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August 1999
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Speaking For A Book

What does it mean to speak for a book?

Consider the introduction to a book. When may it be said to be speaking for the book as distinct from speaking on behalf of the book or apologizing for the book.

Consider Derrida's comments on Nietzsche and a posterity of commentary on an author's works. What would be the nature of a critical essay on a work such that it could be said to be speaking for the work?

Or, if you want to follow that dusty trail, was Fashionable Nonsense speaking for the Sokal hoax?

Was Boswell speaking for Johnson?

Consider such usages as Orson Scot Card's Speaker for the Dead and "Nietzsche's Zarathrustra says" (to coin a word that should not be coined) although "speaking for the record" wanders into the same territory.

How is it that one person can speak for another?

How is it that one bit of text can speak for another?

If one considers the lit-crit bit that an introduction is (usually) written after the work being introduced it has the nature of a prefatory post-script. As such is it speaking for the book? Rather, when might it be said to be speaking for the book?

As a tangential thought, how large can an introduction be before it is not legitimately an introduction? Suppose, for example, I write a book with two chapters and an introduction. The first chapter consists of the single word, "No", and the second chapter consists of the single word, "Yes". The introduction discusses (in abbreviated form, of course) the implications and possible exegenesis of the two chapters.

Perhaps this introduction is too long to be legitimately considered to be an introduction. If that is the case, though, then what is the rule? Must the work be longer than the introduction? This is not the case with humorous stories where the set up is longer than the punch line.

Or is it perhaps the case that an introduction cannot legitimately speak for the book? An introduction is, after all, a presentation, a "Greetings, this is X". There is a problem with this notion of a presentation. When I introduce one person to another the two people are present; they have tangible substance visible (and smellable in some cases) to each other. An introduction serves to attach proper names and some auxilliary information to already evident personae. With a book, however, the tangible substance (other than the thickness of the paper) is not yet in evidence.

And so on and so forth.

Stanislaw Lem's A Perfect Vacuum consists entirely of introductions to nonexistent books. Are they truely introductions? Does it matter if the work being introduced doesn't exist? And what is it speaking for, if anything?

Consider a book consisting entirely of introductions to existing books; would that change things? Does it make a difference whether the introductions appeared in the original books or whether they were manufactured for the new book?

Offhand, it seems to me that Lem's constructions are not introductions as such despite their label - it is part of the form of the introduction that it is present with that which is being introduced. The form of the introduction is external to the text within the introduction.

Be that as it the question of whether they are truly introductions is separate from that of what they are speaking for. I have, at times, spoken for people who did not exist. It is the right and proper thing to do. The author of fiction speaks for people who do not exist, the characters in the fiction. (Is there a civil rights movement for people who do not exist; it seems to me that there ought to be.)

I am so disappointed. Nobody will speak for speaking for the book.


This page was last updated August 14, 1999.

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