November 7th, 2016 / 1:16 pm
Craft Notes

Twenty-Eight Things I Wrote in the Margins of Brian Blanchfield’s PROXIES


1. a trying-out … placing a variety of pressures on each essay’s titular subject, seeing what happens, where it leads … form is determined by the action of a restless mind

2. like Barthes, exploring middle ground between autobiography and criticism, imbuing collective experience of culture with intimacy, vulnerability, even if merely by virtue of subject selection … critical unpacking of shared/common behavior … housesitting becomes occasion for reflection on “commensalism” and the “citational,” etc.

3. certain propriety about syntax, tone … implied author and the “man of letters”

4. closed-book constraint is refreshing in part because there’s not that excessive referentiality that’s become so common among lyric essays

5. paragraphs often mark a pivot in thought … very few contrived transitions … BB considers this, which leads to that, which leads to another that, yet another that … e.g. the foot of Philoctetes leads inexorably to the foot of stepdad

6. essay seeks out its autobiographical origin, its psychic center … employing a kind of analytic pressure to arrive at, tease out something beyond the language of analysis, something poetic … analysis of historical foundations of footwashing lands on image of BB’s stepdad mindlessly watching TV as BB’s mom carefully cleans disgusting wound on stepdad’s foot

7. nimbleness of poet’s mind on display … grace and efficiency in movement from erudition to vulnerability and back again

8. I’ve had encounters with certain books that feel as though they are recognitions, as though somehow simultaneously “discoveries” and “remembrances” … I feel I recognize/remember this book: as if for the first time … I feel I have discovered this book: as if for the nth time

9. it seems the essay can’t possibly know where it’s going, movement forward feels increasingly precarious … but then it recovers … essay rescues itself from discursiveness/digression … final image functions as a kind of “symbol” or “figure” of this rescue

10. example of structural tmesis: BB squeezes alternate-type info into what is otherwise the flow, the forward progression of developing narrative … e.g. in “On Containment,” he squeezes info about proprioception/interoception into ongoing stuff about being bitten by dog … the contrapuntal potential of tmesis: it can produce dynamic registers of thought/language, of aesthetic/psychic distance

11. these essays rarely talk down to the reader … they don’t often employ that gross and condescending referential/pedagogical mode … or maybe it’s that BB is better at synthesis … I feel as if I’m encountering this or that reference for the first time, because he’s reconfiguring it, transforming it, as opposed to merely quoting it for “lyric”/collage effect

12. essay on authorship that begins with discussion of a hairbrush … reader starts reading essay already feeling herself in a state of suspension, due to ostensible subject announced by title … “how will talk of hairbrush give way to talk of authorship?” etc.

13. essay trying to locate its subject … honesty about structures that are in a state of becoming … structures too certain of themselves more often than not feel dishonest … a restless, wavering, hesitative, even confused attitude about structure — it’s a common feature of my favorite writing

14. talk of “peripersonal space” functions as a conceptual overture to talk of BB’s relationship with his mom … BB traveling downward from head to heart … display first to reader the shield, next display lowering of shield … theory functions as mere occasion for disinhibited autobiography … poet has a brain only by virtue of having a heart

15. maybe what I like most about this book is the obvious high regard for the sentence … feels so unusual nowadays … I suppose this book could only have been written by a poet

16. something seriously wrong with the whole of academia if this guy can’t find a job

17. each essay’s ostensible subject variously pressurizes its content … at one moment, ostensible subject will seem to weigh heavily/explicitly on the writing; at a subsequent moment, it figures obliquely/metaphorically … but the writing always remains tethered to its subject … or my confidence in the possibility of this tethering always remains high

18. does it not actually rhyme with cottage?

19. so hot

20. ostensible subject as decoy, as excuse, as lure: the essay transcends/overcomes the “mereness” of its subject in every instance

21. crying here

22. leave the mistakes in … mistakes are means by which reader constructs image of implied author’s vulnerability … if your essay lacks mistakes, go back and add some

23. maybe this will be something I can refer to in future years when I have again forgotten how to live in the stance of wonder

24. what at first reads as merely an aside later is recalled as something like a “seed” (e.g. befindlichkeit) … the seemingly expository nature of the essay … the algorithmic nature of the essay, as if the essay is continually rereading what has come before in order to determine what might come next

25. this book appeals to me for any number of reasons … the formal lyricism of the essays; BB’s enviable diction, syntax, prosody; etc. … but now it seems that one of its greatest appeals is the regularity with which he returns to discussion of frustrations of being an adjunct professor, always with a kind of tacit determination to write his way out of it, via the very essay I’m reading

26. pageviews!

27. my heart is racing here

28. essays end before we are ready for them to end, upsetting our expectations about “endingness” … it provides the essays/book with an intensity of potentiality, of incomplete beauty

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  1. lily hoang

      One of the best moments in my life was hearing BB read “On Tumbleweed” while Kate Bernheimer carefully unknotted the tumbleweed of my hair. Thank you, Evan, for this beautiful post.

  2. Beatrice

      this is masturbatory

  3. A List of Especially Memorable Fiction and Nonfiction from 2016 - Independent news and blog

      […] Proxies was my favorite book of 2016. I transcribed notes from my copy’s margins and posted them here. […]