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? "
Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
- Review Date: 2016-02-22
- Reviewer: Staff
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. (Apr.)