the amazing chronicler of his own frangible, decaying memory. ”Literary Hub

“[These essays] are little wonders of ghosted knowledge. Each entry works like a bridge suspended between feeling and fact…Blanchfield’s approach, his dispositif, affords him the freedom of the self-governed; his erudition and sensitivity to his own life experiences — growing up as a Primitive Baptist in North Carolina, for example — wall his thoughts like a garden. There his apposite selves wander apart, only to meet at the end of the path. What do you find when you allow the poetry of self-trust to guide you? Commonalities—new ways of living. The reanimation of old forms. You could almost call it knowledge.”Jonathon Sturgeon, Flavorwire

“It makes sense to start thinking about a 'new queer essay' that might be epitomized by Maggie Nelson's The Argonauts and Brian Blanchfield's Proxies and writers like Hilton Als. It's an exciting mode for me, this kind of writing that blurs the boundaries between criticism and memoir and cultural commentary and philosophy.”Eric Sasson, VICE

The American poet Brian Blanchfield's first collection of essays, Proxies (Picador), 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 hear alchemically, advances the game on both the life-writing and the essay fronts.”Neel Mukherjee, The New Statesman

“Proxies: Essays Near Knowing brings a slowed-to-meaning lens to the remembered moments of a life. Blanchfield’s readers wander into his ordinary-extraordinary quotidian—the vulnerable longing of a singular voice expressing a peopled intelligence. Not since Hilton Als’ White Girls have I read anything as interrogative, unsettling, and brilliant.”—Claudia Rankine

“Into what some are calling a new golden age of creative nonfiction lands Brian Blanchfield’s PROXIES, which singlehandedly raises the bar for what’s possible in the field. This is a momentous work informed by a lifetime of thinking, reading, loving, and reckoning, utterly matchless in its erudition, its precision, its range, its daring, and its grace. I know of no book like it, nor any recent book as thoroughly good, in art or in heart.” —Maggie Nelson

"Brian Blanchfield’s sentences are modern marvels.  They coil, insinuate, embellish—and then land on the tender spot.  If Hart Crane had survived to write a book of autobiographical essays, it would resemble Proxies—but would Hart have given us the low-down on frottage?  Blanchfield is a staggeringly accomplished stylist, whose artful elucidations deserve to be savored, studied, and, yes, worshipped." —Wayne Koestenbaum

“Early on his humble and stunning Proxies, Brian Blanchfield asks: “In what kind of place is all the hearing overhearing?” He knows, mostly we eavesdrop on ourselves. We call it thinking. There is no delicacy of mind like that one that moves through the facts of its own errors to arrive at understanding, and here, essay by essay, Blanchfield sifts through the astray archive of his memory to recall all what it is he needs to live. These essays remind us, as they discover inside themselves, the deep virtue of saying, “I don’t know.”—Dan Beachy-Quick


Winner of the Whiting Award, nonfiction

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 the National Book Award. His essays have appeared in Harper’s, Brick, Guernica, Conjunctions, and other magazines. He is an editor of Fence and the host of Speedway and Swan on KXCI 91.3 in Tucson.

Thu, 6 Sep 2018 11:33:43 -0500