Subscribe to Newsletter
Monthly Newsletter: Join more than 3,000 African literature enthusiasts!
Subscribe for African literature news, and receive a free copy of our "Guide to African Novels."

A Thousand Pities That A Book Cannot Write Its Own Preface

I t is had to argue against a book writing its own preface, telling its on story about how it came into being. Robert Bridges, the obscure British poet who I quote in the title of this post is clear on one issue: if books wrote their own prefaces, they are probably not going to thank or praise the author.

“Few indeed are the books, which like the children of the wise woman, would rise up and bless their parent: they would talk rather like those who with preposterous intelligence grumble at their fate, complaining that their brains are too dependent on their stomachs, or that their knee-joints are clumsily fashioned, and their toes unsightly and useless.”

But books never write their own prefaces. So authors on whom fall the task of telling the story about their books say nice things about themselves, their ideas, the project, how it developed, and end by thanking a few people. Most authors are cavalier in the preface and try to appear cool and witty. They know that the preface is the gateway into the book and want so badly to leave a good impression on the reader.

But not so with authors like Voltaire, an 18th century French thinker. He used the preface to a much different use, to scare unwanted readers in a language that is clearly meant to be at worst insulting and at best condescending. Below is an extensive excerpt of the strangely short and curious preface to the Philosophical Dictionary.

“It is only really by enlightened people that this book can be read; the ordinary man is not made for such knowledge; philosophy will never be his lot. Those who say that there are truths which must be hidden from the people, need not be alarmed; the people do not read; they work six days of the week, and on the seventh go to the inn. In a word, philosophical works are made only for philosophers, and every honest man must try to be a philosopher, without pluming himself on being one.

…and if the author does not always mention the sources of his information, as being well enough known to the learned, he must not be suspected of wishing to take the credit for other people’s work, because he himself preserves anonymity, according to this word of the Gospel: “Let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth.”

Tags: , , , ,

I hold a doctorate in English from Duke University and recently joined the Marquette University English faculty as an Assistant Professor. I love teaching African fiction and contemporary British novels. Brittle Paper is the virtual space/station where I play and experiment with ideas on how to reinvent African fiction and literary culture.

No comments yet.

Leave a Reply

Welcome to Brittle Paper, your go-to site for African writing and literary culture. We bring you all the latest news and juicy updates on publications, authors, events, prizes, and lifestyle. Follow us on Twitter and Instagram (@brittlepaper) and sign up for our "I love African Literature" newsletter.

Monthly Newsletter!

Subscribe for African literature news, and receive a free copy of our
"Guide to African Novels."

Archives

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Purple Hibiscus Turns 15: The Best Moments of a Modern Classic

chimamanda ngozi adichie - by ecrivain

“It wasn’t the first novel I wrote,” Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie told the audience at the University of Nairobi, during her […]

Quramo Writers’ Prize 2018 Unveils Top 5 Finalists

Quramo 1

Lagos – 10/10/18: Quramo Publishing has unveiled the Top 5 finalists of the Quramo Writers’ Prize 2018, two weeks after […]

Enter for the K & L Prize for African Literature

k and l prize

Submissions have begun for the 2019 K & L Prize for African Literature. The $1,000 prize, which is in its […]

The 2018 African Literature Association (ALA) Book Awards | Call for Nominations

ala yale 2017

Submissions have begun for the 2018 African Literature Association (ALA) Book Awards. The deadline for submissions is 1 November 2018. The […]

Nominate a Writer for the Fonlon-Nichols Award for African Literature

nadine gordimer - collage

Nominate a creative writer for the Fonlon-Nichols Award by 1 November 2018. This award, established in 1992 to honor Bernard […]

Pentecostal Republic | A Powerful New Book Tackles the Role of Pentecostalism in Nigerian Politics

pentecostal republics ebenezer obadare

Nigerian Sociologist Ebenezer Obadare is asking us to take a closer look at the underlying forces of Nigeria’s political life. […]

Thanks for signing up!

Never miss out on new posts. Subscribe to a digest, too:

No thanks, I only want the monthly newsletter.