Subscribe to Newsletter
Monthly Newsletter: Join more than 5,000 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

SHARE THIS

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: , , , ,

Ainehi Edoro is an Assistant Professor of English at the University of Wisconsin-Madison where she teaches African literature. She received her doctorate at Duke University. She is the founder and editor of Brittle Paper and series editor of Ohio University Press’s Modern African Writer’s imprint.

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

100 Most Influential Young Nigerians: Otosirieze Obi-Young, Arit Okpo, Kiki Mordi, Richard Akuson & Olutimehin Adegbeye Make Avance Media’s List

otosirieze obi-young, arit okpo, olutimehin adegbeye, richard akuson, kiki mordi on Avance Media's list of 100 most influential young nigerians

Brittle Paper’s Deputy Editor Otosirieze Obi-Young has been named one of the “100 Most Influential Young Nigerians” in 2019 by […]

For Working Class Writers & Refugees, Sulaiman Addonia Is Giving Out 40 Free Tickets to the Asmara Addis Festival

Asmara Addis Literray Festival in Exile (13)

When writing is described as an elitist profession, critics mean that opportunities in the field are determined by access, which […]

Modern Sudanese Poetry | New Anthology Spans Six Decades of Sudanese History & Cultural Intersections

Modern Sudanese Poetry - graph

Modern Sudanese Poetry: An Anthology, translated and edited by the Sudanese poet Adil Babikir, was published in paperback in September […]

Chuma Nwokolo Compensated in Plagiarism Lawsuit Against High Definition Film Studio, Shares More Stories of Plagiarism of His Work

chuma nwokolo by Yusuf Dahir

In November 2019, the Nigerian author Chuma Nwokolo called out Nollywood filmmaker Bright Wonder Obasi for using sections of his […]

Apply to the African Writers Trust Publishing Fellowship Programme

African writers trust

African Writers Trust (AWT) is a non-profit collective that seeks to promote the sharing of skills and resources, and to […]

Dr Stella Nyanzi Receives Oxfam Novib/PEN International Award for Freedom of Expression

stella nyanzi - graph - kampala dispatch

The Ugandan academic and gender and queer rights advocate Dr Stella Nyanzi has been awarded the 2020 Oxfam Novib/PEN International […]

Thanks for signing up!

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

No thanks, I only want the monthly newsletter.