Well it has been a relief from the dense and demanding Concept of Anxiety into the satirical Prefaces. The book is what the title suggests. Prefaces is a collection of prefaces with no books. The author of these prefaces believes it is high time for the preface to push back from being ‘elbowed aside’ so that it might finally ‘liberate itself’. (4)
The preface as such, the liberated preface, must then have no subject to treat but must deal with nothing, and insofar as it seems to discuss something and deal with something, this must nevertheless be an illusion and a fictitious motion (5).
The reason or need for this liberation comes from an unlikely place. It comes from a domestic need for liberation. The author’s spouse became suspicious of his activities, of how he was readying his pen.
Occasionally she dropped an enigmatic word, vaguely suggested that all my busyness in the study, my longer sojourns there, and my literary ruminations were not altogether to her liking. I did, however, keep all my wits about me and pretended not to understand her, which I actually did not at first. Then one day she catches me off guard and extracts from me the formal confession that I was on the way to wanting to be an author (7).
He was caught with his pants down. To this his wife declares ‘open war’. His explanations and justifications fall on the most impenetrable defense, oh you are teasing. In hopes of winning her over he asks that he might read to her a piece of his writing. Expecting a rejection she kindly accepts to hear them.
She listened, she laughed, she admired. I thought all was won. She came over to the table were I was sitting, put her arm intimately around my neck, and asked me to read a passage again. I began to read, holding the manuscript high enough to so that she can see to follow me. Superb! I am beside myself but am not quite through the passage when the manuscript suddenly bursts into flames. Without my noticing it, she had pused the single candle under the manuscript. (8)
The author, or would-be author, is resigned to defeat but not quite defeat. Someone who writes prefaces cannot truly be called an author.
The end was that I promised not to insist on being an author. But just as at the academic disputations, when the author has disarmed all of one’s objections, one comes forward with some linguistic triviality in order nevertheless to turn out to be right about something, I thus reserved for myself permission to venture to write ‘Prefaces.’ (12)
The second piece in this volume is Writing Sampler which is attributed to the pseudonym A.B.C.D.E.F Godthaab. In his preface he argues that an author is someone who makes money from printed material. Therefore “It is not an author who creates readers, but it is the public who creates authors” (74). Godthaab quickly notes that fortunately he himself is ‘nothing’ and so offers the public a ‘writing sampler’ asking they create him to be an author as they wish. After his ‘samples’ he offers in his postscript a plan for the public. They are to begin with him on this venture and when he has 500 subscribers he will announce that he has 1000. He will write anonymous praises of his work in other journals. To be fair he will also attack himself (but on a point in which he is right) and then defend himself and create controversy. And then he lets his public readers in on a secret “people are basically suckers” (89). Because when (in the public it states that) “I have 1000 subscribers – then I get 1000 subscribers” (90).
Therefore, most esteemed, cultured public: create me and let me begin. You will never come to repent of this good deed. I will, esteemed cultured public, forever remain
Your creature, creation, and nothing